Nearly everyone who uses the Internet has heard of Wikipedia and likely used it at least once. Wikipedia has often been held up as the poster child for the way that the Internet enables people all over the globe to collaborate with each other and produce an incredibly valuable result.
While Wikipedia itself has had some growing pains – or is it maturity pains? – there have been other more recent examples of virtual collaboration.
One of my favorites – and a potential successor to Wikipedia as the poster child for virtual collaboration – is Zooniverse (https://www.zooniverse.org/ ). Recently, Zooniverse passed the 1,000,000 mark – that is more than a million people have registered to help out.
This is a large number that is even more impressive when you consider that Zooniverse is not a fan site or a fantasy sports site, but is all about the participation of “everyday people” in science.
Their projects range from analyzing data collected in space to biology, nature and the environment. They even have room for what might be considered scientific analyses applied to the humanities.
Unlike Wikipedia whose users vastly outnumber its contributors and whose rules specifically exclude original research, Zooniverse is intended to make everyone a volunteer and to create new science.
It’s a very ambitious goal, one that seems to be working well under the leadership of the Citizens Science Alliance (CSA). CSA describes itself as:
“a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop, manage and utilise internet-based citizen science projects in order to further science itself, and the public understanding of both science and of the scientific process. These projects use the time, abilities and energies of a distributed community of citizen scientists who are our collaborators.”
It’s exactly this kind of project that provides hope for the positive value of the Internet as an unprecedented tool of the knowledge age.
And it also should raise the awareness of public officials about their citizens’ thirst for participation of all kinds.
© 2014 Norman Jacknis