First You Crawl, Then Walk, Then Run

I’d like to use a little analogy to open up a discussion about an opportunity we have in the Ancestry World Archives Project community.

Have you ever watched a child learn how to walk? I just spent the weekend with my brother and sister-in-law and my four, adorable nephews. The youngest is just ten months old. Do you just love this face?


This little one is pulling himself up and walking around the edges of the furniture on his chubby, little legs. It’s really too cute. A couple of times this weekend I would set him down on his feet and hold his hands and walk him around. Every time I let go he immediately plunked himself down and looked at me as if I was crazy. I’d pick him up again and cheer him on as he tried to take a few steps. I’d let go and he’d plunk himself down again. It’s a process repeated over and over with children the world round. And, I imagine that this one will be not just walking but running around to keep up with his older brothers in no time.

What I can’t imagine is scolding him for falling down while he’s learning to walk. I can’t imagine criticizing his efforts or telling him he’s doing it all wrong. I certainly can’t imagine telling him to sit still while his older brothers run around and play and just watch them show him how it’s done until he can run and keep up.

We all experienced this process when learning how to walk. But, we experience it over and over again in our lives anytime we learn a new skill or pick up a new hobby. First we crawl, then we walk, then we run.

The unique challenge we have in the Ancestry World Archives Project community is this – we have over 700 new keyers joining us each and every week. Some of them, because of previous experience, truly hit the ground running. But, the majority of them are still very much in the crawling stage. So, my questions are these:

How can we, as a community, be better at encouraging these new keyers? How can we hold their hands and help them take those first steps? How can we cheer them on? And how can we refrain from telling them to just sit there and watch the rest of us run around when they really want to get in there and play, too?

I’d love to hear from some of our more experienced community members about what you think we can do. But, I’d really love to hear from some of our newer keyers about what you need from the rest of us.

Until next time – Happy Keying!

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Having read that most people would appreciate some sort of feedback system.. would it be possible to put a new button on the tool called (personnal arbitration) or something.. which would upload the completed set and send it for arbitration as usual.. BUT with the added benefit of allowing the arbiter to give feedback? Sending the feedback reply to the keyers Ancestry mailbox…

I would like to see a dedicated message board for each individual project. It is very frustrating to have to hunt for answers. And I’m sure the people that are answering (I’ve seen Paul’s name a lot) are tired of answering the same question all the time. Seems to me that his as well as other helpers would have a better use of their time than answering the same questions all the time. I love doing this and the difficulty of finding assistance is truly my only complaint. Fix the message boards folks! They are a mess.

About two years ago, a group of volunteer keyers had a phone conference with WAP. The purpose of this conference was to discuss how WAP could better serve their keyer/arbitrator volunteers. One of the main points was the lack of consistency in keying help and/or instructions provided. The volunteers are only a SMALL part of the overall WAP community. We wanted to understand the functionality of the interaction between WAP and its volunteer community. We felt the following suggestions would contribute to the lessening of the frustration level of the keying community. The only listed suggestion that appears to have been implemented is the change to the General Project Keying Guidelines to General Keying Standards.
Here is one of the attachments we sent to WAP to be included in the discussion points.

Suggestions that may or may not be in place in the WAP New Project Process
• Change General Project Keying Guidelines to General Keying Conventions
• Make General Keying Conventions instructional rather than answers to questions
• Standardize Keying Conventions throughout all projects
• Review the General Keying Conventions after each projects lessons learned session
• When customer has a specific data field requirement, note the variation from keying conventions in the field help instructions
• For General keying help instructions find images that reflect an example of the instruction set
• Insure Sales Force, Project Management Personnel and Engineers have a thorough knowledge the General Keying Conventions
• Insure Sales Force presents General Keying Conventions to new customers as a preferred way to key the project
• Conduct a lessons learned session at the completion of each project
• Conduct a periodic review of submitted arbitrated data for any unexpected images or data types and adjust field help instructions accordingly
• Post any change notices on the message board
• Regularly monitor message boards for early warnings of possible misunderstandings of instructions and be proactive in addressing the misunderstanding
• The diagram below is suggesting who should be involved during what process

I think it would really help new indexers and seasoned ones alike to have a more extensive set of examples for the website chosen. Much seems to be taken for granted. Perhaps a pro-forma image page could be used to submit a particular type of entry with a suggested strategy? Kim Best

Maybe each project could have a “sample” data set, showing many of the known unusual situations in the data. It would show the correct keying of the information. It could also give the keyer a chance to key the information and see that their keying matches the given “correct” keying.

By showing the desired keying entries in advance, it becomes less of a “testing” situation, and more of an information sharing situation.

Naturally explanations should be provided to cover all situations that do not follow “key as seen,” such as the omission of certain punctuation marks, and the inclusion of certain other punctuation marks.

A couple of example pages showing records that have been done (both original record and input) so I can browse and see what it’s supposed to look like would be helpful.

I agree that examples would be most helpful to me. To see the original and then next to it what a keyed page should look like for that particular project.

I have helped out with Project Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders with keying old books and documents to release to public domain. What was really helpful was to be able to see the records that I entered, and any corrections that were made. I could then look at the original document and see exactly where my inconsistency was. This helped me to improve before entering hundreds or thousands of records.

If you haven’t seen their site, it is a great way to provide feedback and mentoring to volunteers.

I would love to be able to see exactly what I keyed incorrectly as soon as it has been arbitrated.

Thanks for letting us give suggestions!

I think all of the suggestions listed are great, but I especially like the suggestion of being given feedback as to the mistakes I have made. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken.

1st – Thankfully the project pages are now much clearer, the more detail the better.

2nd – I agree that feed back should be offered to keyers especially when they repeat the same mistake over and over. I personally have been guilty of this and wish somebody had pointed out my mistake to me.

3rd – I also think that a keying test is a good idea. Asking someone to key 2 or 3 records off of 5 to 10 different images, set up to give a rating followed by a review of what actually should have been keyed would be a great learning tool. Even if it is set up just to re-enforce the “keying standards” it would be a great tool for both beginers and anyone who just wants to refresh their skills.

Keep up the good work….

Other keying projects I have worked on have mentors – they ‘adopt’ new keyers, giving them advice, tips, encouragement as they develop into experienced keyers.
They are given individual feedback and it is done in a supportive way.
Before starting on ‘live’ projects, new keyers work on a training system – getting used to the software and the idiosyncrasies of the project. That way, they are learning without impacting on the live project and their own statistics.
We NEED all of the above if people are not to become disillusioned. Crista says we have 700 new keyers a week – how many of these are still actively participating after a month, six months, a year? I would think very few.
I have reviewed and arbitrated sets that have been keyed with the same errors continually being made. You can tell they are the same people making the same mistakes/misinterpretations over and over. They will keep doing this until either they become totally destroyed by amazingly low accuracy ratings or someone TELLS them.
Arbitrators try very hard to get the message to the keyers. As a group, we probably spend almost as much time on the message boards, wiki etc as we doing on the keying tool much or the time. The problem is, there is no sure way to get the message to keyers.
We need to be able to tell these people what is going wrong – why, despite their best efforts, they can’t improve their accuracy. If WAP is worried about offending these keyers, or lack of diplomacy in delivering the message, there are two options.
1. Have a fully automated system that gives feedback based on what has been changed in arbitration/review. The keyer would be able to see what has been changed and ask for explanation on the message boards.
2. Have a system of mentors that can be supported and trained to do the delivery and perhaps they can maintain the keying instruction help files so there is less ambiguity in some of the keying requirements.
One final comment – when doing my research in Ancestry, I take the time to correct the occasional keying/transcription error in the live records. I may do one of these every month or so. Invariably, I receive a “thank you” email from Ancestry, welcoming my so tiny, insignificant contribution. Keyers and arbitrators who may dedicate all their spare time to these projects never receive any such acknowledgment. Maybe some personalised system of recognition could be developed. Not something that seems false and automatic, but something that acknowledges things such as an increase in the number of records/accuracy being done, participation in the Wiki and message boards etc.

[…] couple of weeks ago we discussed new keyers and how best to provide them with encouragement. You had some fantastic feedback! Today […]

Thank you all so much for the fantastic feedback. I’ve addressed some of these issues in today’s blog post. You can find it here:

I just signed up about a half an hour ago and have been reading blogs and tips since then. After reading about the problem new keyers have in contacting someone for help, I also think we should have the buddy system. I am a fast learner and a self-teacher, but there are times when I need to talk to someone with more experience to get me over the hump. Is there a reason we can’t do this?

I have 3 children and soon 7 grandchildren Crista. so know all about one step forward very wobbly. I am 65 and have cerebellar atrophy. I spend most of my day taking very unsteady small steps.

I have learned a lot about patience and wishing and hoping.