Is Faster Better…Or Even Really Faster?

With the launch of the latest World Record Challenge there has been lots of chatter both here on the blog and over on our Facebook page about quality.  It seems that quite a few of you are concerned that these types of challenges encourage people to key faster and consequently, quality suffers.  I didn’t feel like that was true but thought I would do a couple of things to prove or disprove this perception.

First, I spent some time arbitrating every day this past week.  (I usually only do this once a week or so.)  I didn’t notice any major change in quality this week from months past.  “That’s good,” I think.

However, my perception is just as anecdotal as yours so I thought I would dig down into some reports, analyze the data and see if I could figure out the reality.  Here are a few things the numbers tell me:

  1. There were almost 130,000 more records keyed and arbitrated last week than the weekly average of the last two months.
  2. There were over 1550 more hours contributed last week than the Sep/Oct weekly average.
  3. We had almost two dozen more people contribute this past week than the average of the previous eight weeks.
  4. Collectively, you each put in about an hour and a half more last week than you have in previous weeks.
  5. And, you are keying about six records more per hour than you did before.

This means that there are more of you, keying more often – and yes, you are all keying just a little bit faster.  But, not much.  And considering we released a directories project just before this all began, not at all surprising.

I still find myself still a little confused about where this perception of quality degradation comes from.  So, back to the numbers:

  • Our top ten keyers last week (by volume) keyed and arbitrated 16% of the total record count of the week.  Those ten people have an average accuracy rate of 96%.
  • All keyers on the top three projects (by volume) last week have an average accuracy rating of 94%.
  • We have an average of 125 new keyers join us each week (and last week was no exception).  A random sampling of 15 of these new keyers shows an average accuracy rating of 87%.

What does all of this tell me?  It tells me that the more you do, the more experienced you become, the better your quality.  Remember when you first started keying?  No matter how great the instructions or how much we communicate as a community, there will always be work for the arbitrators to do because there are always new people joining our ranks and learning how we do things.

I’m glad you brought up the topic.  It made me think and dig in to find some answers.

You generously contribute your time to participate in the Ancestry World Archives project because you understand how important it is that we make as many records as possible, available as quickly as possible to family history researchers around the world.  But, we all know that if they aren’t keyed correctly chances of people finding them decrease dramatically.

Is quality important?  Absolutely!  Are there things each of us could do to improve the quality of our keying?  Absolutely!  Because of that I want to keep discussing this topic.  Every Monday and Thursday for the next several weeks I’ll publish a brief blog post (much briefer than this one, I promise) discussing a different aspect of quality.  I hope you’ll read it, share your thoughts and impressions in the comments, and maybe implement one or two better practices in your own keying in the process.

I am more convinced than ever that what we are accomplishing together as a community of World Archives contributors is meaningful and significant.  My thanks to each of you for making whatever contribution your time and circumstances allow.  Whether you keyed 17,000 records last week or one, you made a difference.

Until next time – Happy Keying!

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Hi Christa, While the single-point data this week relating to accuracy is encouraging, do you had a graph or table showing average accuracy rates weekly over the past year with the challenge weeks highlighted?

It would be interesting to see. And would finally nail down whether the perceived drop in accuracy in the challenge weeks is perception or actuality.

Personally, I never noticed much change with challenge weeks vs normal. Then again, i don’t arbitrate every project either. And spend more time keying than arbitrating.

FINALLY! A moment of clarity and sanity. I’m sure there will be those that say they still see a difference in quality, and in some cases they may be right. I am glad to hear though, for the most part, it’s an incorrect perception. I would guess that even at peak keying times, the quality is good, just the passion (and hence, volume) increase.

Baiting is not an ethical practice.

I have been keying alot more for the last week or so but only because I have no work at the moment and I really enjoy keying I find it relaxing as I think most of us do.

Hi Christa

I am one of those new keyers and even though I was an admissions secretary for many years and am used to keying large amounts of data it is still difficult sometimes to know which column to put information in and you do learn the more you do. The basic stuff is obvious but the extra info often added by parish clerks is more difficult, but often also of huge interest to genealogists. Its not so much the handwriting I find difficult as I have been doing genealogy for over 40 years(back when nothing was online and everything had to be done from the originals) but I am keen to be accurate as I am passionate about genealogical records being freely available to all in the easiest possible way, which these days has got to be online.

Most Genealogists share the same wish to see accuracy as we all know how hard it can be to locate a record that had been mistyped or classified. Therefore I am sure hardly anyone would sacrifice accuracy for speed. A competition just spurs you on a little to key a greater number of records and spend more time than you might otherwise.

Hi Crista

Thanks for your comments – after recently reading one of the previous blogs when a fellow volunteer described others keying as “rubbish” I was very close to both not bothering to carry on keying and also to cancelling my subscription to Ancestry! Surely the point is that we are ALL volunteers who are freely giving our valuable time to help? As a full time carer to my disabled husband I have found that keying these records a superb way of preserving my sanity!

Hope you had a nice birthday and best wishes to all fellow volunteers

Love, Jan xx

I have cancelled out my sets to key, due to a family emergency. I wish I could do more in this challenge. Maybe the next challenge! GO KEYERS, GO ARBITRATORS!! 🙂

I am sending positive thoughts to you and your family. Family comes first.

Glad to hear that quality doesn’t seem to be suffering. I work on advanced projects, so I don’t pay much attention to these contests, because I certainly can’t compete against people doing easy projects.

Just a comment I thought this was a voluntary commitment, Whether basic or advanced!!! This project is to get the information out there. I’m just glad I can contribute my time and energy.

Where can you see how many points you’ve accumulated?

I have found more problems in the accuracy during challenges like these, the usual are dates where a ‘O’ is added, short names being extended. The real problem being is that some people do not key what they see. Even then numbering off lines has been incorrect, and shows people are not reading the field helps. Why is there mopre keying this month than last – well here in the UK the winter has begun prior to this we have lovely weather. Hence more time spent on the projects.

I am one of the new keyers and I have found it facinating. I have an 87% accuracy rating. What would be very helpful is to know what I am doing wrong. I have tried very hard to key what I see and to follow the guides, but I must be mis-understanding some of the instructions. Any clues for me?

I would love to know what Poster #3 means by his comment.

Hi to all keyers, although this is mainly for Connie as you asked about your % rate and what you are doing wrong. I can only say the things I have come across as an arbitrator and that is. I find mainly the keyer is typing more than they need to, typing full name when asked for as seen, and another is the date, typing in the full year. Don’t forget also your % will probably change as to what project you are keying. So please don’t be disheartened 87% is good anyway and as you say you are a new keyer.
Luv Jackie


I can also echo what Connie Trams says. I often find the guides confusing, for example The Tiler project for parents surnames is “The father surname is the last name of the father of the person to whom the record pertains”, which seems to suggest that you should key the parent’s surname as the same as the child’s unless it says different, but then it says “Key the father surname name whenever present, on any event type” So which is it? In my experience the parents surnames are rarely given it is usually just John & Mary etc.

I think what would be more useful to new keyers is a picture of a record as you have now and a picture of an ideal example of a keyed record making sure to deal with what you do or dont do with all the extra information that appears like widow, because when in doubt as to what is classed as a suffix I tend to key it anyway if it is something that I as a genealogist would like to see.

Great that more records are being keyed, all the better for those of us doing research – more info will be coming soon. What I always think, though, is, when it comes to accuracy, there are two schools of thought. The first is simple mistakes, typos, that sort of thing. The second is recorded data that is open to interpretation. Some handwriting, for example, is so difficult to read, that it’s really anyone’s guess WHAT it actually says. An arbitrator can only be guessing as well when going over the keyed records. This is why I have a problem with accuracy ratings in general. There isn’t a black and white method of arbitrating some of this data. EVERYONE is guessing sometimes. I might be “pretty” sure it says one thing and the other keyer might also be “pretty” sure it says something else, and the arbitrator may come along and be “pretty” sure it’s something altogether different. It’s unfair to say that both Keyer A and B were “wrong”, they just interpreted some seriously terrible handwriting differently that the arbitrator. I know, this is venting, but this seemed like the perfect thread to do it on. 😀

Hi, again
Thanks Jackie for your response. What you said ” I find mainly the keyer is typing more than they need to, typing full name when asked for as seen,” brings a question to mind. What about state and country abbreviations? For instance in a birthplace field, it says Penn and when you key Pen you get both the abbreviation and the full name suggestion. I have been putting the full word in.

In regards to the comment about keyers entering more informaion than is necessary–for instance, typing out abbreviated names.

I think this stems from all of us researchers wanting to know every last detail! I find in my own research that I enter EVERY LITTLE THING into my notes, do not abbreviate states, or even the word county. I do have the months abbreviated in my file, that is the default setting with day/month/year.

What we as keyers have to remember is that this is an INDEX to the actual record. It is intended to provide enough information to be able to locate a record, but not contain every detail. That is what the actual record is for. Hence, we need to rein ourselves in when itching to put in more than is there, and/or try and’correct’ things.

It is important to be as accurate as possible. We also must remember that even the original documents contain errors. Those who created them were no more perfect than we are. I have some first hand experience with these mistakes. Also, I have used professionally done indexes which also contain errors. Part of the fun of genealogy research is having to spend some time digging and figuring out if the information you found is really correct!

As a previous long timer just returning to the project, I have found that even though I downloaded a new keying program and made sure my computer (new) was in top shape, I am having difficulty with the keying program slowing me down. And I cannot arbitrate because the arbitration tool freezes the program when I attempt to realign the Keyers A and B. I have reported this but have not received any response as yet. This does not make for any speed in keying.

I also am a “newbie” to not only this project but got a really late start in doing the ol family tree. But my idea on the quality vs quanity is this I would really rather be correct than fast. I understand the need or desire to have as much info entered as possible but what good is all tha info if it is not correct and does not help others find what they are looking for.
I have limited myself to “easy” and “average” files after looking at an “advanced” file and almost passed out. I think for us newbies starting out easy or average really helps us gain the experience to become more accurate. The other reason I enjoy the quality aspect over the speed is that I like to read over the records as I go. This is history and very interesting!
Finally those that feel the need to take pop-shots as others remember no one started out as an “expert”

After spending hours and hours searching for a lead it’s discouraging to find that the information keyed in is simply wrong. The Mississippi State and Territorial Census Collection, 1792-1866 has birthpalce listed as Michigan for people born in Mississippi (1850>Hinds>99).Better accuracy and a better way to alert Ancestry of keying errors would be nice.

lindapauline, as far as I can tell that database which you mention was not keyed by the World Archives Project.