Thursday, May 24, 2007

Involuntary proofreading

One of the hallmarks of good social software is that the person using it benefits the community unintentionally while performing a personal task. For example, by tagging this photo with kermit, not only can I easily find this photo from my collection of over 2000 images on Flickr (which considers it my most popular photo), but other people can find photos of our favourite frog.

I never thought of a CAPTCHA as a piece of social software but now I do ever since being introduced to reCAPTCHA vis reddit:

reCAPTCHA improves the process of digitizing books by sending words that cannot be read by computers to the Web in the form of CAPTCHAs for humans to decipher. More specifically, each word that cannot be read correctly by OCR is placed on an image and used as a CAPTCHA. This is possible because most OCR programs alert you when a word cannot be read correctly.

But if a computer can't read such a CAPTCHA, how does the system know the correct answer to the puzzle? Here's how: Each new word that cannot be read correctly by OCR is given to a user in conjunction with another word for which the answer is already known. The user is then asked to read both words. If they solve the one for which the answer is known, the system assumes their answer is correct for the new one. The system then gives the new image to a number of other people to determine, with higher confidence, whether the original answer was correct.

Currently, we are helping to digitize books from the Internet Archive.

I'm so impressed!

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