Tag Archives: citizen science

Pop-ups on Comet Hunters



We’re testing out a new feature of our interface, which means if you’re classifying images on Comet Hunters you may see occasional pop-up messages like the one pictured above.

The messages are designed to give you more information about the project. If you do not want to see them, you have the option to opt-out of seeing any future messages. Just click the link at the bottom of the pop-up.

You can have a look at this new feature by contributing some classifications today at www.comethunters.org.

Emails from the Zooniverse

Click this image to be taken to your Zooniverse email settings

We’re cleaning up our email list to make sure that we do not email anyone who does not want to hear from us. You will have got an email last week asking you if you want to stay subscribed. If you did not click the link in that email, then you will have received one today saying you have been unsubscribed from our main mailing list. Don’t worry! If you still want to receive notifications from us regarding things like new projects, please go to www.zooniverse.org/settings/email and make sure you’re subscribed to general Zooniverse email updates.
NOTE: This has not affected emails you get from individual Zooniverse projects.

Asteroid Zoo Paused

The AsteroidZoo community has exhausted the data that are available at this time. With all the data examined we are going to pause the experiment, and before users spend more time we want to make sure that we can process your finds through the Minor Planet Center and get highly reliable results.

We understand that it’s frustrating when you’ve put in a lot of work, and there isn’t a way to confirm how well you’ve done. But please keep in mind that this was an experiment – How well do humans find asteroids that machines cannot?

Often times in science an experiment can run into dead-ends, or speed-bumps; this is just the nature of science. There is no question that the AsteroidZoo community has found several potential asteroid candidates that machines and algorithms simply missed. However, the conversion of these tantalizing candidates into valid results has encountered a speed bump.

What’s been difficult is that all the processing to make an asteroid find “real” has been based on the precision of a machine – for example the arc of an asteroid must be the correct shape to a tiny fraction of a pixel to be accepted as a good measurement. The usual process of achieving such great precision is hands-on, and might take takes several humans weeks to get right. On AsteroidZoo, given the large scale of the data, automating the process of going from clicks to precise trajectories has been the challenge.

While we are paused, there will be updates to both the analysis process, and the process of confirming results with the Minor Planet Center. Updates will be posted as they become available.


Thank you for your time.

What is Penguin Watch 2.0?

We’re getting through the first round of Penguin Watch data- it’s amazing and it’s doing the job we wanted, which is to revolutionise the collection and processing of penguin data from the Southern Ocean – to disentangle the threats of climate change, fishing and direct human disturbance. The data are clearly excellent, but we’re now trying to automate processing them so that results can more rapidly influence policy.

In “PenguinWatch 2.0”, people will be able to see the results of their online efforts to monitor and conserve Antarctica’s penguins colonies. The more alert among you will notice that it’s not fully there yet, but we’re working on it!

We have loads of ideas on how to integrate this with the penguinwatch.org experience so that people are more engaged, learn more and realise what they are contributing to!


For now, we’re doing this the old-fashioned way; anyone such as schools who want to be more engaged, can contact us (tom.hart@zoo.ox.ac.uk) and we’ll task you with a specific colony and feedback on that.

One line at a time: A new approach to transcription and art history

Today, we launch AnnoTate, an art history and transcription project made in partnership with Tate museums and archives. AnnoTate was built with the average time-pressed user in mind, by which I mean the person who does not necessarily have five or ten minutes to spare, but maybe thirty or sixty seconds.

AnnoTate takes a novel approach to crowdsourced text transcription. The task you are invited to do is not a page, not sentences, but individual lines. If the kettle boils, the dog starts yowling or the children are screaming, you can contribute your one line and then go attend to life.

The new transcription system is powered by an algorithm that will show when lines are complete, so that people don’t replicate effort unnecessarily. As in other Zooniverse projects, each task (in this case, a line) is done by several people, so you’re not solely responsible for a line, and it’s ok if your lines aren’t perfect.

Of course, if you want trace the progression of an artist’s life and work through their letters, sketchbooks, journals, diaries and other personal papers, you can transcribe whole pages and documents in sequence. Biographies of the artists are also available, and there will be experts on Talk to answer questions.

Every transcription gets us closer to the goal of making these precious documents word searchable for scholars and art enthusiasts around the world. Help us understand the making of twentieth-century British art!

Get involved now at anno.tate.org.uk

Crowdsourcing and basic data visualization in the humanities

In late July I led a week-long course about crowdsourcing and data visualization at the Digital Humanities Oxford Summer School. I taught the crowdsourcing part, while my friend and collaborator, Sarah, from Google, lead the data visualization part. We had six participants from fields as diverse as history, archeology, botany and literature, to museum and library curation. Everyone brought a small batch of images, and used the new Zooniverse Project Builder (“Panoptes”) to create their own projects. We asked participants what were their most pressing research questions? If the dataset were larger, why would crowdsourcing be an appropriate methodology, instead of doing the tasks themselves? What would interest the crowd most? What string of questions or tasks might render the best data to work with later in the week?

Within two days everyone had a project up and running.  We experienced some teething problems along the way (Panoptes is still in active development) but we got there in the end! Everyone’s project looked swish, if you ask me.

Digging the Potomac

Participants had to ‘sell’ their projects in person and on social media to attract a crowd. The rates of participation were pretty impressive for a 24-hour sprint. Several hundred classifications were contributed, which gave each project owner enough data to work with.

But of course, a good looking website and good participation rates do not equate to easy-to-use or even good data! Several of us found that overly complex marking tasks rendered very convoluted data and clearly lost people’s attention. After working at the Zooniverse for over a year I knew this by rote, but I’d never really had the experience of setting up a workflow and seeing what came out in such a tangible way.

Despite the variable data, everyone was able to do something interesting with their results. The archeologist working on pottery shards investigated whether there was a correlation between clay color and decoration. Clay is regional, but are decorative fashions regional or do they travel? He found, to his surprise, that they were widespread.

In the end, everyone agreed that they would create simpler projects next time around. Our urge to catalogue and describe everything about an object—a natural result of our training in the humanities and GLAM sectors—has to be reined in when designing a crowdsourcing project. On the other hand, our ability to tell stories, and this particular group’s willingness to get to grips with quantitative results, points to a future where humanities specialists use crowdsourcing and quantitative methods to open up their research in new and exciting ways.

-Victoria, humanities project lead

Who Are The Zooniverse Community? We Asked Them…

We are often asked who our community are by project scientists, sociologists, and by the community itself. A recent Oxford study tried to find out, and working with them we conducted a survey of volunteers. The results were interesting and when combined with various statistics that we have at Zooniverse (web logs, analytics, etc) we can start to see a pretty good picture of who volunteers at the Zooniverse.

Much of what follows comes from a survey was conducted last Summer as part of Masters student Victoria Homsy’s thesis, though the results are broadly consistent with other surveys we have performed.  We asked a small subset of the Zooniverse community to answer an online questionnaire. We contacted about 3000 people regarding the survey and around 300 responded. They were not a random sample of users, rather they were people who had logged-in to the Zooniverse at least once in the three months before we emailed them.

The remaining aspects of this post involve data gathered by our own system (classification counts, log-in rates, etc) and data from our use of Google Analytics.

So with that preamble done: let’s see who you are…

This visualisation is of Talk data from last Summer. It doesn’t cover every project (e.g. Planet Hunters is missing) but it gives you a good flavour for how our community is structured. Each node (circle) is one volunteer, sized proportionally according to how many posts they have made overall. You can see one power-mod who has commented more than 16,000 times on Talk near the centre. Volunteers are connected to others by talking in the same threads (a proxy for having conversations). They have been automatically coloured by network analysis, to reflect sub-networks within the Zooniverse as a whole. The result is that we see the different projects’ Talk sites.


There are users that rise largely out of those sub-communities and talk across many sites, but mostly people stick to one group. You can also see how relatively few power users help glue the whole together, and how there are individuals talking to large numbers of others, who in turn may not participate much otherwise – these are likely examples of experienced users answering questions from others.

gender One thing we can’t tell from our own metrics is a person’s gender, but we did ask in the survey. The Zooniverse community seems to be in a 60/40 split, which in some ways is not as bad as I would have thought. However, we can do better, and this provides a metric to measure ourselves against in the future.


It is also interesting to note that there is very little skew in the ages of our volunteers. There is a slight tilt away from older people, but overall the community appears to be made up of people of all ages. This reflects the experience of chatting to people on Talk.


We know that the Zooniverse is English-language dominated, and specifically UK/US dominated. This is always where we have found the best press coverage, and where we have the most links ourselves. The breakdown between US/UK/the rest is basically a three-way split. This split is seen not just in this survey but also generally in our analytics overall.


Only 2% of the users responding to our survey only came from the developing world. As you can see in a recent blog post, we do get visitors from all over the world. It may be that the survey has the effect of filtering out these people (it was conducted via an online form), or maybe that there is language barrier.

employmentemployment_cloudWe also asked people about their employment status. We find a about half of our community is employed (either full- or part-time). Looking at the age distribution, we might expect up a fifth or sixth of people to be retired (15% is fairly close). This leaves us with about 10% unemployed, nearly twice the UK or US unemployment rate, and about 4% unable to work due to disability (about the UK averaged, by comparison). This is interesting, especially in relation to the next question, on motivation for participating.

We also asked them to tell us what they do and the result is the above word cloud (thanks, Wordle!) which shows a wonderful array of occupations including professor, admin, guard, and dogsbody. You should note a high instance of technical jobs on this list, possibly indicating that people need to have, or be near, a computer to work on Zooniverse projects in their daily life.


When asked why they take part in Zooniverse projects we find that the most-common response (91%) is a desire to contribute to progress. How very noble. Closely following that (84%) are the many people who are interested in the subject matter. It falls of rapidly then to ‘entertainment’, ‘distraction’ and ‘other’. We are forever telling people that the community is motivated mainly by science and contribution, and for whatever reason they usually don’t believe us. It’s nice to see this result reproducing an important part of the Raddick et. al. 2009 study, which first demonstrated it.


It is roughly what I would have expected to see that people tend to classify mostly in their spare time, and that most don’t have dedicated ‘Zooniverse’ time every day. It’s more interesting to see why, if they tend to stop and start, i.e. if they answered in the purple category above. Here is a word cloud showing the reason people stop participating in Zooniverse. TL;DR they have the rest of their life to get on with.


We’ll obviously have to fix this by making Zooniverse their whole life!

This is my final blog post as a part of the Zooniverse team. It has been by pleasure to work at the Zooniverse for the last five years. Much of that time has been spent trying to motivate and engage the amazing community of volunteers who come to click, chat, and work on all our projects. You’re an incredible bunch, motivated by science and a desire to be part of something important and worthwhile online. I think you’re awesome. In the last five years I have seen the Zooniverse grow into a community of more than one million online volunteers, willing to tackle big questions, and trying and understand the world around us.

Thank you for your enthusiasm and your time. I’ll see you online…

Penguin Watch: Top images so far

Yesterday we launched our latest project: Penguin Watch. It is already proving to be one of the most popular projects we run, with over one hundred thousand classifications in the first day! The data come from 50 cameras focussed on the nesting areas of penguin colonies around the Southern Ocean. Volunteers are asked to tag adult penguins, chicks, and eggs.

Here are my favourite images uncovered by our volunteers so far: (click on an image to see what people are saying about it on Penguin Watch Talk)

1st Rule of Penguin Watch - You don't have to count them all. But I dare you to!
1st Rule of Penguin Watch – You don’t have to count them all. But I dare you to!


Living on the edge
Living on the edge
Penguins aren't always only black and white...
Penguins are always only black and white…
I think they want in!
I think they want in!
Spot the tourists
Spot the tourists
We're saved!
We’re saved!
Coming back from a refreshing afternoon swim
Coming back from a refreshing afternoon swim


See what amazing pictures you can find right now at www.penguinwatch.org

ZooCon Portsmouth this weekend – remote participation invited!

We’re getting excited in Portsmouth to be welcoming some Zooites to the first ever “ZooCon Portsmouth”, which is happening this Saturday 13th September 2014 (An updated schedule is available on the Eventbrite page for the event).

The theme of this event is a Wiki-a-thon for Citizen Science – we have scheduled a working afternoon and improve the coverage of citizen science on Wikipedia. Mike Peel, Expert Wikimedian and astronomer from the University of Manchester will be joining us to lead this part of the event and get us all up to speed with how editing works.

We invite remote participation of the wiki-a-thon via this discussion thread on Galaxy Zoo Talk, or on Twitter with the hashtag #ZooConPort, and we also plan to livestream the morning talks via Google+.

In person attendees will have a treat in the afternoon – we’re all excited to have Chris Lintott narrate planetarium shows in the Portsmouth Inflatable Astrodome. And we plan to end the day with fish and chips at a pub by the sea. Keep your fingers crossed for nice weather.

AAAS Symposium in Feb. 2015: Cutting-Edge Research with 1 Million Citizen Scientists

Some colleagues and I successfully proposed for a symposium session on citizen science at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Jose, CA in February 2015. (The AAAS is the world’s largest scientific society and is the publisher of the Science journal.) Our session will be titled “Citizen Science from the Zooniverse: Cutting-Edge Research with 1 Million Scientists.” It refers to the more than one million volunteers participating in a variety of citizen science projects. This milestone was reached in February, and the Guardian and other news outlets reported on it.


As we all know, the Zooniverse began with Galaxy Zoo, which recently celebrated its seventh anniversary. Galaxy Zoo has been very successful, and it led to the development of a variety of citizen science projects coordinated by the Zooniverse in diverse fields such as biology, zoology, climate science, medicine, and astronomy. Most of you are familiar with many of them, and the projects include, for example: Snapshot Serengeti, where people classify different animals caught in millions of camera trap images; Cell Slider, where they classify images of cancerous and ordinary cells and contribute to cancer research; Old Weather, where participants transcribe weather data from log books of Arctic exploration and research ships at sea between 1850 and 1950, thus contributing to climate model projections; and Whale FM, where they categorize the recorded sounds made by killer and pilot whales. And of course, in addition to Galaxy Zoo, there are numerous astronomy-related projects, such as Disk Detective, Planet Hunters, the Milky Way Project, and Space Warps.


We’re confirming the speakers for our AAAS session now, and the plan is to have six speakers from the US and UK who will introduce and present results from the Zooniverse, Galaxy Zoo, Snapshot Serengeti, Old Weather, Cell Slider, and Space Warps. I’m sure it will be exciting and we’re all looking forward to it! I’m also looking forward to the meeting of the Citizen Science Association, which will be a “pre-conference” preceding the AAAS meeting.