February 1, 2017 / By: John Heintz, E-learning & Data Services Librarian

Zooniverse is a crowd-sourcing research platform. In Zooniverse, researchers upload content and assign tasks for the site users (aka research volunteers) to perform.  Tasks could include classification of images, transcription/translation of text, etc. Once approved for review or display, the content and tasks are available to the larger community. Researchers set thresholds for how many replications of the task they wish to make the results valid, and then that item is removed from display; others remain available until the desired number of tasks has been completed.

Projects run the gamut of disciplines from the sciences, humanities, and social sciences. Projects can be set up privately, only accessible to a selected group of researchers, or submitted for review and acceptance as official Zooniverse projects and made available on the main project's web site.  According to a recent presentation I attended at the University, Zooniverse now boasts over 1.5 M users from 237 countries working on more than 60 projects. Last year it generated 110+ FTEs in volunteer researcher time, and more than 100 peer reviewed papers have been generated using the data from projects. Zooniverse projects also often include pedagogical materials that instructors can use to work with projects in the classroom.

Examples of projects includes:

  • Galaxy Zoo: Classify satellite images of galaxies by shape to help astronomers understand how different types of galaxies formed.
  • Decoding the Civil War: Witness the United States Civil War by transcribing and deciphering messages and codes from the United States Military Telegraph.
  • Shakespeare's World: Transcribe handwritten documents by Shakespeare’s contemporaries and help us understand his life and times.
  • Mapping Change: Use over a century's worth of specimens to map the distribution of animals, plants, and fungi.

Photo of the Zooniverse software.