Singapore Budget 2015: New portal to crowdsource captions, transcripts of old photos, national archives

SINGAPORE - Wanted: history enthusiasts to caption old photographs and transcribe handwritten manuscripts that contain a piece of Singapore's history.

They are invited to contribute to an upcoming portal that will carry some 3,000 unidentified photographs dating back to the late 1800s, and 3,000 pages of Straits Settlement records including letters written during Sir Stamford Raffles' administration of Singapore.

These are collections from the Government and individuals waiting to be "tagged" on the new portal - The Citizen Archivist Project at www.nas.gov.sg/citizenarchivist.

The portal will be launched this weekend, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information told Parliament during the debate on his ministry's budget on Tuesday.

Without tagging - such as by photo captioning and digital transcription - these records cannot be searched. There are over 140,000 photos and about one million pages of Straits Settlements Records in total that cannot be searched today.

These records date back to the 1800s, and include letters written during Sir Stamford Raffles' administration in Singapore.

"The key challenge is that they were written in elaborate cursive penmanship which is not machine-readable," said Dr Yaacob, adding that the knowledge and wisdom of the public can be tapped on to make these documents more accessible.

Mr Arthur Fong (West Coast GRC) had asked how the Government could get young people interested in history, and Dr Yaacob said this initiative was something they would enjoy.

Portal users must first log in using their existing Facebook, Google or National Library Board accounts. Contributions will be saved in users' profiles, automatically created upon signing in.

Transcript contributions on the portal work in similar ways to Wikipedia; contributed text will be uploaded immediately on the portal.

However, the National Archives will take up to three days to review photo caption contributions. Approved captions will be uploaded on its website at www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline.