Zooniverse – A Reflection

After hearing about this project I was excited to start exploring the Zooniverse world. The idea that thousands of megabits of data was at my fingertips collected by scientists from all around the world seemed too good to be true. Joining Zooniverse itself was a relatively easy process. After entering my chosen username, password and email address I was free to explore all that Zooniverse had to offer me in terms of opportunities to indulge in subjects that I find a fascinating part of science exploration. It also allowed me to find projects that allowed me to teach myself a new skill and learn from both trial and error and machine example.

When browsing the projects the variety of the databases of knowledge available there was astounding. Presented in a legible and attractive fashion I was able to scroll through the projects as one long list or by adding topic filters. I found the topic filters made the projects more accessible even when just browsing and when I was at that stage where I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for yet. Another feature about searching for projects which I found extremely helpful was that each project was not confined under one topic heading but rather could appear in two (Project Parasite Safari: under heading Biology and also Climate) or possibly even three headings. This cross-referencing allows the user to see exactly what headline topics the project was concerning and the projects were easily recognisable as the same database thanks to the pictures that were used to identify them, a different relevant picture for each database.

When it came down to choosing a project I was spoiled for choice. I decided to reach out into a field that interests me but I have not had the opportunity to study yet, healthcare. The title of the project was ‘Where Are My Body Organs?’. While someone might assume quite accurately what this project is about just from reading the title it caught my attention because it posed the title as a question. It enticed me to find out more about this project so after one click on the picture of the skull above the title I started on that journey. This brings you to a page which shows you the number of volunteers involved in that particular project and the number of classifications made which is quite obviously the higher number out of the two. The most important button on this screen though is the ‘Learn More’ button. Once pressed, it outlines for you what the project that you are about to take part in entails, what is the purpose of the research and the goal of the research. This gives the user a clear outline as to what good will come about in the world as a result of them taking time to do it. This healthcare one in particular provided a link to the abstract of their paper which deepens the user’s understanding of the use of their findings. This page also offered full visibility as it allowed you to introduce yourself to the profiles of the team of researchers leading this project as well as investigate a tag concerned with the results and FAQs.

For this project they were looking for the identification of different organs in the human body. While the actual process of the project is not explained in the ‘Learn More’ tab it is clearly indicated what to do once you start the project. The ‘Learn More’ tab instead introduces the subject by explaining what they are trying to achieve. In this case they are trying to prove that knowledge level on this topic varies among the public and that it is possible to improve the quality of knowledge among laypeople (https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/h-spiers/where-are-my-body-organs/about/research). There was a set number of fixed questions the researchers were hoping to answer by completing this test. In hindsight, it was important that those participating were made aware of these specific goals as some included details that would be asked for during the survey such as age and occupational field.

Once inside the project a short set of instructions to complete the task appear above it. Since this task was simply a matter of identification the instructions askedPlease place a marker on the image showing the front and back of the body for where you think each of the organs or structures below is found within the body” (https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/h-spiers/where-are-my-body-organs/classify) Below these instructions lay a series of multicolour targets to place on a model of the human body that was on the left of the screen. This body was shown once from the front and once from the back both to allow the user to put the targets in a more accurate position and to spread them out across the two models so they would not crowd each other. I started this project without delving into the tutorial option the first time I ran through this process. While the instructions provide a clear guidance to the user if there was any lingering confusion this can be easily rectified in this project by taking a glace through the tutorial slides. Here you are guided in a step by step manner how to complete the task.

When I started on the task myself I appreciated the fact that the target for each different body organ varied in colour. There was no more than four of the same colour target on the model which made identifying what marker equated to what organ easier to comprehend. The fact there is a small cancellation button in the top right corner of each target to cancel your placement once you have dropped the target on the body made for an easy way of rectifying mistakes. This miniature x then disappears once you move onto the next target placement which allows the model to stay compact and tidy even when covered in multicoloured targets. However, like with so many projects there are always critiques to be made to it. The biggest flaw in this tool is that it does not differentiate between the sexes, so you are putting a mark for the prostate on the same model you are putting a mark for the uterus. Once complete this represents an inaccurate model of the typical human body. In an effort to improve this it might be an idea to allow the user to choose which sex they would like to work with when they are beginning the process. Another criticism I would have is the way the creators have programmed how to select your age at the start of the project. It functions as a dropdown list which, while maybe not the ideal way of going about it, prevents typos. The peculiar thing about it though is that the list starts at 110 and then the user must scroll down to get to the smaller numbers. I see this as being very inefficient as there are not many 110 year olds who will sit down to participate in this crowdsourcing scheme.

The second project I chose to undertake, called Calgary Captured, took things in an entirely different direction. While it also concerned itself with identifying data I was analysing photos to decide if there was an animal(s) present in them. The photo presented itself on the left hand side of the screen and I then chose which animal name I believed applied best to the photo, if any at all. The photo alone gives you quite a bit of background detail such as the date and time the photo was taken and also what temperature it was in that particular location in Canada. This was in real contrast to my first project as the photo offered much more detail than the simple model of the human body. This project required more attention to detail than my first project and I did find this to be a bit of a challenge to begin with. There are many more options to choose from when identifying what animals are in the picture and sometimes these creatures are not all that easy to see. This is where I feel the project could use a bit of improvement. If the photos were categorized by level of difficulty it may allow users to get more out of the material there. At the very beginning I did find myself getting frustrated with pictures where all I could see was snow and ice. To avoid the pitfall of people always picking the easy category the project could incorporate an advancement system so that when the user is easily able to identify animals in the easy category they automatically move on to the medium category and so on.

When comparing the two projects I see the first project as the identification of where we know factually where the organs are in the human body. In the second project while it is similar because it deals with identification that animal(s) in the picture could be placed in the foreground, background or anywhere in between. It required a more detailed analyses as after a few tries it was very simple to get full marks in the human body project. I did enjoy contributing to a crowdsourcing data project and will keep poking around Zooniverse as it may reveal more topics of interest. While I have only been able to describe my experience with two projects in this assignment I intend to advance my knowledge in the field of social science. While it does not have projects that link directly to my minor (Religion and Global Diversities) that certainly falls into social science as a category.