Despite being used for many years, it is now that crowdsourcing is becoming a hot topic in science. Read below what is it and how crowdsourcing science can help you?
The basic definition of crowdsourcing says it is a process that involves outsourcing tasks to a distributed group of people. These tasks could be online or offline, paid or for free, and they are outsourced to an undefined public, in opposition to traditional outsourcing.
So the idea behind crowdsourcing is: the more people working on your project, the better or faster or more varied results you will get.
In the field of graphic design, 99designs users submit a request for a logo and a associated budget and a crowd of designers present their designs. In this way the user can choose from many more designs that if he had outsourced the logo to a single designer.
In terms of raising funds, using the crowd is recently getting hot among entrepreneurs. You can crowdfund your ideas with sites like Kickstarter, which allows the crowd to donate money to creative projects in return of good karma and some goodies. Once the funding goal is reached, the money is transfer to the project and the backers get the promised rewards.
Can crowdsourcing science help your research? Wouldn’t it be great to have 1000 volunteers trying to solve a problem?
Crowdsourcing Scientific Problems
Starbucks is using My Starbucks Idea to collect ideas from their customers about products, shops, and company values. You can see it a as a supercharged way of collecting questionnaires and satisfaction reports.
How can you use crowdsourcing for your science? You can ask from your blog or some online forum what are the uncovered topics in your field of research, hoping to generate enough buzz among experts. Among their replies you could harvest some nice ideas for future research or engage in new collaborations.
A classic example of this approach is Tim Gowers, who posted in his blog a mathematical question and in a matter of days the commenters had solved it. This gave birth to the Polymath Project, an online effort to solve some mathematics problems. In his TED talk, Michael Nielsen advocates for Open Science and the Polymath Project is one of his examples.
Crowdsourcing science is not only a brainstorming session on steroids, but also be a solution for high performance computing.
Distributed computing has been used to find Marsenne Prime Numbers (GIMPS), process radio signals to detect alien trasmissions (SETI@home), or calculate protein foldings (Folding@home). The process is very simple, members of the crowd install a screensaver that runs some calculations for these projects when their computers are idle.
Thousands of computer hours have been used in this way for research. Can you imagine how much money has been saved? And if you happen to discover the next Marsenne Prime, your name will appear next to it in the Wikipedia. That’s what I call a nerdy badge!!
You guessed it right, crowdfunding is not exclusive for startups, crowdfunding science is a reality.
Crowdfunding websites like SciFlies and projects like #SciFund Challenge run by RocketHub are helping scientists to raise money for their projects. The have raised money for projects like analyzing ancient roman DNA or studying the color communication of chameleons.
Raised money still remains in the thousands, which does not allow to fund huge projects. What kind of projects would you encourage to use crowdfunding? I would say DIY garage science, books for scientists, or science outreach projects.
Do you think crowd funding is ready for bigger projects? Have you donated to scientific projects? Share your view in the comments section below.
Crowdsourcing A New Job
Bora Zivkovic is a chronobiologist. But he is better known for his online activities as a scientific blogger, active Twitter user, and online community manager at PLoS One.
In 2007 Bora saw a job opening at PLoS One and wrote a post saying he wanted it. The overwhelming reaction of his readers, posting why he should be given the job acted on his favor and a few months later he was enjoying his new job at PLoS One.
The action of Bora fitted nicely with the job he was applying to, a community manager. He showed that he knew how to built a community of loyal readers, exactly what they were looking for at PLoS One. As you can see, the crowd can provide more valuable recommendation than the two reference letters.
Is crowdsourcing a hype or is it here to stay? We will see in the next years the real impact of crowdsourcing science in terms of published papers and breakthroughs.
Yes, I know, measuring impact with papers is so old fashion. But as Michael Nielsen advocates, there should be a way to acknowledge contributors to crowdsourcing and open science projects, otherwise there are no incentives to take part in them. Or is good will enough?
Have you had experience with crowdfunding and crowdsourcing science? Are you planning to? Please share your ideas in the comments below.