Transcribe Bentham, the first crowdsourced transcription project, launched this week. From the project blog:

The Transcribe Bentham crowdsourcing initiative officially launched today. Our Transcription Desk is now open to the public and we encourage everyone to have a go at transcribing Jeremy Bentham’s papers! We welcome all contributions and all thoughts on anything relating to Bentham and the project in general. You are warmly encouraged to explore the site, create a profile and post comments on our discussion board. Tell us about your favourite Bentham quote or invented word! Gain points for your contributions to move up our progress ladder and become a transcribing prodigy! Track the progress of transcription by viewing the Benthamometer.

There are tips for paleography and a list of top contributors.

I cannot wait to see this project unfold! I am wondering how well the progress ladder will incentivize participation, and I’m curious about the evolution of transcription and encoding policies as a result of complexities in the manuscripts.

As a project assistant for the Blake Archive, I’ve seen how problems and questions about transcribing push the development of editorial decisions and the policies governing transcription, encoding, and the transcription display. We’ve had many disagreements and discussions about punctuation marks, spellings, whether a stray mark was a comma, whether an inkblot was a deletion, how to display the pages of a letter (should the address first or last?), and how to best represent revisions in the display. We’ve also had to modify our tag set, such as which elements to use, or how to define particular attributes, as we encounter problems and make these editorial decisions.

The project utilizes aspects of social networking (such as user profiles and friends), and I am curious about the community which might develop around such a project. Though transcribing is often solitary work, WBA assistants do work closely on specific problems or projects, attend weekly meetings, and post questions to the listserv. In essence, the WBA has depended upon email and staff meetings to facilitate long-distance editing, but it seems that a discussion board (which is already active at Transcribe Bentham) might work just as well.

As an experiment in how digital scholarly editions/archives/documentary editing projects might integrate crowdsourcing, it’s an interesting vision of what participatory scholarship might look like.