Zooniverse History, Infrastructure, and Demographics

Why is the project open?

Zooniverse (now managed by Citizen Science Alliance) began with a single project initiated by two astrophysicists at Oxford who wanted to crowdsource their data since many levels of analysis require very little training and cannot be replicated with the same accuracy by computers. Scientists often do not have enough time to process all of the data available to them on observational projects, so they instead focus only upon the portions with the greatest interest or challenge. Galaxy Zoo (a single project which grew into the platform Zooniverse) was started to process Hubble Space Telescope images, and with enough volunteers, images could be validated by peer volunteers. Zooniverse is like many other citizen science projects that requires little to no scientific training to crowd source data analysis to a large number of participants.

Through this project, I am also researching open science in general which includes citizen science, open access, open scientific data, and other platforms that facilitate interactions between researchers. In the context of this class, I am interested in what parallels may be drawn between open software communities (and other peer collaboration projects in general) and these movements within the bench science communities. I am hoping to frame this movement using the literature discussed in class.

How big is the community and where are members located?

There are currently 870,388 users worldwide (this is simply a count of registered users and data on how many users are currently active is not available). Using a feature called Zooniverse Live, the top users are from the US (1,378,505), Great Britan (517,820) and Canada (140,928). Zooniverse is translated into English, German, and Polish.

I can get forum stats for four projects (the only four with online forums) which gives greater historical insight into the demographics and participation of users.

MoonZoo 616 members Galaxy Zoo 8510 members oldWeather 562 members SolarStormwatch 593 members

I am interested within a Zooniverse project, are there optimum sizes for project success, especially considering Galaxy Zoo has the most members by about 16 times and is the only one of the four completed? How does this compare to other citizen science initiatives and are there best practices or lessons to be taken by comparing these communities?

What kind of product is it and how is it licensed?

Zooniverse is free to users, and partnership with research institutions is largely free though there may be some funding required to develop the platform for volunteer data analysis.

What sort of infrastructure does it use? Why does it use those tools and not other options?

The Zooniverse infrastructure appears to be funded in part by the National Science Foundation (documentation unavailable since the NSF website is currently down) and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Unlike many other peer production software projects, Zoonivers has an excellent user interface that has a low barrier to entry for users. This approach makes sense considering the general goals of citizen science. There are limited ways for users to become involved in the back end of the projects, though there are efforts to involve citizen scientists on the data analysis collaboration instead of just observations on some of the projects. The general organization is top down, and though anyone can suggest projects to CSA, there is no community decision making.

Zooniverse has a portal problem (at least on the back end). In studying their site, I have come across many data downloading portals (Zoo Tools and Figshare), and some projects feature separate discussion forums while others offer limited options on the Zooniverse platform. In Assignment 1 I detailed some of the back end infrastructure, but a complete description may be found here.

Other general observations: Volunteers may have little or no communication with anyone else on the project Different funding levels Cooperation between research institutes Cross discipline interactions Top down organization Advanced user interface and low barrier to entry

I have reached out to the Zooniverse team collaborators here at Berkeley. Berkeley cannot talk to me for another week (she's getting married) and no word yet from Zooniverse (this is also because I delayed contacting them until I knew I could send a quality request). I am going to reach out to more citizen science networks locally and see if there are some other aspects I can work into this project.