Citizen Cyberscience: BOINC & Zooniverse

For our first assignment in Citizen Cyberscience, we were asked to try using two examples of web-based citizen scientist projects.

The first was BOINC, the Berkeley Open Infrastructure Network Computing. This software provides scientists with a platform to harness the power of interested volunteers. Downloading and installing the software was easy enough. But in general, the service is not that polished or user-friendly for volunteers. When browsing through the projects, most groups have made little effort  to determine whether a potential user’s computer is up to the task. For instance, the GPUGrid project has too complicated a process. In asking people to determine GPU compatibility, I think they lose many potential volunteers. Instead I think they should write a small script to check a volunteer’s computer and automatically complete what is now a manual task.

There are many more examples of these types of interaction issues throughout the whole experience. In doing so, they have limited their pool of potential participants to just those with better computer skills.

Zooniverse provides a much more user-friendly experience for volunteers. The site has a nice design, easy navigation and a good feedback loop. I chose the MoonZoo project, where I was asked to help identify craters and compare the amount of boulders in pictures.

Two YouTube videos explained the process effectively and I was able to get to work within minutes. The tasks each take just a few seconds up to a minute to complete and submit. The site then provides another similar task. Providing these bite-sized pieces is a good solution and keeps the experience rather light. As a result I clicked through tasks for a while.

Crater survey

Boulder Wars

For BOINC, the first task is to choose a project on the platform. I went with the World Community Project, which has some support from IBM. I was curious to see how this combination of corporate sponsorship and community effort is hashed out.

With that, I launched the BOINC software. This brings up a window that starts a task which runs for about 8 hours. No action is required of me other than allowing for the project to use my computer’s process power.

It is a pretty uninspiring experience, outside of the knowledge that this small role is helpful. To be quite honest, I doubt I will return to this software much after completing this assignment.

In designing projects for the rest of this term, I will certainly lean towards creating an experience modeled on Zooniverse. I expect that most people at ITP would make the same choice since our program is more focused on design and user experience than producing a processor-heavy big data project.

Finally, we have been asked for this assignment to share which skills we can bring to citizen science projects this term. I have made data visualization a large part of my studies at ITP. I hope to integrate that experience into my classwork. I also bring a deep personal interest in tapping the energies of a specific community, namely the millions of diabetes patients in the U.S. (and potentially the world). I want to ask them to participate in ways that share their knowledge so that we as a community can aggregate our collective wisdom about managing the disease. Together, I believe we can provide better self-management support and help educate fellow patients.