June 1, 2015
Screen shot, Madison

Screen shot, Madison

On Monday, The New York Times R&D Lab added a new decade to its online crowdsourcing ad archives project — the 1920s.

There’s also now a gallery to see the advertisements that have already been ID’d, tagged and/or transcribed in “Madison,” Abbe Serphos, executive director of corporate communications at The New York Times, said via email. “You can also now download data in JSON format that will contain all metadata collected so far.”

Here’s how the Times R&D Lab explains what it’s building with “Madison”, which launched last October with ads from the ’60s:

The New York Times’s century-and-a-half news archive is a rich and under-utilized resource, not only for news events but also as a reflection of cultural history. While news events and reporting give us a glimpse of one aspect of our past, the advertisements that ran alongside those news articles allow us a very different view. They act as commentary on technology, fashion, economics, gender relations and more, often in ways that are fascinating, funny or poignant.

Madison is a crowdsourcing project designed to engage the public with historical ads from The New York Times archive. The digitization of our archives has primarily focused on news, leaving the ads with no metadata–making them very hard to find and impossible to search for them. Complicating the process further is that these ads often have complex layouts and elaborate typefaces, making them difficult to differentiate algorithmically from photographic content, and much more difficult to scan for text. This combination of fascinating cultural information with little structured data provided the perfect opportunity to explore how crowdsourcing could form a source of semantic signals.

Michael Sebastian wrote about Madison last October for Ad Age. Sebastian spoke with Alexis Lloyd, creative director at the R&D Lab, about the project and where it could go:

The R&D Lab is an eight-person outpost on the 28th floor of the Times building, charged with building things “in the realm of the recently possible,” Ms. Lloyd said. Its mission, she added, is to “look around corners, three to five years in the future” and see what the implications might be for news and media.

Madison might have implications for the Times’ ad-sales department. One possible outcome of the archive could be to build ad products on top of it, Ms. Lloyd said. She declined to go into specifics, saying only, “Brands are clearly interested in their own history.”

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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