Sunday, March 13, 2022

Indexing Re-Invented


For the longest time, I set aside a regular time to volunteer as an indexer to make the digitized records at FamilySearch computer-searchable. As of this year's RootsTech conference, we've now discovered that indexing is no longer the volunteer process we've come to expect. It has been re-invented.

The sleek new package, redesigned with an eye to encouraging volunteers to take action, is now dubbed "Get Involved." Even better, it has been reinvented with volunteers-on-the-go in mind; to participate, you can download the app to your smart phone and tap in to volunteer opportunities in those fleeting downtime moments of everyday life. Like, while standing in line at the grocery store.

Well, I don't know if I'm that driven, but I did give the "Get Involved" program a whirl on my laptop, almost immediately after hearing about the reconfigured site during RootsTech. I guess a whole bunch of other conference attendees got the same idea at the same time, for the tab on the FamilySearch website disappeared for a while last Saturday night. Rest assured, it is back, and fully capable of showing its stuff in a test drive.

In a matter of moments, a volunteer can confirm or edit a batch of twenty names already transcribed via artificial intelligence handwriting recognition—the same computer action which will make harvesting the data from the 1950 U.S. Census a much faster process than even the volunteer victory over the 1940 census transference to computer-ready searches. All it takes—well, besides a free account—is the ability to compare notes from an identified name in a document with the "answer" the AI computer came up with. The volunteer's simple response? Either click "match" or "edit." If "edit," type in the correct response, then click "submit." If really stumped, there is always the out of clicking the third option, "unsure."

Those who are old hands at indexing may have noticed that the website tab to gain entry to select projects has been changed from the label "Indexing" to the more energetic "Get Involved." 


Under the drop-down menu, if you select "My Opportunities" and scroll down the page to the box labeled "Review Names," that is where the action begins. You can choose specific surnames to search, or a specific location—right now, only documents from the United States and Latin America are available—or just choose to work on whichever project has the greatest need at the moment. The app will serve up twenty names and ask you to compare the selected option with information in the original document. It's amazing how fast you can work through a batch of names.

Everything looks ready now for some serious volunteer action, once the 1950 U.S. Census is released on April 1. The only thing I'd like to see implemented in this re-invention of the old indexing site is the ability to form groups—teams of volunteers from the same location, like a local genealogical society—just as we used to do in the old indexing section of FamilySearch.

Once the 1950 census indexing gets rolling, I think it would be more fun for a group to see how much its members can tackle, and to see, cumulatively, how much we've accomplished for the common good. The new Get Involved app is making great strides in enabling us to collectively make more documents searchable—and thus usable—but gaining a sense of how we are all doing, together, to make that difference can be a far more powerful encouragement than just providing an easier way for volunteers to help out.

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