Help Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons by transcribing small pieces of text

Are you looking for a voluntary task that can be done from your computer? One that can take just a couple of minutes? Are you a user of Wikipedia, or one of its sister projects, who would like to put something back?

Wikimedia Commons, the open media repository which is used to host images, video and audio for Wikipedia and for re-use by anyone, has thousands of images with small amounts of text, which need transcription. These include foundation stones, gravestones, various signs, and others.

For example, I took this picture in Worcester a few years ago:


Large stone clock with inscribed wording. See article for transcription

and recently transcribed the text:

This foundation stone

was laid by

Cosmo Gordon Lang

Archbishop of Canterbury

25th March 1939

WE Moone EDE MD JP – Mayor

CH Digby-Seymour MA – Town Clerk

which you can now see on the images’s page on Wikimedia Commons.

There are more images in Category:Foundation stones, Category:Signs by materials, Category:Gravestones, and and we’ll be adding others to Category:Needing transcription shortly. (We may subdivide the latter by language, as it grows). Experienced Wikimedians can help by adding the {{Transcribe here}} template to suitable image pages; and by categorising foundation stone images by year.

If you’d like to help, first sign up for a new account (if you don’t already have one there or on Wikipedia). Your username is personal to you (not your organisation or employer) and will work on Wikipedia and the other projects. You can use a pseudonym, if you wish to remain anonymous.

Then, pick an image from one of the above categories, or their linked subcategories, and check it hasn’t already been transcribed. By selecting from a subcategory relating to a specific country, you can find images with text in languages other than English. Transcribe the text in a text editor or word processor (this allows you to have the image window and text editor open side by side). Use sentence case, for readability, even if the original is all in upper case, and match the line breaks in the original. When you’re done, copy the text to your clipboard.

Next, click “edit” on the image page, and paste the text below the description fields. Don’t worry if you aren’t sure how to format it, as another editor will soon oblige (or you can drop me a note here or on Twitter — I’m @pigsonthewing —  and I will do so), but I used the {{inscription}} template, like this:

The inscription reads (all in upper case):

{{inscription |1=

This foundation stone

was laid by

Cosmo Gordon Lang

Archbishop of Canterbury

25th March 1939

WE Moone EDE MD JP – Mayor

CH Digby-Seymour MA – Town Clerk

| language=en }}

Note that the template ends with | language=en }} to show that the text is in English.

If you can see the template code {{Transcribe here}} in the page, you can now delete it.

Finally, enter an edit summary, such as “transcribed the text” and hit “save”. And that’s it. Easy, wasn’t it? Why not do another one?

Updated: to use a better template.

Using IrfanView for image slideshows

The other evening, I went to see my friend Peter Shirley talk to the Sandwell Valley Naturalists Club about the wildlife he saw in Canada. Pete is @PeteWestBrom on Twitter and you should follow him, and read his , if you’re interested in nature, wildlife conservation, or green issues.

He mentioned to me that he was looking for some software to display images in a slideshow, but sorted into his preferred order, rather than by datestamp or file name. He wanted something less cumbersome than PowerPoint or its free equivalent in LibreOffice, Impress. I said I knew of something that would do the job, and would send him details. But on the principle of responding to technical questions openly, in public, in order to more widely share and disseminate knowledge, I’m posting the answer here, and I’ll send him a link to this post.

For some time, I’ve used the excellent programme, an image viewer which also serves as a lightweight, but nonetheless powerful, image editor. It’s not Photoshop (nor the free equivalent, GIMP), but it’s great for cropping, rotating, changing contrast or brightness, and other similar tasks, which it can also do on a batch basis. It’s free for non-commercial use, for Windows. Its author, Irfan Skiljan, is also very responsive to user requests, and the programme has several features which he’s kindly added at my request.

And it has a slideshow feature.

IrfanView slideshows can be used for talks and presentations like Pete’s, or be left unattended, as a “carousel” or “kiosk” style display. To make one, first, download and install IrfanView, and any of its various plug-ins you might use (I simply download and install the full set of plugins, in one file).

Next, to set up a slideshow, use the IrfanView File menu and select Slideshow. You’ll see a dialogue like this (taken from the current version at the time of writing, v4.36):

IrfanView Slideshow dialogue

Use the top-right quarter to navigate to the images you wish to use. You can select them in batches and use the add button or double click on them to add them to the list, which will appear in the bottom-right corner, one at a time. Once you have your list of files, you can use move up, move down or sort, to carry out those actions, and you can remove files that are no longer needed.

You can also include mp3 files, to have music, or other audio, played along with your images. That could even be a narration.

In the top left section, chose whether to have automatic transitions, based on a timer, or a keyboard/ mouse action, or random transitions. Below that, select your other options (I won’t list them here, but you can play around with them, to suit your needs — they should be reasonably self-explanatory).

Use the “play” option to run through the presentation and make sure you’re happy with it. You can reorder, add or remove images at any time.

When you’re happy with the slideshow, you can save the running order to a text file (and later reopen it), though that assumes that the images remain on your machine, in the original folder(s). Alternatively, you can burn the whole show to a DVD, or create an executable file including the images and running order.

And that’s it. What’s not to like?

What have I been up to, lately?

I really ought to blog more often (cobbler’s children’s shoes and all that…), but in the style of a back-to-school, what-I-did-on-my-holidays essay, here’s a round-up of some of my recent activity. And inactivity.

In June, I suffered a detached retina, and had to undergo emergency eye surgery. This happened again, in the same eye, a couple of weeks later. My eye is recovering well, but I’m likely to need a further operation for the resultant cataract, at some point in the future. Thanks to everyone who expressed good wishes.

The first detachment happened around the time I was speaking, twice, at the WikimediaUK AGM in Lincoln. There’s a video of my talk on Wikipedians-in-Residence.

I subsequently received a grant from WikimediaUK for a digital recorder to assist with my project asking Wikipedia subjects to contribute recordings of their spoken voices.


Institution of Civil Engineers - One Great George Street - Library

My picture of the Institution of Civil Engineers’ library

Following my surgery, I was laid up for a few weeks, but managed to get out and help at a couple of local Social Media Surgeries (thanks to Si Whitehouse and Steph Clarke, who acted as my chauffeurs). As my recovery progressed, I also visited London, and ran a Wikipedia editathon at the prestigious and historic Institution of Civil Engineers.

Shortly after my first operation, the Museum Association published a series of case studies (some behind a paywall) of collaboration between Wikipedia and British GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums), including one about my work as Wikipedian-in-Residence at the New Art Gallery, Walsall, which is freely viewable.

I also took the train to Shrewsbury, to teach Shropshire County Archives staff there to edit Wikipedia. At the “Skill Share Jamboree“, where ‘hacktivists’ came together to share practical knowledge in a number of disciplines, I taught a session on recognising garden birds, and another on how to edit Wikipedia.

The BrewCamp meetings which I and a small group of friends run in and around Birmingham, to allow public sector activists to meet and discuss digital engagement topics, were successfully spun off by us and local collaborators into Dudley (as “BostinCamp“) and Stafford (as “OatCakeCamp“), and will no doubt both now develop independent lives there.

I helped launch the “Best by West Midlands” white paper and website, including case studies of social media use in local government. One of the case studies was about my work as Wikipedian-in-Residence with Staffordshire Archives and Heritage Service. At the launch, I ran a discussion session for the attendees, on “trust in social media”, with a subsequent on-line write-up.


Library of Birmingham - interior 2013-08-28 - 34

Inside the Library of Birmingham, in the week before opening

I was kindly invited to a preview of the new Library of Birmingham, where I took a lot of photographs, which are now available on Wikimedia Commons, under an open licence, and so freely available for reuse.

More recently, I attended State of the Map, the annual international OpenStreetMap conference. I volunteered to “captain” some of the sessions, acting as timekeeper, but was honoured to be asked to chair the main strand for all three days, introducing keynote and other speakers from Japan, the USA, Australia, Indonesia and across Europe. Not only was it a great opportunity to catch up with friends, and to learn, but I was able to find people to work collaboratively on a number of tasks, such as automating links from OSM to Wikipedia, which I’ll be writing about soon.

The very next day, I was back at the New Art Gallery, Walsall as the MC for “GalleryCamp13”, the inaugural unconference for people working at or with, or simply interested in, art galleries. I also spoke there, about my Wikipedian in Residence work. There’s a Storify post about the event.

I’m now working on a number of other projects, about which more in the future, and am available to help your organisation to understand Wikipedia and open content, or social media more widely, or to plan and host (un) conferences.

Trevor Mabbett’s comments on ‘The Man on the Beat’

Last year, my friend Lloyd Davis did some work with the British Council, digitising their film archive. He kindly allowed my father, Trevor, and me to see an early screening of The Man on the Beat, which is now on their website (sadly, not under an open licence). The film was made on and around Ledsam Street in the Ladywood district of Birmingham, where my father was born and grew up.

Merlin Films presents The Man on the Beat - RCA sound system

The following are my father’s comments on the film, transcribed and annotated by me. Times are in minutes and seconds.


00:26 Little Miss Barber, mascot of a local brand of tea. A few of their painted adverts, featuring said female, remain on local (Birmingham/ Black Country) buildings; some as “ghost signs”, while others are lovingly repainted by whoever owns or lives in the buildings. Sadly, every now and again, one gets painted over. Andy wrote a Wikipedia article about her.

00:34 Top right as camera pans left is the Belliss and Morcom factory. St Margaret’s church is behind the Rann St sign — my parents were married there in 1919. The church is the building at 52.47875,-1.92304 on the old Ordnance Survey map. Rann Street is to the South of that, running SW-NE (roughly the line of modern-day Guild Close; which you can see by toggling the map selection, top-right). Monument Road LMS sheds can be seen further NE (now Kilby Avenue). My parent’s shop is a few blocks behind the camera. I used to climb on the wall on which the Rann St sign is fixed, often. The phone number on the back of the van is not genuine — perhaps it was changed for filming?

00:39 The pub is possibly the Ladywood House. “Discol” was a brand of diesel fuel.

01:25 Birmingham’s coat-of-arms.

01:47 An RAF corporal; I’m not sure what chevrons on his arm denote (possibly years of service?). The brick “box” in front of the shop in background is the entrance to a cellar bomb-shelter.

02:18 The man in a peaked cap looks like a railwayman (Monument Road LMS sheds were nearby).

02:19 St John Ambulance badge on arm denotes first-aid training. Note finger post (sadly unreadable) behind policeman’s shoulder. “A” on policeman’s collar denotes division to which he was allocated. The dome on top of the phone was blue flashing light, used when station needed to speak to a beat officer (these were the days before police radios).

03:37 Birmingham’s coat of arms in helmet badge.

03:58 Probably Steelhouse Lane Police Station (in city centre); certainly not Ladywood Police Station, which was inside a courtyard. Steelhouse Lane Police Station is still in use, so easy to check.

04:07 BDC — possibly Birmingham Dairy Company?

04:19 White bands on street furniture were added during blackout.

05:20 Reference to Witton on first tram, so Villa Park.

05:22 Second tram is route 3X.

06:38 Bus route 12.

06:40 Rhodes, a fine china shop. Left-hand shop has an owl, sign of Harrisons Opticians. This shop was on corner of Snow Hill (Andy’s mom adds that she remembers being taken to see a large owl sign on top of the building illuminated once the war ended). Note streetlamp above owl, with glass mostly painted black for blackout. Building on right may be the Gaumont cinema.

06:50 Street sign says “Steelhouse Lane”. When facing Rhodes, the city centre is to the left.

08:15 The box on a pillar, painted red, was a break-glass fire alarm, with a telephone connected to the fire station.

09:43 The shop under the street sign may be Mrs Noyce’s tripe shop, where I used to go with a jug, to collect tripe for my family and our neighbours.

10:09 “The Gunpowder Shop”, named after 19th century IRA man who lived
and plotted there. I found a picture in “Britain in old photographs — Ladywood” by Norman Bartlam (1999, p32, lower picture, ISBN 0-7509-2071-8) which also has a brief history of the incident.

10:27 The modern brick annexe with a concrete slab roof is an air-raid shelter.

10:44 The white-painted rocks in the wall are another remnant of the blackout.

Misc: None of the policemen have medal ribbons, which you would expect at the end of the war, so they’re possibly actors, not real officers.

All your video are belong to us: open licence recordings of local government meetings

I’ve written before about what open licensing is and how to apply it to your pictures; and I’ve called for councils and other public bodies to open licence as many as possible of their photographs.

There’s recently been a welcome and encouraging increase in the number of councils that are live-streaming, or videoing for later consumption, their meetings. Such videos — and similar audio recordings — should also be made available to the public for reuse under open licences, which means no unnecessary restrictions such as “no commercial use” or “no derivatives” (the latter prohibits people from providing edited highlights or making compilations).

Some councils have an old fashioned attitude to the reuse of their videos
Photo by Taki Steve, on Flickr, CC-BY

There are a few reasons why this doesn’t currently happen, and they’re based on reasonable but unfounded concerns. Some council people (employed officers and elected members) are worried that they’ll lose control. They think that people will edit the videos in such as way as to misrepresent what was actually said. And some people will — but such people will do that regardless of the licence in place, and will misrepresent councillors even if only text minutes are available. Councils’ responses should be to point members of the public to the unedited originals, which they will of course host themselves, or on a service such as YouTube, using an account which they control. Are councils really going to resort to copyright law to stifle satire or prevent lobbying? Perhaps they should read about the (where resorting to legislation focusses greater attention on one’s actions than the subject of that action ever could).

Another issue is that some fear that if councillors use videos for political campaigning, that would break the rules on misuse of public money and council resources. The answer is simple: remind councillors of such rules and let them be responsible for their actions.

Such concerns are vastly outweighed by the potential benefits of allowing free (both senses: as in beer and speech) reuse of videos of our democratic processes in action. Bloggers (hyperlocal and others), journalists, lobby groups, Wikipedians and documentary makers will be able to report on the issues discussed by our elected representatives; and this can only encourage more involvement from lay people in the running of the services that they pay for.

Restrictive, non-open licences do not harm mendacious armchair activists, nor satirists, nor rogue politicians; they only hinder people who wish to use the material in a law abiding way to increase such engagement.

What licence is your council using for its videos of meetings?

My thanks to Tom Phillips for suggesting I write this post, for discussion in this evening’s #lgovsm chat on Twitter.

Thank you Herkimer Elementary for a Twitter spam case study

As my Twitter followers and other friends will know, I actively campaign against balloon releases — they litter, and harm wildlife.

This post isn’t about that, but about something odd which I discovered while doing so.

Each day, I search Twitter for people who are planning a balloon release, and politely ask them not to do it. A sufficient number to make this worthwhile, oblige.

About a year or so ago, give or take, I saw a tweet, the URL of which I have long since lost track of, saying:

Thank you Herkimer Elementary for a beautiful balloon release. Headed to Slavic Pentacostal Church.

(Both venues are in Herkimer, New York, USA, if you wondered.)

But then a while later, I saw exactly the same text tweeted by someone else. Then again by another account, a few days later, then again. This went on, week after week. Gradually, the frequency increased, and now at any time there are hundreds of recent tweets with that text:

https://twitter.com/charolettetm/status/292294397670850561

https://twitter.com/lashernndshane/status/292287884197773312

https://twitter.com/janinemccormi/status/292286193079566336

https://twitter.com/trishadicksonuk/status/292270073828212737

https://twitter.com/lavelleboothjnu/status/292224663940128768

You can try the ‘Herkimer Elementary beautiful balloon release’ search yourself.

If we examine one of the accounts tweeting that, say @janinemccormi (picked at random), we can see he’s tweeted other things:

https://twitter.com/janinemccormi/status/291091194732244993

https://twitter.com/janinemccormi/status/289943029542961152

(Interestingly, a Google image search shows that @janinemccormi’s avatar is shared with @sanevekaxu7, whose account is suspended.)

Those messages have each been tweeted by lots of other people:

https://twitter.com/AugustaGriffit9/status/292298948205502465

https://twitter.com/ChristyFry7/status/292288707422220290

https://twitter.com/GustavoMcclain/status/292285011686723585

https://twitter.com/lawanavdqplaza/status/292249058641338368

https://twitter.com/RenaldoJames2/status/292231467197661184

(‘ASOS Topshop killlllllllling meee’ search).

and again:

https://twitter.com/darcijvgsledfor/status/292313158306111489

https://twitter.com/ErickStephenso2/status/292137319039893504

https://twitter.com/LillianRogers18/status/292135322765103104

https://twitter.com/YolandePowell/status/292116140837191680

(‘preciso sair e passar nos outros fcs ‘-‘ beeijos.’ search).

And so it goes on: hundreds of identical tweets, from accounts making hundreds of other duplicate tweets. You’ll be able to find plenty more examples.

Now, at the risk of casting aspersions on innocent bystanders, I think it’s safe to assume that those are not genuine accounts (or if they are, they’re compromised).

If I were Twitter, I’d be looking into this and suspending some accounts. A lot of accounts.

For I’m a Jolly Good Fellow (of the RSA)

I may have been overlooked, once again, in the new year’s honours list, but in mid-December I received an unsolicited and very flattering email; I’d been nominated, by their Regional Programme Manager, to become a Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (the Royal Society of Arts, for short, or RSA, for shorter). The nomination was “for your work on open data, Wikipedia and social media”.

You could have knocked me down with a metaphor.

Royal Society of Arts - from the Strand, London

RSA headquarters
Photo by Elliott Brown, on Flickr, CC-BY

Founded in 1754, the RSA is an independent enlightenment organisation committed to finding practical solutions to today’s social challenges (their email pointed out). That sounded right up my street. I was delighted to accept, and confirmation arrived by e-mail on Wednesday.

I’m in some illustrious company. My fellow fellows include Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Dr Sue Black, Stephen Hawking and Gareth Malone. Past fellows have included Charles Dickens, Benjamin Franklin and Karl Marx!

As a fellow, I shall have use of facilities at the RSA headquarters, off The Strand, pictured above. I shall henceforth refer to this, tongue firmly in cheek, as “my London club”.

My fellowship also means that I now have extra initials after my name. I’m “Andy Mabbett, FRSA”.

But you can still call me Andy.

How may I merge or duplicate Twitter accounts?

I manage multiple Twitter accounts. At some point, I will need to retire one; let’s call that Account A.

Is there a tool which will allow me, with ease, to make my Account B follow all the people currently followed by Account A?

Some people may find it useful, too, to be able to create a new account and have it follow all the people followed by an existing account which they or a third party own.

If there isn’t such a tool, would somebody care to make one?

Any such tool would need to deal with any duplicates (i.e. people already followed by Account B); and perhaps any limits set by Twitter on the number of follows made in a short period.

Teaching OpenStreetMap and Wikipedia editing, Tupperware Party style

I’m writing (and posting — thank you Chiltern Railways’ free Wi-Fi!) this on the train home from High Wycombe. I’ve spent a fun day there with Louise Brown, her husband Simon, and three of their friends, teaching them to edit OpenStreetMap and, after a fab lunch cooked by Simon, how to edit Wikipedia.

This came about after I mentioned on Twitter some other Wikipedia training I’d delivered, and Louise said she wished I lived closer, so she could have attended. I said I’d be wiling to travel to her home to do so if she could get a few like-minded friends together, to justify me giving up a day of my time and making the journey. This she quickly did.

Though we didn’t add much to OpenStreetMap to start with, I’m confident that the attendees will soon fill in the gaps around their homes and work-places in High Wycombe, West Wycombe and Marlow. We certainly improved some Wikipedia articles though, and created some new articles, including:

St Lawrence, West Wycombe
Photo by amandabhslater, on Flickr, CC-BY-SA

I’ve previously taught Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap editing, separately, in a variety of situations including universities, council offices, at Social Media Surgeries, at hackdays, and elsewhere, but this is the first time I’ve done so in someone’s home, in an informal and social setting.

A bit like a Tupperware party in fact, but without the plastic kitchenware.

If you have skills in editing Wikipedia or OpenStreetMap, or using social media, or indeed anything else that can be done around a domestic dining table, why don’t you see if you can share them in a similar way. If you’ve not delivered training before, it’s a good way to get experience.

It’s also a great way to sign up new contributors to these worthwhile crowd-sourced projects, in a fun, friendly and supportive environment. There are no venue costs to worry about. And you’ll meet some lovely people!

So what are you waiting for?