Zooniverse is 10 today!

Zooniverse is ten years old! On 12th December 2009, Zooniverse.org sputtered into life, celebrated with a post on this very blog (https://blog.zooniverse.org/2009/12/12/the-zooniverse-is-go/). Truth be told, there wasn’t a huge amount to show – the only project there was our first, Galaxy Zoo, which had been running for a couple of years by that point. What a contrast to today’s bustling home page, with 229 live projects for you to choose from. Early in 2010 two new projects – Solar Stormwatch and Moon Zoo – were launched, before Old Weather became our first project based here on Earth instead of out in the cosmos.

To celebrate, we’re redoubling our efforts to reach two million volunteers. We’re about 50,000 short, so if every one in twenty of you invites a friend to join in we’ll be there in no time. We have a prize lined up for the lucky two millionth, and anyone who classifies on any project on that auspicious day will go into a draw for some Zooniverse swag.

Birthdays are also time for reflection. To be honest, I was a bit surprised when I realised that we were approaching this milestone birthday. Galaxy Zoo had arrived with a big bang, a sudden explosion of effort, but as the above description suggests Zooniverse grew more slowly, as project after project was added to our nascent platform. Over the years, we rebuilt the codebase (more than once), projects came and went, and the army of Zooniverse volunteers grew in strength and in numbers. Looking back, though, the decision we made to launch Zooniverse set in stone some important principles that still guide us today.

For starters, it meant that we were committed to building a universe of projects which volunteers could move easily between. Projects which were lucky enough to get publicity – featuring on BBC Stargazing Live, for example – thus benefited other projects by bringing new people into the Zooniverse community. We built a shared codebase, so that funding for a particular project could support the development of code that benefited everyone. For most participants, their experience of the Zooniverse is limited to the project they’re participating in, whether it involves penguins, papyri or planets, but these network effects have been hugely important in sustaining such a rich variety of projects for a decade.

We’ve always tried to make it as easy as possible for researchers to build the best projects they can imagine, investing in the project builder tool that now supports all of the projects listed on our homepage. The choice – made early – to present the Zooniverse as a tool that’s free for researchers to use has caused problems; we are almost completely dependent on grant funding, which is a risky way to run a railroad, to say the least. But it has meant that those researchers, often early in their careers, have been able to turn to Zooniverse for help without reservation, and I think we’ve had better results – and more fun – as a consequence. 

There have been so many great moments over the last ten years, but just for a bit of fun here are my top 3 favourites:

  1. First hearing the Solar Stormwatch results were good – realising the method doesn’t just work for Galaxy Zoo.
  2. Climbing up a hill in the Antarctic to retrieve Penguin Watch data.
  3. The morning where we thought Higgs Hunters volunteers had discovered something truly remarkable (sadly it turned out they hadn’t).

So here’s to ten years of the Zooniverse. At any point in the last decade, I’d have been wrong if I’d tried to predict what the next few years would bring. I’m looking forward to more adventures and surprises in our second decade!


PS I can’t possibly list all of the people who were instrumental in building and guiding the project over the years, but I hope the team will forgive me for mentioning Arfon Smith, my co-founder and the technical genius behind the Zooniverse’s first few years, Lucy Fortson, whose wisdom we’ve relied on from the start, and Lauras Whyte and Trouille who have in turn led the Adler team in Chicago through this mad decade. Special thanks too to the volunteers – all of you – but especially Elisabeth Baeten, Jules Wilkinson, and PMason, whose spirit and generosity is a constant source of wonder and inspiration. 

8 thoughts on “Zooniverse is 10 today!”

  1. Happy Birthday to all at Zooniverse. Zooniverse epitomises one of my favourite sayings: ‘Just because you’re having fun doesn’t mean you’re not serious!’ Many happy returns!

  2. I came on board when the count was just over 650,000. I cheered with everyone else as we passed the 1,000,000 mark. I’ve dabbled in dozens of projects and learned soooo much about the world(s) around us. And all because an astronomer in the (not so dim and distant) past had the courage to holler for help from us, the amateurs (in the original sense of the word).

    It’s astonishing what’s been accomplished in 10 short years, in spite of what’s happening in the human world around us. It gives hope — a real-world demonstration that we can work together, around the planet. The Planetary Response Network has been refined and honed as one of the most high-profile examples, but there are usually about a hundred other projects quietly proving the same thing in the background.

    I pass along the ZOO site info to anyone who may remotely be interested, but especially to parents — because of the general turning away from STEM subjects among youth world-wide (which is why UNESCO now has a STEM-related special office).

    ZOO is so much better than random gaming — everything aboard ZOO is REAL!!! Where else can we get hands-on experience with such a range of primary data???? So much stuff that you may be the first human to see? For kids of all ages struggling with gaming problems — how about getting real aboard the Zooniverse?

    Happy 10th, Zooniverse — and many, many happy returns in the future.

  3. Happy birthday Zooniverse! I’m so very happy to have been able to participate for much of that time. You’ve taken me to places I wouldn’t otherwise have gone: lives millennia ago, hunting primulaceae high in the Himalayas and in the jungles of New Guinea, camera traps on the Serengeti and in New Zealand, and watching whales and seals off the coast of California. It’s a joy to share in these projects. All the best for the next ten years and beyond.

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