Crowdsourced Participation on Zooniverse



I recently had a look at Zooniverse which is a website that allows users to participate in many different collaborative projects. I browsed the site where a lot of the projects caught my eye. In the end I only fully collaborated in two of the projects “Operation War Diary” & “Chicago Wildlife Watch”.

When using Zooniverse I had to make an account to have input on the projects available which only took a few seconds. The site had many projects that required users of Zooniverse read something or take statistics. I chose “Operation War Diary” & “Chicago Wildlife Watch” as they were the ones that most intrigued me and were ones where I felt as a user I can do the best input. Other projects I found on Zooniverse had one of the following issues. The topic of the project did not appeal to me, the interface was not really good and some projects required the users to know some knowledge about the topic of the project.

The project “Operation War Diary” allows users to access the diaries belonging to soldiers on the front lines. The diaries come from national archives and have not been available to academics till recently. The aim of the project is to get users to transcribe the large amounts of data to make is usable for academic use. I found the project interesting as I am a fan of world war history and I see the importance this project has in developing an understanding of a key part in history. The users will read scanned diaries and highlight important pieces of information using tools provided. The types of information a user can isolate includes basic details like dates names and places to more specific details such as soldier Id numbers and ranks.

When using “Operation War Diary” I choose one of the diaries to analyse after going through a very informative tutorial. The diary I choose was a diary of a soldier who was stationed at a hospital in France in 1915. The first thing I did was tag the various dates on the page followed by any names I could see. The tags I used for names had sub tags that included the person rank in the military and their number and other minor details. By putting in these details I am helping academics gather a story about the soldiers under those names and number so that their entire story can be tracked through many other diaries. The other things I was able to tag where the patient numbers and events such as resupplies and casualties.  My only difficulty in participation was that I had a very difficult time reading some of the handwriting.

The second project I got involved with was “Chicago Wildlife Watch” that ask collaborators to look at photos captured in certain areas of Chicago that have been affected by urbanization. The users must look at a photo and if they see an animal weather it is a small bird or a raccoon they must add a tag to the photo for that animal. The photos are captured on motion cameras that are deployed multiple times during the year for the purpose of capturing the local wildlife.

In my participation for the project I was shown a photo that was taken from one the cameras. Since they are automated motion cameras my job is to go through the photos and say if there is an animal in the photo and what animal is it. A majority of the photos given to the users to look over are empty as they were photos that where taken as a result of something else moving other than an animal such as a branch. Through my participation I have contributed in the sorting of these photos to make the data within them easier to access for researchers interested in the distribution of animal species in different areas in urban Chicago.

In the use of the Zooniverse I learned that collaborative projects could be very appealing depending on what they ask of their users. If I were to make my own collaborative project in the future using something like Zooniverse I would think of the following based on my own experiences. The task given to users should not require users to have an equal level of understanding as the people behind the project. The point of a collaborative project is that users are any member of the public and not someone of a certain profession. Some projects failed in this category as they assume all users to be of a certain profession and have made it difficult for a majority of users to participate in their collaborative. If my project was to create an archive for a certain group of documents, I would have it so users can point out that key data in similar fashion to how it was done in “Operation War Diary”.