In the first session of Citizen Cyberscience, we discussed that the three basic ways that citizens are being engaged to contribute to scientific research are through 1) computing power, 2) mind power or analysis, and 3) through data collection. By crowdsourcing these aspects of a project, the goal can potentially be accomplished more cheaply, faster and in some cases more accurately than if performed by just a handful of professional researchers.
BOINC is an open-source software that allows people to contribute the processing power of their personal computers to projects that require a tremendous amount of processing. The collective power from volunteer computing becomes greater than and far cheaper than the expensive equipment invested in by a lab.
Project list themselves as candidates for volunteer computing, and volunteers can go through the projects to see what might be most meaningful to their own interests.
There are 70 BOINC projects listed as active.
BOINC has 2,462,041 users total and 263,949 volunteers who are active on 390,492 computers. The users to active users is a pretty incredible discrepancy.
The site itself is dated and has little information hierarchy, which makes it a bit unappealing, if not confusing to navigate- which can have a big impact on the ability to keep or generate users; especially those who don’t fall into the IT, computer science or tech crowd. A more designed interface could become more inviting to people who are less inclined to go on tech forums etc.
The project descriptions could also be more clear and inviting. Right now, it’s basically set up like a hyprid wiki-excel that doesn’t thoroughly inform you about the goal and approach of each project. When you click through to the dedicated site for the project it’s equally as chaotic. Design could help make things much more clear and engaging for users.
Below is a screen grab from the project listings. Not incredibly exciting.
Zooniverse is kind of a breath of fresh air from BOINC in terms of interface design. It feels clear, engaging, interesting, and makes me want to spend time on the site exploring the various projects. In fact, it’s almost disappointing when I’ve looked at all of them because I want to see more. In contrast to the BOINC projects, it is thoughtfully layed out with images and descriptions. Each project links to an exploration about the topic and an interface that makes the contribution feel fun. The Zooniverse projects are mostly looking for volunteer thinking and analysis, of images, text or other data.
I signed up for the Seafloor Explorer Project, which has the user classify images of the sea with a set of characteristics that can be chosen. For example, first the user has to check the boxes sand, shell, boulder, gravel respectively if any is present in the image. Then fish, scallop, seastar, crustacean. If one is chosen, the user is prompted to select the organism and draw the length and width of each. There is also a place for users to continue into a discussion forum about the image.
I started to have fun with it, but I think that there could be a way to make it slightly more interesting and less monotonous. For instance, more information about what could be or is in the images. One image out of every 5 or 10 could be one that has already had species identified. When the user selects the organism, a fact box about it could pop up (similar to how the training photo at the beginning). It could also give details, like how this kind of organism sometimes camouflages itself on rocks or in shadows. This would give the user hints about how to be more observant when they look at the other images. It seems important to make sure that the user is actually learning something rather than creating a photohunt game.
Citizen Science Skills
My citizen science skills will include a ton of curiosity about the world and healthy skepticism about the lens we see the world through (there has to be room for continual paradigm shifts!). I have a lot of experience working with teams on conceptual development and putting together pitches that communicate creative ideas. Also great at finding obscure resources and making things work despite constraints.