I’ve spent years hearing about Zooniverse, right back to its origin in the Galaxy Zoo project, but it occurred to me that outside of academia and science journalism, maybe it’s not so well known. Zooniverse is a citizen-science platform, where anyone can register and help to sort through the types of data that are easier for humans to classify than computers.
That might sound dull, but most projects involve looking at photos and ticking a box for each one. You can choose between dozens of projects to find something that you will enjoy looking at photos of. There’s Cheetahs of Central Namibia, where the photos are from a camera trap in a Namibian national park. There’s the Weddell Seal Count, where the images are from a satellite pointed at sections of ice in the Antarctic. There’s the Milky Way Project, with images from the Spitzer Space Telescope and WISE satellite observatory.
One I got a little obsessed with last year is Penguin Watch, where you click on every penguin in each photo. I love penguins and it’s reassuring to see photos of hundreds of them just getting on with their quiet little lives.
The reason I wanted to blog about this now is because my latest Zooniverse obsession is of a more literary bent. In recent years they have started including transcribing projects, because reading handwriting is something humans are generally better at than software. I tried one of these last year, which was a set of correspondence from an artist I’d never heard of, and I quickly bored of it. But the newest of these is the Boston Public Library Anti-Slavery Manuscripts. These papers (so far I’ve only transcribed letters, though there are many other things in the collection) are fascinating. I find every page interesting and genuinely want to decipher some of the truly terrible handwriting to help historians and social scientists.
I particularly like learning that many of the abolitionists were women, and that at times women’s rights got tangled up in, or helped along by, or hindered by, anti-slavery activism. I find the whole thing inspiring, awful and wonderful. And I’m sure other people out there would love helping this project too.
If you’re interested, you can look through the current Zooniverse projects and choose something that appeals. Get involved, it’s fun!