Community-engaged project: Zooniverse

As part of my Digital Tools and Methodologies module, we were given the task to join the people-powered research platform that goes by the name of “Zooniverse”, choose between a number of user-generated content(UCG) projects that we were personally interested in, and participate and contribute as best we could within that project.

To understand and appreciate the different objectives that each project brings, I decided to pick three projects that appeared to contrast one another. The three projects that caught my eye were: Jungle Rhythms, Chicago Wildlife Watch and Galaxy Zoo.

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The Process

The process I undertook for each project was fairly straightforward. Each needed a volunteer with a good eye to answer a few questions, alongside a photo associated with their field of study, or topic of said project.

The project I began with, and the one I’m going to focus on in this post is Jungle Rhythms. The Jungle Rhythms project’s aim is to “try to link long term observations of tree life cycle events with weather data”, and this in turn will help specialists to understand the future of the tropical African rainforest. They are doing this by transcribing the handwritten table, that scientists stationed at the Yangambi research station in the Republic of the Congo created.

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Summary Table

In the example I’ve placed above, we get something that looks like image (b). First of all, It asks us if the centre rectangle (the yearly section) is visible in the image displayed to us, and if pencil marks are present. Every time I repeated this process I was given a similar image so all my answers were the same. Answering “Yes” to this question, I am then met by another, but more interactive question: “Outline the centre rectangle (yearly section). Please make 6 marks total — four at the corners and two at the half-year points.”

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Screen capture of the process

I found the next question a bit trickier, as the attributes were hard to distinguish, and some could even be dust or dirt on the transcripts. I was asked to “mark all hand-drawn pencil marks within the yearly section.” I had to mark solid lines with a red line and crosshatched lines in blue, (these indicate the presence of a life cycle event). If I came across a big X before hand written text, I was to mark it with a crosshair, (this indicates that a tree has died, or been removed from the study).

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My finished result

When I completed this task, I was then given an overview of the answers I had given, and a link to talk about this specific image with others in the community, who were contributing also, if I was stuck on classifying it.

The Implications of my contribution

At the end of the FAQ on the Jungle Rhythms website, it explains what will happen with the processed data:

“After the completion of the project all data will be released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license. This open source license guarantees open access to the data and derivatives.”

All of this data could in turn help researchers understand plant functioning that dates back to 1937. All of the information we provide them with from our contribution, will help them determine the dispersal potential and growth responses in a changing climate. There is an ongoing question of whether the rainforests are getting drier or wetter. According to this article, the African rainforests are getting drier as “scientists studying the trend say it’s likely to be due to natural fluctuations in the Indian and Pacific ocean temperatures which affect the climate.”

What I’ve learned & How I can apply this to my own work

I’ve learned more about the benefits of crowd-sourcing from contributing to these projects. I think that it is a completely underrated initiative, and I wasn’t aware of websites such as Zooniverse that help share these magnificent projects. I’ve also learned a lot about the processes of crunching all of this data from the various blog posts these projects have, alongside their website. From reading the blog about the process of Jungle Rhythms by Koen Hufken, It’s shown me that there’s a lot of work still to be done, even after the community has contributed.

One way of how I could apply these crowd-sourcing initiatives to my own work at the moment, would be through another module I am studying this semester. My team and I are assigned the task of creating a Data Management Plan for the Cork LGBT Archive. Part of this plan is gathering data, such as letters, images, video, audio. They have already been categorised into broad categories, but we would still have to narrow down on what information is specifically present in that data, to fully understand it. Having a crowd-sourced project set up would help the archive immensely with decreasing the work-load. Of course a review of what’s been contributed would need to be put in place, but ultimately the idea would be a great help to this project.

I enjoyed working on this assignment immensely, and the thought that I’m contributing to a good cause at the same time is very gratifying. I look forward to using this crowd-sourcing initiative in the future to create my own UCG project, or by continuing to contribute to others.



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