Billion Graves

This morning I found out about Billion Graves (app store link), an app for iOS and Android. It crowd sources record keeping of graves. My aunt (sort of), who is very much into genealogy saw this and decided she wants to contribute. It’s interesting to me for two reasons.

  1. It’s this app, and the possibility to contribute to something bigger, not Pandora, not even Angry Birds, that has her interested in a smartphone.
  2. This app is very much along the lines of the data collection features we’re trying to get into ARIS and presents a good example of how curation and crowd-sourced data collection can go together.

The first point is noteworthy because it points to existing audiences and uses for data collection type projects for ARIS. I think it’s also interesting where much of this interest may end up coming from, i.e. far from the tech enthusiast crowd. It is a positive indication that there are community projects either in existence, or which could be enabled through focused, easy to use tools, that we could become involved in.

The second point is interesting because it’s an example of how we might continue to develop our use of data collection features, particularly in a situation where fidelity of the data collected to the real world is of paramount importance.

Basic Data Collection UI

The tab and map driven interface is similar to ARIS. The camera app is how users add new graves, while all and cemeteries are different ways to see what has already been recorded. The dashboard is interesting, it’s similar to our Player tab.

I like that it gives players a chance to add an avatar, and keeps track of (and links to) their accomplished tasks. I like the simplicity and functionality of this interface. I think the biggest thing this points to is the need for something like item type in ARIS and corresponding customizable tab views.

Hybrid Web/Mobile Data Collection

While the mobile device is how users gather data from the real world, the Billion Graves website plays a significant role as well. Rather than having players transcribe details in the field, this task is carried out through the website. This fills several roles:

  • Players can participate in the field or from home. This opens up participation among populations and across time.
  • Transcription slows one down in the field. It is much easier to collect many graves if one can transcribe later. It makes the most of one’s time outside.
  • Transcription is, in some ways a secondary task. Separating it allows the exploring (fun but requiring someone to be onsite) to be separate from the other aspects of record keeping.
  • Transcription is much more of a pain to do on the phone. It can be streamlined in a web interface.

The website also gives players a lot of information about how to collect good data, giving tips about how to take useful pictures of gravestones, what time of day to go, etc. The content also sets certain expectations for accuracy in determined location. Although one can search for graves and names on the device, the fact that one can do so on the website as well is a nod to the fact that the idea of collecting all this data is not just to benefit those collecting it but a much broader group of people who need it.

Data Fidelity

So what do they do to be sure they are getting good data? Even though the accuracy of data is very important, the act of data collection should be fairly simple. They don’t accept uploads from ipod touches (they claim for reasons of location detection – I wonder if image quality is also an issue), or if the iphone does not have a good enough location fix. Players create a login and contribute through that identity. And they retain control of the data and maintain open lines of communication with their users (both the website and the apps) should the need for moderation arise. And that’s it. I suspect they have a way to delete everything created by a particular user should the need arise.

One last item of note. The app is $2 for iOS but free in the Android market.

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