Awkward familial metaphors aside, the New York Times' new archive—named after Madison Avenue, once the embodiment of the U.S. advertising industry—is a tool built on a crowdsourcing platform that allows readers to peruse ads that appeared in print in the 1960s. And, if the peruser should so chose, she could, one at a time, label, tag, and transcribe those ads like so:
Created by the Times' Research and Development Laboratory's eight-person team and launched last week, the archive works kind of like Captcha: Because digitized advertisements can't be transcribed by computers, they need the help of the human eye. The point of Madison is to have readers be those eyes.
"As we were looking through our old issues, it really struck me that advertising provided this really unique view into our cultural history, and that was a different view from the one provided by the news content," Alexis Lloyd, creative director of the R&D lab, tells me. "Our crowdsourcing approach is a way of both exposing people to this part of our archives and then also having them contribute some of that metadata."
Beyond showing off the adds, and using readers to archive them, Lloyd says the simplicity of the tool can be expanded to allow for four main goals.
- To satisfy historians (and Mad Men fans).
- To build a potential data set based on the number of users and the identification of ads.
- To help advertisers understand their brands.
- To demonstrate Hive, the "modular, flexible, open-source platform" as Lloyd put it, the team developed for creating crowdsourced applications.