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What Prompts Citizen Scientists to Conduct Research for Free? Neither Money nor Resume Building

NEW YORK Feb. 17, 2011

New York University

iConference 2011 February 8 Seattle Ofer Arazy University of Alberta David Anderson University of California, Berkeley February 14 Andrew Westphal

"Unlike those who contribute to YouTube, Flickr or Wikipedia, citizen scientists do not immediately benefit from participation," Nov said. "Science simply doesn’t offer instant gratification. That may be one reason that participation dropped off precipitously with tenure in the project. We wanted to find out how to encourage participation."

Citizen science projects, which harness volunteers’ skills, time, effort and computing resources, cost-effectively contribute to scientific research and engage the public in science. Understanding volunteers’ motivations is key to attracting and retaining these online laborers of science.

Nov’s prior research found motivations differed for contributors to Wikipedia, open source software and the photo-sharing site Flickr. Early research by Nov found that Wikipedians were primarily motivated by the fun of contributing; other studies found that improvement of professional reputation is also a motivator.

When Nov and other researchers surveyed Flickr contributors for a paper that was chosen Best Paper of the 2009 AAAI (Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence) Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, they found that a sense of community was most important to Flickr contributors.

Based on their research, Nov and his colleagues recommended that citizen science projects communicate their mission through social media and employ gamelike tactics to create fun for small research tasks. They pointed to the success of open-source software and Wikipedia, which allow participants to progress in rank. Nov and his colleagues also encouraged professional scientists to adopt Wikipedia-like citizen science structures that empower citizen scientists.

New York University

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