With the currently ongoing debate on whether or not crowdsourcing is an industry and the emphasis placed on taking advantage of crowdsourcing in a business capacity it’s easy to overlook the altruistic potential that crowdsourcing represents. Here I take a look at 5 science initiatives that are expanding our knowledge of the world around us by taking advantage of the unique power of crowdsourcing.
Foldit takes the science of protein structure and turns it into a game. Users are tasked with folding known proteins and are scored on how well they manage to accomplish this task while taking into consideration the physical properties of the molecule. The project aims to prove that crowdsourcing can be better than computers at predicting the overall structure of a protein given its amino acid sequence. The eventual goal is to have the crowd work on proteins with no known structure and even designing new proteins. The applications range from fighting virii to cleaning carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
- Encyclopedia of Life
The Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) is a platform that combines expert curators with the sheer power of a passionate crowd to create an encyclopedia documenting every organism on earth. Yes, every single species. Anyone can create an account and contribute images, videos, text, or image tags. Experts then review the additions, ensuring their quality and accuracy. The EOL is committed to ensuring that all the information it collects is freely available worldwide.
- Galaxy Zoo
Anyone that has ever wanted to explore the universe should check out the crowdsourced galaxy identification platform, Galaxy Zoo. Computers can do many things well, but humans are still the undisputed king of pattern recognition – a skill that is essential in classifying galaxies. The Hubble telescope takes hundreds of thousands of deep space images – more than any group of astronomers will be able to sift through. To date, over 250,000 Galaxy Zoo volunteers have helped classify thousands of galaxies, and even some surprises along the way.
- Health Tracking Network
The Health Tracking Network is a crowdsourced initiative that aims to identify factors related to common illnesses like influenza and stomach flue. Participants spend a couple minutes each week answering questions about their health. Responses remain completely anonymous and the Health Tracking Network donates some money to charity for every question answered. By collating all the data the Health Tracking Network can improve our understanding of how these illnesses spread and how best to prevent them.
- Ice Hunters
Step onto the helm of NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft by participating in an experiment in crowdsourced navigation. New Horizon is nearing the end of its mission and has enough fuel to visit only one object in the Kuiper Belt. The only way to accurately analyze deep space images of potential targets is manually. Once again, the human capacity for intuition and pattern identification gives us a large advantage over computers.
These are just some of the many ways scientists have been taking advantage of the power of the crowd to accelerate the pace of scientific advancement. Head over to our forums and let me know about some of your favorite crowdsourcing science initiatives.