+ From Foucault to our future – Transkribus User Conference 2018

On 8-9 November 2018, Vienna was overtaken by more than 100 Transkribus users keen to share their experiences and learn about the latest advances in Handwritten Text Recognition.

The Transkribus User Conference was hosted at the Technical University of Vienna for the second time.  Although the skies were less sunny than last year, the conference programme was just as packed with user case studies, demonstrations of new tools and technological insights.

We got going before the conference even started with a Scanathon event at the Austrian Academy of Sciences on 7 November.  We invited participants to try digitising documents with their mobile phone using our DocScan app and ScanTent device.  After train delays in Austria, we breathed a sigh of relief when the ScanTents arrived and we could start testing and receiving feedback on our new prototypes!

Participants at the Vienna Scanathon on 7 November 2018.  Image credit: Elena Muehlbauer

Coming back to the conference, user stories were a big highlight of the event.  We heard how researchers and archivists from around Europe are using our Transkribus platform to recognise a variety of writing including the papers of the French philosopher Michel Foucault, early modern signatures and initials and sixteenth century Polish tax registers.

We also heard about one of the first projects using Transkribus for crowdsourcing.  Crowd leert computer lezen (or Crowd teaches the computer how to read) at Amsterdam City Archives has connected Transkribus to the VeleHanden crowdsourcing platform, allowing volunteers to produce transcriptions that can then be automatically used as training data for recognising notarial documents.

The conference was also an important showcase for ground-breaking advances in text recognition technology including:

  • HTR+ – a faster and more accurate form of Handwritten Text Recognition using Tensorflow
  • Keyword Spotting – a sophisticated form of keyword searching using the power of Handwritten Text Recognition technology
  • Table Processing – applying automated layout analysis and templates to tabular documents
Gundram Leifert from CITLab, University of Rostock presents HTR+. Image credit: Elena Muehlbauer

We looked towards our future too with a presentation on the new READ-COOP.  The READ project will come to an end in July 2019, from which point Transkribus services will be provided as part of this new cooperative.  A freemium service model is planned where basic Transkribus functions will remain free to all and more intensive users (research projects, archives etc.) will be liable for some charges  – more details coming soon!

Finally, we hope that the conference was a unique opportunity for our users to speak directly to computer scientists and developers about their requirements and their research. It certainly looked like lots of nice connections were being made!

Discussion in full flow at Transkribus User Conference 2018. Image credit: Louise Seaward.

Huge thanks go to all our presenters and participants.  We also need to thank the Computer Vision Lab at the Technical University of Vienna for hosting the conference and our other READ project colleagues who helped with organisational details.  We are looking forward to next year’s conference already!

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