david hieatt

Small actions make a big change when repeated often enough.


You know those anti-spam things you have to fill in, to demonstrate you are not human; well this one by recaptcha   (http://recaptcha.net) is clever.


It too tells you that you are human, which is always reassuring to know.


But it does something else too.


Each time you input a word, it helps to digitize books one word at a time.


You see, about 200 million CAPTCHAs are solved by humans around the world every day. In each case, roughly ten seconds of human time are being spent. Individually, that's not a lot of time, but in aggregate these little puzzles consume more than 150,000 hours of work each day.


So what if we could make positive use of this human effort? Well, that’s what reCAPTCHA does by channeling the effort spent solving CAPTCHAs online into "reading" books.


So books that were written before the computer age can be archived and made accessible to you and me. Currently, they are helping to digitize old editions of the New York Times.

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