Digitizing Books One Word at a Time

Sample of a reCAPTCHAThis has got to be one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time. reCAPTCHA is a project by Carnegie Mellon University that makes the authentication process for web registration forms, or posting blog comments, more useful. A CAPTCHA, which we’ve all seen, is a program that presents us with distorted text and asks us to type in the word or letters so that we can confirm we’re humans: computers have a hard time deciphering this distorted text. Well, reCAPTCHA intends to take these small expenditures of human brain power and use them to digitize books. One. Word. At. A. Time. Ingenious.

Here’s what they say:

Over 60 million CAPTCHAs are solved every day by people around the world. reCAPTCHA channels this human effort into helping to digitize books from the Internet Archive. When you solve a reCAPTCHA, you help preserve literature by deciphering a word that was not readable by computers.

Like I said, this is exciting. This is the kind of thing that really gets my creative energies flowing. You don’t need to be a programmer or tech expert to be able to appreciate this effort; in its simplicity we can detect parallels to our own projects or challenges, independent of where we spend our days (at least two of John Maeda‘s Laws of Simplicity apply here). First off, it elegantly takes advantage of a pre-existing process that most of us use already. And secondly, it demonstrates that small steps can make a big difference.


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