The Center had the good fortune last year to work on an custom imbedded version of T-Pen for the New French Paleography website from Newberry Library. University of Toronto did a great job of building out the site while we turn the backend of T-Pen into web services to allow for more flexible versions of the front end transcription interface to accommodate Newberry’s needs and to better suit early modern French Paleography. This year we are able to bring those changes into T-Pen.org.

This constitutes the first major update to the interface since its launch and while long past due we were able to use feed back from the last five years to enable us to focus on the needs of our users. So building on that and the work we did for NewBerry we set to work.

Too Many Options. But you need them.
You can do a lot in the original T-Pen transcription interface but for many the first time was a confusing one with so many tools. Newberry wanted some of those tools and some new ones. So while we developed T-Pen(NL) we found ourselves thinking about those tools and their priority in the interface. We though about what we needed to change, add or even delete.  One thing we have come to understand over the lifetime of T-Pen is obvious: some tools are used a lot but some not so much. But that is only half of the equation for making changes, deletions or additions. The second part was why.

In the old interface all the tools are available (with the opportunity to add or edit a few in the project management interface). They are grouped in relatively arbitrary ways and with character and xml tags the transcription tool bar could expand quite a bit. There are also quite a few key command operated tools that many users never knew where there and we wanted to bring them forward enough to be noticed given the positive response we got when we demonstrated them. Another issue was that there were several ways the tools were interacted with: as split screens, pop overs, redirects into management tools or simple buttons for tool selections. These modes of interaction were not necessarily always implemented consistently. So we set out to see if we could arrange and reorder the interface to be cleaner, easier to use, improve the access to the hidden tools, privilege the most used tools be more consistent in the tool functioning but not abandon any tool. The first thing we did for this approach was to clearly mark out what we needed to privilege about all: transcription.

Transcription. Transcription. Transcription.
Transcription is the primary function of T-Pen. When is ceases to be of value for transcription it has no value. There are several strengths to T-Pen as a transcription tool. This covers a wide range of things but for the purpose of reworking the T-Pen transcription interface it is the facilitating of the act of transcription of a text. Everything else that T-Pen allows a user to do must be presented to the user as it relates to that act of transcription.

At its heart there are two things T-Pen does to aid in transcription; its presentation of the content to be transcribed and aiding the typing of the text. Transcription in T-Pen means typing on a keyboard (mostly). So to support that we needed to do what we could to keep the users hands on the keyboard. To help with this T-Pen has key commands like navigating lines by option ↑ and option ↓. We also reduced the space between the top of the Transcription tool and the text box. the first 9 special characters can be typed via CTRL with 1 through 9 to insert the character into the text. It was suggested us that we should have a preset collection based on common usage but given the unexpectedly wide variety of characters used as well as languages and character sets this proved unviable. The introduction of  basic Right to Left character support complicates that even more but does make an argument for dedicated or custom interfaces for different formats and languages. This kind of custom interface is something you will be hearing more of from us over the coming months but is something we have been thinking and planning for for many years and the conversion of our back end into web services is part of that long term objective. more on that in the coming months but for now this blog must return to its purpose. So back to transcription and presentation of the content to be transcribed.

One of the most influential elements on the quality of a transcription is the distance between the text to be transcribed and that is reflected in our placement of the Transcription Bar and its text box immediately below the line being transcribed. But we don’t stop there. We wanted to help the user take advance of the fact the image is a digital image and so we made Peek Zoom (CTRL Shift). This makes the line being transcribed enlarge to fill the width of the window so if your window is wide the line can get substantially bigger. While we have the Inspect button (allows you to magnify parts of the image) on the Transcription Tool Bar this quick key command doesn’t break the flow of transcription by taking the users hands off the keyboard. Similarly the Hide Workspace (ALT CMND) key command hides the Transcription Tool Bar for as long as the user holds ALT CMND which allows the user to look at other details of the image such as the next line to help with context to decode abbreviations or hard to read words on the line being transcribed.

But there are times when the User needs to take their hands from the keys and reach for the mouse and the next bog entry will go into details about how we figured out what should be where and why.