Tikal, the great Mayan capital in what is now Guatemala.
Tikal, the great Mayan capital in what is now Guatemala

Contributing History Research

What is your area of historical interest? Does Running Reality need more detail about it? If so, your help is needed. Someone needs to enter that historical data using our desktop app and this article can get you started.

The ways in which you can help

Your assistance is needed to help fill in the story of human history with historical research. From simple to expert, and from west to east, we have projects suitable to any amount of time, data, and expertise you can contribute.

Our world model is built up from hundreds of thousands of small pieces of historical data, which we call factoids. These represent history in digital form in a way that humans and machines can read. We need your help entering factoids to build up the world history model. With each factoid, you can see the world model adjust itself now that it has better knowledge. For instance, looking up and entering the population estimate for an ancient city means that the model no longer has to guess the population and now can better estimate the number of streets and houses. Enter some street data, and the model's estimate gets better still.

If you have only seen the web version of Running Reality, the desktop app version is the tool for contributing data. The web version is read-only and therefore has a streamlined, simplified history engine. The app version can edit history, work with data sources in a range of formats, do more advanced visualization, cite sources, and submit data to include in the "baseline" timeline.

Some of the kinds of historical data that we need entered include:

The model changes live as you enter data, which is the "running" part, and the effort to cite and verify all the factoids is the "reality" part of Running Reality. Factoids are short and simple and creating one is easy. Adding your first factoid is also a first step into the real power of the Running Reality tool beyond just exploring the web map.

Organizing the effort

You may have noticed when exploring our world model that some areas have significant data already and other areas have significant gaps. There is no other full digital world history model, so we are creating it as a team, one factoid at a time, all together. Areas of history that have seen a lot of work already we highlight so that visitors can find them using our highlight system that is featured in the web and app search sidebar. Areas of history that need work -- that need your help -- are marked as projects.

Projects are how we are organizing the work on the factoids. Entry-level projects are an easy way to see how the factoid system works and help out with just one or two quick edits. Each project has a list of tasks that need doing, tagged by skill level. Projects are listed on the website, but they also appear in the desktop app. The app is where you can actually edit the world model. Projects have a big bounding box in space and time and when you are in the app they can themselves appear on the app's map. They have start and end dates and a geographic extent. Any edits made inside the big bounding box are considered part of the project.

Future We plan to attach bounties to certain project tasks. These will be a way to encourage people to work on necessary and important tasks that are more complex and time consuming. The first person to submit factoids to complete the task will be able to win the prize bounty attached to that task.

The concepts

The main world model that everyone sees when they come to the website is what we call the baseline timeline. Everything in it should be verifiably true to the best of the latest historical research. So, we insist that every factoid does also have a citation to primary sources or research material.

Note For other timelines, the data doesn't have to have a citation. These are personal timelines you create for yourself, such as your own historical research that is in progress and unpublished. This data is your data stored in an XML file on your computer, similar to your work being stored in a spreadsheet file. For data intended for inclusion in the baseline timeline, there is an extra burden to cite everything and have the citations reviewed to assure others that the baseline is the closest model possible to what really happened. There also can't be future dates in the baseline, but there can be in alternate timelines.

One of the central ideas behind Running Reality is the factoid. Factoids are small little pieces of history that are readable by both us people and by the software. They are what lets people do research on various topics and combine their work with that of everyone else to build the baseline timeline. They allow the underlying Running Reality history engine to build a world model and then adjust the model as more factoids are added to fill in additional detail.

Here is an example. I read that the Hittite Empire rose in 2000BC and it fell when it was invaded by the notorious "Sea Peoples" to bring on the first Dark Ages. I created two factoids from this.

on 1/1/2000BC, [Hittite Empire] founded by [The Hatti] on 1/1/1180BC, [Hittite Empire] destroyed by [The Sea Peoples]

Note Making these pieces of historical data into discrete factoids, with citations, these factoids can be reviewed, audited, and later updated. Someone can review these factoids either during submission or at any later date and disagree with the reference to the "Sea Peoples" as too simplistic. They can then submit a Void factoid to remove it and replace it with more detailed factoids. In this way, Running Reality evolves to get more detailed and more accurate over time.

Finally, when you have created a few factoids, you need to submit them back to the project so that they can become part of the baseline. All your factoids are local to your computer and your copy of the app until you decide that you are ready. Then you use the app to submit them to the website. There, you then do a quick review (including signing in to the website) and click the submit button to notify the review board that there are new factoids. This is the one step for which you will need to be signed into the website so that only you can submit factoids in your name. The board reviews the factoids and either approves them or asks for modifications. Once approved, your factoids are built into the world model. Because this is a manual process, it can take a few days for new factoids to be deployed to the app and website.

The tools

Running Reality has a range of tools to help you enter factoids.

Where to go next

We look forward to your help with the experiment that is Running Reality. Hopefully you can find a fun project at the link below and can contribute. Running Reality is becoming a great free historical resource on the web, but it is only as complete and thorough as the volunteers can help make it be. Thank you.