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Crowdsourcing a map of the universe

I’ve been thinking (and reading) a lot about crowdsourcing lately, partly because it’s becoming increasingly  obvious that online news sites need to figure out how to open themselves (and the job of filtering information) to their community, but also because I’m suddenly teaching WebU’s crowdsourcing class. The course was created by Peter Organisciak, a Mac student (and by now probably grad – way to go Peter!) I hired to bring some needed technical expertise into our little "faculty".
In Clay Shirkey’s SuperNova 2007 talk, he examined how the net’s communication tools meant that now "love" could be as strong a motivator for work as money or profit, partly because you could break down so many big giant tasks into smaller pieces that people could choose to tackle. That’s crowdsourcing in a nutshell, alhtough the motivation can range from love (for a person), or passion (for an idea) or status (think Slashdot or Fark) or even profit (Mechanical Turk).
Here’s an interesting example of a neat crowdsourcing project at Oxford University:

Galaxy Zoo is the project of some
Oxford astrophysicists trying to classify millions of
never-before-seen-by-human-eyes stellar objects that big computers have
photographed.* It turns out that human beings are much better at doing
these classifications than computers are. It also turns out that people
all over the world enjoy doing this via the internet.

(Thanks Betsy Devine)

Two intersting tidbits from the piece: one is the move to name a newly
discovered astronomical feature after a Dutch schoolteacher who
"discovered" it in the Galaxy zoo, the other is the discovery about people,
not galaxies that came about by examining the data people submitted –
an entirely unanticipated side benefit of crowd-sourcing…

(image from the Galaxy Zoo)

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