Galaxy Zoo shows how well crowdsourced citizen science works
The Galaxy Zoo Web interface easily guides even a casual user through the process of characterizing a galaxy’s shape and properties; more sophisticated decision trees have been added in newer iterations of the effort, but the process remains simple from the user perspective. That’s critical, because most of the people who have contributed have only characterized somewhere between five and 25 galaxies (although a few users have gone through the whole set of 900,000).
The project makes up for this with volume. Even though most people don’t contribute that much, enough have been interested to actually cause the server to fail on launch day (they now use Amazon Web Services). A user also created an iPhone app that, in two months of availability, has produced over 300,000 classifications. This high level of interest relative to the size of the data set is critical, as it ensures that each galaxy can have multiple independent classifications, which provides a degree of statistical certainty in the results, and protects against vandalism.
Citizens do actual science
Simpson laid out what he called the ground rules for citizen science: be open about research goals, treat participants as partners, and don’t waste their time. To foster this open partnership, Galaxy Zoo created a user forum that let participants discuss what they are doing and ask questions of the astronomers. This actually turned out to be essential for some of the science, since it was on these forums that the astronomers actually spotted the users discussing some of the oddities they had seen.
via Ars Technica