Facebook Helps Smithsonian Crowdsource Research

This team of researchers from the Smithsonian's National Museum turned to their Facebook friends to help identify over 5,000 specimens of fish in 24 hours.

Upon returning from their expedition in the Cuyuni River in Guyana to identify the different species of fish that live there, a group of scientists from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History knew they just hadn’t had enough time to collect all the appropiate information for the cataloguing process.

But in the age of social networking, a little crowdsourcing went a long way in helping them get their work to a swift start.

Brian Sidlauskas, an ichthyologist – – a zoologist who studies fish – – from Oregon State University, explains on the Smithsonian Science blog how a group of fellow ichthyologists managed to identify over 5,000 specimens of fish from in less than 24 hours. How? With a little help of their Facebook friends.

They created a photo album of the catalog of the specimens they had collected on Facebook, and asked their fellow colleagues for help. Of course, these weren’t any kind of friends. “The majority of people commenting held a PhD in ichthyology or a related field, and hailed from a great diversity of countries including the United States, Canada, France, Switzerland, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Guyana and Brazil,” says Sidlauskas.

By tapping into this massive social network of expertise, this group of scientists was able to preliminary identify over 90% of all fish surveyed, which in turn will allow them to sort and take these specimens to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. as quickly as possible. In addition, the faster the cataloguing process, the quicker the material is available to others for further study.

All those long days and months of going through each darn animal specimen in order to identify their taxonomy and classify them as this or that might be over – – or at least, that’s what this particular zoologist thinks.

How have you used Facebook for crowdsourcing projects?