Tag Archives: community

Darren (DZM) New Horizons

Dear Zooniverse community,

I have some news to break to everyone. I’ve accepted a new position at a different company, and while it’s an extremely exciting opportunity for me, it does mean that I have to step away from the Community Builder role here.

This is a bittersweet announcement for me, because as exciting as my new job is for my career, I’ve truly loved my time at the Zooniverse, helping to grow this community and our platform and getting to know so many incredible volunteers, researchers, and staff.

However, I do want to emphasize that this is definitely not goodbye! I couldn’t possibly leave completely—there are so many projects here that I enjoy doing as much as you guys do, and so many exciting developments in the pipeline that I want to see pan out. I’m not going anywhere; instead, I’m becoming one of you: a Zooniverse volunteer. I won’t be your liaison anymore, or a source for reporting your needs, but I’ll continue to be your colleague in people-powered research.

The Zooniverse is growing and changing at an incredible rate right now, and has been for much of my time here over the past 14 months. Overall, I’m blown away by what you’ve all helped us to accomplish. Projects are being launched and completed quickly, and our new research teams are more attuned to volunteers’ needs than ever before. I’ve long believed that the launch of the Project Builder would begin a process of exponentially expanding the scope of the Zoo, and we are definitely beginning to see that happening. I can’t wait to find out, along with the rest of you, what the next chapter of this story has in store for us all.

Thank you all for everything, and I’ll be seeing you all around!

Yours in people-powered research,

Darren “DZM” McRoy

Special note from the ZooTeam — Thank you Darren for all your hard work over the years! We’re so excited for you and this new opportunity. And we very much look forward to continuing to build and strengthen the relationships between our volunteers, research teams, and the Zooniverse team. Thank you all for your contributions! Onward and upward.

Sunspotter Citizen Science Challenge Update: Zooniverse Volunteers Are Overachievers

An apology is owed to all Zooniverse volunteers; We incredibly underestimated the Zooniverse Community’s ability to mobilize for the Sunspotter Citizen Science Challenge. You blew our goal of 250,000 new classifications on Sunspotter in a week out of the water!  It took 16 hours to reach 250,000 classifications.  I’ll say that again, 16 hours!

By 20 hours you hit 350,000 classifications. That’s an 11,000% increase over the previous day. By the end of the weekend, the total count stood at over 640,000.

Let’s up the ante, shall we? Our new goal is a cool 1,000,000 classifications by Saturday September 5th.  That would increase the total number of classifications since Sunspotter launched in February 2014 by 50%!

Thank you all for contributing!

P.S. Check out the Basics of a Solar Flare Forecast on the Sunspotter blog from science team member Dr. Sophie Murray.

Sunspotter Citizen Science Challenge: 29th August – 6th September

Calling all Zooniverse volunteers!  As we transition from the dog days of summer to the pumpkin spice latte days of fall (well, in the Northern hemisphere at least) it’s time to mobilize and do science!

Sunspotter Citizen Science Challenge

Our Zooniverse community of over 1.3 million volunteers has the ability to focus efforts and get stuff done. Join us for the Sunspotter Citizen Science Challenge! From August 29th to September 5th, it’s a mad sprint to complete 250,000 classifications on Sunspotter.

Sunspotter needs your help so that we can better understand and predict how the Sun’s magnetic activity affects us on Earth. The Sunspotter science team has three primary goals:

  1. Hone a more accurate measure of sunspot group complexity
  2. Improve how well we are able to forecast solar activity
  3. Create a machine-learning algorithm based on your classifications to automate the ranking of sunspot group complexity
Classifying on Sunspotter
Classifying on Sunspotter

In order to achieve these goals, volunteers like you compare two sunspot group images taken by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory and choose the one you think is more complex.  Sunspotter is what we refer to as a “popcorn project”.  This means you can jump right in to the project and that each classification is quick, about 1-3 seconds.

Let’s all roll up our sleeves and advance our knowledge of heliophysics!

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…

Introducing Darren McRoy – Zooniverse Community Builder!



Back in August I wrote about our search for someone we were calling a ‘community builder,’ which I said was ‘the most important job in the Zooniverse.’ The position was created because of the rapid expansion of the project, and the plans we have for the next year or two, which will mean we may be able to create hundreds or thousands of new projects. If the Zooniverse isn’t constrained by the slow process of project-by-project development, then we need to rethink how we choose what is hosted on our platform, what gets promoted—and how we talk about such things. We need, in fact, to try and build a broader Zooniverse community, capable of taking the choice of projects out of our hands. At the same time, we want the tools we use to engage with this community to let everyone have a say, from new classifiers on a single project to those who roam freely across all of our Talk discussion boards.

As many of you will have already discovered, we’ve found someone we can help us with this process — Darren McRoy. Darren is a 2010 graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He has worked as a reporter and editor and is an experienced writer and communicator with a strong focus on developing online communities and strategic digital content. One of his first projects will be gathering and compiling the feedback that will inform the upcoming rebuild of the Talk discussion system. He will be a regular presence on the forums, responding to users’ comments and concerns and seeking opportunities to spur additional conversation. He will also be contributing some written content for Zooniverse projects, blogs, websites, etc. when needed, and giving feedback to the development team.

You should see quite a lot of Darren, and we’d like to encourage you to talk to him if you have any questions, comments, concerns, or other feedback about the Zooniverse community. In particular, right now he is seeking feedback about how Talk can be improved to better serve both the science goals and the growing community of contributors and volunteers.

Darren can be reached via email at darren@zooniverse.org or DZM on Talk. Please feel free to contact him — he is looking forward to working with all of you!


Introducing VOLCROWE – Volunteer and Crowdsourcing Economics


Hi everyone, I’d like to let you know about a cool new project we are involved with. VOLCROWE is a three year research project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council in the UK, bringing together a team of researchers (some of which are already involved with the Zooniverse, like Karen Masters) from the Universities of Portsmouth, Oxford, Manchester and Leeds. The PI of the project Joe Cox says “Broadly speaking, the team wants to understand more about the economics of the Zooniverse, including how and why it works in the way that it does. Our goal is to demonstrate to the community of economics and management scholars the increasingly amazing things that groups of people can achieve when they work together with a little help from technology. We believe that Zooniverse projects represent a specialised form of volunteering, although the existing literature on the economics of altruism hasn’t yet taken into account these new ways in which people can give their time and energy towards not-for-profit endeavours. Working together with Zooniverse volunteers, we intend to demonstrate how the digital economy is making it possible for people from all over the world to come together in vast numbers and make a contribution towards tackling major scientific problems such as understanding the nature of the Universe, climate change and even cancer.

These new forms of volunteering exemplified by the Zooniverse fundamentally alter the voluntary process as it is currently understood. The most obvious change relates to the ways in which people are able to give their time more flexibly and conveniently; such as contributing during their daily commute using a smart phone! It also opens new possibilities for the social and community aspects of volunteering in terms of creating a digitally integrated worldwide network of contributors. It may also be the case that commonly held motivations and associations with volunteering don’t hold or work differently in this context. For example, religious affiliations and memberships may or may not be as prevalent as they are with more traditional or recognised forms of volunteering. With the help of Zooniverse volunteers, the VOLCROWE team are exploring all of these issues (and more) with the view to establishing new economic models of digital volunteering.

To achieve this aim, we are going to be interacting with the Zooniverse community in a number of ways. First, we’ll be conducting a large scale survey to find out more about its contributors (don’t worry – you do not have to take part in the survey or give any personal information if you do not want to!). The survey data will be used to test the extent to which assumptions made by existing models of volunteering apply and, if necessary, to formulate new ones. We’ll also be taking a detailed look at usage statistics from a variety of projects and will test for trends in the patterns of contributions across the million (and counting) registered Zooniverse volunteers. This larger-scale analysis will be supplemented with a number of smaller sessions with groups of volunteers to help develop a more nuanced understanding of people’s relationships with and within the Zooniverse. Finally, we’ll be using our expertise from the economic and management sciences to study the organisation of the Zooniverse team themselves and analyse the ways and channels they use to communicate and to make decisions. In short, with the help of its volunteers, we want to find out what makes the Zooniverse tick!

In the survey analysis, no information will be collected that could be used to identify you personally. The only thing we will ask for is a Zooniverse ID so that we can match up your responses to your actual participation data; this will help us address some of the project’s most important research questions. The smaller group and one-to-one sessions will be less anonymous by their very nature, but participation will be on an entirely voluntary basis and we will only ever use the information we gather in a way in which you’re comfortable. The team would really appreciate your support and cooperation in helping us to better understand the processes and relationships that drive the Zooniverse. If we can achieve our goals, we may even be able to help to make it even better!”

Keep an eye out for VOLCROWE over the coming weeks and months; they’d love you to visit their website and follow them on Twitter.

Grant and the Zooniverse Team