Crowdsourced Participation – Zooniverse
As part of the Digital Humanities module DH2002, Digital Tools and Methodologies II, we were tasked with taking part in an academic project that was created through crowdsourcing. In order to find projects that were being created through multiple participants, I used the website, Zooniverse, which allows its users to either create a project that they would like help with or participate in a project. These projects are split up into categories which relates to the projects contents in the best manner allowing the contributors to pick a category they’d have the most interest helping out in. One of the criteria for this project was that we were to take part in crowdsourced projects that are related to our minor disciplines which in my case would be Geography. While there was no category specifically related to geography, there was categories available in climate, nature, and space so I stuck mainly to these categories. I ended up being involved in several different initiatives throughout my time on Zooniverse and I have documented my experience with my two favourite projects.
The first project I became involved in was Planet Four which was located within the “Space” category. Within this project, contributors were asked to tag points on a up close satellite image of a portion of the surface of mars to identify whether marks on the planet’s surface were one of two things; a blotch or a fan. While scientists are not sure how these blotches and fans form, they believe that they are created during the autumnal season when a layer of dry ice forms on the South Pole of the planet and during the winter this dry ice becomes slabs of ice. During the spring, the sun penetrates the ice layer which causes the ice to melt from the bottom and gas to escape. This causes ruptures in the ground due to a build-up of pressure and the material from the ground is then carried along by wind to form a fan shape and if there’s no wind it settles as a blotch (Planet Four, 2017). This project was set up to help scientists who are studying within this field to analyse large amounts of data that computers could not analyse as accurately and prevent them from having to invest weeks of work into analysing thousands of aerial images of the surface of the red planet. This is a brilliant example of crowdsourced research as it allows research that previously would have taken months to conduct by a single group of scientists and isn’t possible to be analysed to computers to be outsourced to the general public who are genuinely interested in helping make a difference through these initiatives, but it is also simplistic as not to alienate people who do not have much knowledge of this particular field.
To take part in this project I was given an introduction in how to use the tools involved. To mark out a blotch you click on the blotch tool and this allows you to draw a circle around the formation and alter its size as you wish after this allowing you to mark the area of the blotch as closely as possible. In the same way, when marking a fan on the surface of the planet you have to click the fan tool which allows the user to place a triangular shape with a round bottom that follows the usual shape of a fan which can be altered in size in shape so that the user can best represent the area the fan covers. There is also a tool for marking interesting landforms which are then marked by a star. Through taking part in this project I learned many new things in relation to the planet Mars but also, how a successful crowdsourced project can be laid out. I feel that this initiative has truly opened my eyes to the great things you can do within a crowdsourced project and shown me how to create a simplistic yet highly useful project for analysing data using multiple sources which may stand to me in future endeavours.
Another project I took part in was called Amazon Aerobotany and this was located within the “Nature” and “Climate” categories. While taking part in this project, I was tasked analysing aerial images of the Amazon rainforest and mark particular types of plant life. In this case, the project was looking for flowering crowns (marked by a blue circle), leafless crowns (marked by a red circle), and Huasaí palm crowns (marked by a white circle) in order to “help monitor the biological rhythms and life cycles of the rainforest trees” (Amazon Aerobotany, 2017). The main reason for this project is to gain demography and phenology data about this particular area and I found this rather interesting as this is one of the topics we are covering in a geography module that I am studying this semester. Demography is the study of the living population of a particular area and the factors that influence these people, animals, and trees. The reason for studying these types of trees is that they can live for hundreds of years and are constantly taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. The Amazon and its millions of trees has a big part to play in combatting the effects of global warming and therefore, it is important to study the demography of these trees to see how abundant or sparse these trees are within the population. Also, through these studies it is possible to learn more about human and animal settlement as it is common for them to live near a food source such as the fruit that can be found on the Huasaí palm trees (Amazon Aerobotany, 2017). Phenology is the study of the cyclical growing cycles of living organisms and through studying these trees we can find how the climate at a particular time influenced the growth of certain leafs and fruits which has an effect on every living organism throughout the rainforest (Amazon Aerobotany, 2017).
Through taking part in this project, I learned a lot about the effect that Amazon rainforest has on its surrounding population and how much life is dependent on its survival. I believe that these new found facts will be beneficial to me in my future studies as I now have a better grasp of what kind of landscape this dense forest has and the importance of studying its natural rhythms. This particular initiative has given me an insight into how to studying a part of nature that many people would deem unimportant such as the growth patterns of trees has truly amazing and lasting effects on the general population of animals and humans in its vicinity. I feel like a topic such as this would be interesting to learn about in more depth within my own minor field.
Through my own use of Zooniverse, I ended up making 135 classifications throughout several different projects that I found to be of interest to me. I found that the site itself was particularly well laid out with the classification circle on your profile page highlighting the projects that you’ve taken part in and the percentage of classifications showing which projects you’ve spent more time on being represented by a different colour being a nice touch. This use of the coloured circle is good example of gamification within the site which encourages users to come back and continue to make classifications on a wide range of projects in order to increase their classification count and add more projects to their circle. While all the projects have multiple people making classifications on the same aspect of a project in order to eliminate mistakes and decrease the chances of something being missed, I feel that if a classification is marked by several users as not containing any content or as illegible that there should be a moderator in place to remove these from project to avoid people getting frustrated with not making any classifications time and time again.
Overall, while using Zooniverse, I feel I’ve learned a lot about the concept of crowdsourced information and how effective it can be when people doing studies have lots of data they need analysed. It’s a highly useful resource for many academic communities as it helps them tackle time constraints and costs as people volunteer up their spare time to take part in these initiatives. I believe that that this is a fantastic use for crowdsourced information and I most definitely will continue on in my path in “citizen science” in the future.
- Amazon Aerobotany. (2017). About. Available at: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/rainforestexpeditions/amazon-aerobotany [Accessed 19 February 2017].
- Amazon Aerobotany. (2017). Amazon Aerobotany. Available at: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/rainforestexpeditions/amazon-aerobotany [Accessed 19 February 2017].
- Planet Four (2017). About. Available at: https://www.planetfour.org/?_ga=1.26854719.326181778.1486821833#/about [Accessed 18 February 2017].