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Citizen Journalism Lessons from Birdwatching and Mars Too

A. Adam Glenn writes at both and at E-Media Tidbits about what citizen journalism advocates can learn from the annual Christmas Bird Count. This from E-Media Tidbits:

This annual citizen science effort…runs for several weeks in early winter. It uses tens of thousands of volunteers to collect widely dispersed data from hundreds of sites around the country. The National Audubon Society has been running it for over a century now, and it’s no publicity stunt. (I wrote more about this project in a Jan. 4 posting at

Yochai Benkler, talks about another citizen science project in his book the Wealth of Networks, starting on page 69 he writes:

NASA Clickworkers was “an experiment to see if public volunteers, each working for a few minutes here and there can do some routine science analysis that would normally be done by a scientist or graduate student working for months on end.” Users could mark craters on maps of Mars, classify craters that have already been marked, or search the Mars landscape for “honeycomb” terrain. The project was “a pilot study with limited funding, run part-time by one software engineer, with occasional input from two scientists.”

In its first six months of operation, more than 85,000 users visited the site, with many contributing to the effort, making more than 1.9 million entries (including redundant entries of the same craters, used to average out errors). An analysis of the quality of markings showed “that the automatically computed consensus of a large number of clickworkers is virtually indistinguishable from the inputs of a geologist with years of experience in identifying Mars craters.” The tasks performed by clickworkers (like marking craters) were discrete, each easily performed in a matter of minutes. As a result, users could choose to work for a few minutes doing a single iteration or for hours by doing many. An early study of the project suggested that some clickworkers indeed worked on the project for weeks, but that 37 percent of the work was done by one-time contributors.

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