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Brian Curragh

IWM Lives of the Great War Project - reservations

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Brian Curragh

An interesting announcement of what should be a worthwhile project. I do have a few reservations however.

(1) Accuracy

With the multitude of online databases there are these days, it is all too easy to pull together research – be it family history or military research. Having been through the MA at Birmingham, one of the key points stressed was ensuring the accuracy of your sources. By all means use the internet to highlight potential sources but you then had to go back to the primary document. Anyone using Wikipedia as a source would have not lasted the course.

So with this project having the appearance of an officially approved project, yet one completed by enthusiastic individuals – how can you possibly police the accuracy of the data that has been uploaded?

(2) Duplication

How do you stop the same soldier’s record being created by multiple researchers – who may have come up with different stories (accurate or otherwise)?

(3) Commerciality

brightsolid will not be getting involved in this exercise for non-commercial reasons. This project will inevitably be monetarised at some point – otherwise brightsolid/Epson would not be involved. How is this going to manifest itself? What will happen to the copyright of the research that will be uploaded? Could you end up getting charged to access information you may have uploaded yourself? Recent concerns about the ownership of content uploaded to web-based file storage systems equally apply here.

I support the ethos behind the exercise but am extremely dubious as to its eventual worth.

Regards

Brian

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Seadog

Agreed and we all know how stories and experiences get distorted over time and can bear no relation to the true facts for how can these be checked when the subject is no longer alive. I had some dealings with the BBC WW2 "Peoples War" project and submitted various WW2 stories taken directly from the actual veterans and I had verified as well as I could the names, dates and events before uploading to the BBC site, which I am glad to say is still available.

As an example of my concerns I had the pleasure to meet a WW1 veteran who had served with the 12th Glosters and who related a story of when he and his comrades were walking through a trench and when the congestion became so bad he climbed out and walked along the parapet, when the officer shouted at him to get back in the trench he supposedly threatened to shoot the officer with his weapon and continued on his way.

This would make a good contribution to the IWM archive but there is no way that I can verify any of the details. At least when the BBC compiled their stories they did provide trained people in various locations who helped with the writing which in most cases involved the veterans themselves.

Norman

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keithmroberts

There is indeed much detail to be confirmed, but from the site as it is at present I have copied this extract:

5) How will I know if the information about an individual is accurate?

The main sources of information will be official records and other public sources such as books and newspapers. These will be clearly labelled with references so that you can check them for yourself.

6) What do you mean by 'referenced sources'?

To ensure that each life story profile is as accurate as possible users will be asked to show the source of their information. Providing a reference enables other users to check that source for themselves.

The extracts above come from this http://www.livesofthefirstworldwar.org/frequent-questions.php?sec=2 part of the website. I suggest that it is well worth reading through the different topics as the answers to many questions will be found there.

Keith

Edited by Keith Roberts
additional info

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Brian Curragh

Keith

I saw that but I am afraid if this is to be a historical database with worth & value, then that is simply not good enough. The record may be a primary document from an official source but if the researcher attaches it to the wrong individual then it will be worthless & misleading. And to place the burden on other users checking sources is also not going to happen to any significant level.

With a potential eight million records, the volume is too great to be properly checked and/or reviewed - this database will inevitably contain a significant percentage of inaccurate content which will render its value questionable.

A great shame but very difficult to avoid.

Regards

Brian

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Seadog

It does sound on the surface like a very worthwhile project but in my opinion and I hope I am wrong there would seem to be a danger that it ends up as one enormous Roll of Honour of the dead where researchers simply cut and paste their efforts from the data they have formulated in respect of local war memorials etc.

Regards

Norman

Added

This bit from the link in post 3 seems certain to stimulate some vigorous debate on this forum

Mistakes may have been made when the historic documents were first compiled, when they were filed and stored, and when indexes were created. With more than 8 millions life story profiles being researched there will also be difficulties in finding and linking the correct record to a profile. There will be a number of ways in which contributions are assessed for accuracy and users will be able to challenge a link or key fact and propose a correction or an alternative if they think an error has been made.

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E Wilcock

For me the plan to link contributions to original sources (official documents) creates the problem. Official documents are currently viewable only on a pay by view or subscription basis.

This may be why we are told that Subscribers will be able to view additional premium content and access special features. Rather worrying, I feel.

As had been noted elsewhere, British Government policy on the digitalisation of public records involves both ancestry.com and Bright solid - meaning that anyone wanting or needing to research participants in the Great War from a home computer, is obliged to take out two subscriptions, one to each of these organisations.

Like many members of this Forum, I give my own time to transcribing and scanning the material I hold.

I have made a point of uploading my family archive relevant to the 4th South Midland Brigade to a public (Google) web site where I choose to make it available free of charge.

There are other organisations offering free hosting for sites relating to Family and Military history.

Many of us will have to choose whether to contribute to the Museum project, or maintain separate sites. I have further information about the individuals who served in 4th South Midland Brigade RFA, as well as family material, letters from the front, images etc from the Kings Liverpool Regiment. I am reluctant to place this material on any website which charges per view.

Even though this museum sponsored site (or the non-premium part of it) will allow free access for four years, it is stipulated that contributed material will remain at the disposal of the IWM which suggests that at some future point viewing on line might become subject to charges by Brightsolid.

These questions may be resolved in the pdf supplied by the IWM, but I am not authorised to download this file.

Evelyn

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keithmroberts

Brian

I think you are right to point out the risks. How effective the checks are will remain to be seen. My understanding from discussions with Luke and his colleagues, is that although the main framework of the software is in place, the intention is to roll out slowly later this year, seeking contributions from a limited number of sources, including this forum and the IFCP to test each part of the process before a major public launch. I would love to believe that the database would be 100% accurate, that I fear would be optimistic, but I very much hope that the design has sufficient strength, to ensure that the rate of significant error is very small. Only time and testing will tell.

Clearly the narrative elements will have a higher risk; we have had recent topics on the accuracy of oral history, and the current thread on Machine Guns at Gallipoli highlights those as well as the potentially confused impression formed by anyone under stressful circumstances. I'm as confident as I can be that the design team, and the academic panel will have made real efforts to minimise error. How well they have succeeded will emerge once the initial roll out commences. You are inclined, not unreasonably to a fairly pessimistic view, I am more optimistic. We'll find out within the year.

Keith

Keith

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Phil Wood

My concern is with the commercialisation of the project.

I would want binding assurances that material uploaded by members of the public would never be sold. Even so I would be concerned that my work is being used to generate sales for Brightsolid (not that they have digitised any of my local papers for the WW1 period). What commission are they offering us?

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David_Underdown

The commercial providers can often be freely accessed at local libraries without the need to take out a personal subscription. As for the ownership of material you have gathered yourself and uploaded, see http://www.livesofth...tions.php?sec=6. One of the most important parts of this project as I see it is providing a central space to link many different resources together (some of which may require some sort of premium access). If you don't want to actually upload information, but have your own website, I'm sure you'll be able to just add links to the content. Brightsolid here are basically just a technology provider so far as I can see, contracted to build the website and supporting infrastructure. They will get some ongoing income from things that happen to link to other resources in their stable, but I don't think there is any particular reason to suspect that they would be expecting to monetise material directly. While we probably tend to come across them through their publishing arm primarily, it's worth noting that they do a lot of other website development and hosting and so on, not related to genealogical publication http://www.brightsol...ine-technology/

So far as accuracy goes, well to a large extent it can only be as accurate as the resources that go into it. Nothing is entirely accurate, we all know that virtually every memorial has spelling mistakes, incorrect units etc etc. CWGC records contain errors, whether introduced when the material was scanned, or sometimes even going right back to the original records. I've tried to get one particular unit error corrected without complete success, not helped by the fact that there was obviously confusion at the time and the wrong unit is given on one of the very early letters from the Graves Registration Unit (he was an MGC man killed in the Spring Offensive in 1918, which was just as Machine Gun Companies were being grouped into Machine Gun Battalions and the number of the company and the battalion have been muddled). In many ways this sort of project is likely to bring more of these errors to the surface as people scrutinise the primary records more closely. Sure, you shouldn't treat Wikipedia as if it were a primary source, but it's damned useful for getting an overview and finding sources for a more in depth investigation of a topic - and when you read those you may well discover inaccuracies, or over generalisations, but then you can easily fix them for the people who follow you.

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Roxy

Whilst I concur with Brian's points, I am happy to pass on the details of my rellies. If it is thought not to be a historical database of worth and value, then such is life. If it generates interest in what their great great grandfathers did to a bunch of kids who hang about at bus stops, then, IMHO, it will have been worth it.

Just my twopence,

Roxy

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Alan Tucker

Another key question - is it going to be searchable by terms such as unit, last known residence etc?. I agree with those concerned about commercialisation. I have a database of all the Warwicks deaths with a lot of extra info from newspapers etc. I have not spent a lot of my time and money to give it up free and then for it to become a commodity in the market.

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Sue Light

Many of us spend an enormous amount of time and money on projects associated with the Great War. Is there perhaps a danger that unless we are willing to give up our research at some time (not necessarily this minute) then eventually it will be lost. In my opinion there is absolutely no point in having wonderful research on our hard drives unless at least part of it can be shared. This is an opportunity to get a lot of information into the public domain - wait too long and it may well die with us. If there's a problem with giving it up for free and others cashing in, then maybe the route to take is to engage with one of the genealogy providers and get paid when people access it.

Sue

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RoninReepham

I'm quite happy to share my information for free But as with others why should i for someone else to get a profit?

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Guest

I'm quite happy to share my information for free But as with others why should i for someone else to get a profit?

It will depend what price BrightSolid charge for the information. It obviously costs money to build and maintain a data base. If it's an expensive credit system like Scotlands People, then i will probably not subscribe, but if it's a realistic price, I will.

Sue. Some members are writing books, so obviously won't want to publish any information they have spent a great deal of time and money gathering, myself included. If and when I get there, then after a suitable period, they can have the information gladly. Maybe we could leave our data in our wills, to the GWF?

Mike

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Kate Wills

Nice thought Mike.

I think it worth reiterating that, like the GWF, participation in the IWM project is entirely voluntary. Also, in terms of information, if we don't put anything in, we cannot complain if we don't get anything back.

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stiletto_33853

Valid Point Kate, also given the IWM's performance and attitude of the past we put something in and get nothing back.

I have reservations, mainly along the commercial lines and copyright.

Andy

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Bernard_Lewis

My website has 'closed' due to upgrade problems that are beyond my IT skills. I plan to rebuild it in 2014 (early part) and, frankly, don't have time to add info to other databases.

Bernard

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Guest

There is a great deal of information already online for example Click

Is part of the plan to collect all these blogs etc, in one place? That would be worthwhile.

Mike

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Andy Wade

Valid Point Kate, also given the IWM's performance and attitude of the past we put something in and get nothing back.

I have reservations, mainly along the commercial lines and copyright.

Andy

As do I.

I don't know much about 'Brightsolid' ...yet, They might be a perfectly fair and honest concern, but If we can't get free access on their site, they can't have free access to our database.

My opinion is that some of these companies are being downright avaricious in the way they 'acquire' information. Then they have the cheek to claim copyright and charge us for access. Recently one company lifted information from pages of the LLT without even so much as a 'by your leave', so I really don't know who to trust any more. I'm not overly keen on the big 'A' either and see them as a necessary evil.

We have shelled out several hundred pounds of local project funding to get the information we have on our database and much volunteer time to process it, we got the funding because it's 'in the community interest' which I think rules us out of passing the information to a commercial interest. Even if we could, I am sure that all of our volunteers will be expected to pay to access our own information if we got into bed with this sort of project.

We are going for the hard copy printed archive option as well as the website, so there will always be an archive available locally, even if the website fails at the end of the 'future proofed' period and we are aiming to ring fence funding to maintain the site for up to 25 years. What others do with the Men of Worth project's online data after that will be up to them.

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Andy Wade

There is a great deal of information already online for example Click

Is part of the plan to collect all these blogs etc, in one place? That would be worthwhile.

Mike

If people want to ensure the longevity of their website, they can always apply for the British Library to add it to their archive of UK websites:

British Library - UK Web Archive

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David_Underdown

Well, actually if your domain name ends .uk it's now now longer particularly necessary to nominate a site to the BL, they now have the legal right to archive all site in the UK domain (this can include sites with .com and .org etc as well, but they have to ahve an obvious British connection, so if you're using Wordpress or similar it's probably worth dropping them a line).

As I've mentioend before I'm fairly sure that BrightSolid are acting purely as technology provider here, not as a publisher - though it would be nice if IWM would confirm that. They are building the platform that the site sits on with wizzy features like timelines, and some semi-automated matching of resources. The IWM are seeking donations specifically for supporting the project (http://www.justgiving.com/livesofthefirstworldwar ) which I hope they wouldn't be doing if the intention was for it to be commercialised.

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Andy Wade

If that's the case then it needs pointing out clearly or they will lose a lot of support.

Didn't know about the .uk bit for the website archive. Thanks for the heads up David. :thumbsup:

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ianjonesncl

Is it not possible to add a copyright to any work uploaded to prevent commercial exploitation ?

Example:

Rank: Gunner

Name : Snooks

Narrative; Joined , Served , Survived

Copyright GWF Ltd (or John Smith etc etc)

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David_Underdown

In practice I doubt you'd be able to override the terms and conditions of the site in that way. The FAQs already state that you will retain ownership of any content you upload.

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E Wilcock

I think it has been established among genealogists that one cannot copyright information that is based on sources which are themselves pubic. This would include marrying up birth, marriage, death and census information to the military records, in particular the medal cards.

It is a wonderful idea that the IWM site might make use of pulbic input to link every person in a regiment or unit to their home family.

But those of us who have researched a unit, or even our own families will know that the ideal is probably not achievable.

There is often a choice of medal cards showing the same surname and initials, and it is impossible to marry the correct card to an individual soldier. My husband has never been able to select the correct FWW medal card for his uncle who was a civilian casualty fire watching in World War 2.

Indeed it is quite possible for families (i.e. the public) to believe that a correct record has been located, only to find later, as we did when more information came on line, that the record actually belonged to another man with the same name.

I myself began to try and identify the family background of every man who served in the 5th Rugby Battery of the 4th South Midland Brigade. I was convalescent for 6 weeks following an operation and in that time covered only surnames A-G with a high percentage of failures. I also have a failure rate trying to identify people mentioned in two first world war diaries I have been foot noting.

When the descendants of men who are known by their family to have served in "my" Brigade get in touch with me, they ask for my help, and I sometimes need to seek help on this forum in selecting the correct medal card and discovering where they served.

I have spent a large part of my life in historical sleuthing, and my own failure rate makes me wonder whether the people proposing the website have much hands on experience of research by or for the public.

In theory it is wonderful that a government-funded museum proposes a public website to gather data from the public. But at the same time, another government department withholds the records which might help the public to contribute. It is a matter of great frustration that the records of First World War Officers (and presumably men too) who continued in the army after 1918, have not been released and may be read only by next of kin and / or a payment of £30.

If there is a bias towards the dead, this could be part of the problem. We have records for the wounded, the pensioned, the dead and very often for people who left the army. But those who remained in the service and for whom the War was possibly a more positive experience - get left out.

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