Crowdsourcing, microtasking, citizen science. If you have been following tech developments in the last few years, you have probably encountered all of these new terms and then some. What does it all mean? All of these terms refer to the rise of online volunteering. People around the world are working to solve scientific puzzles and help others in need. It is rewarding work, yet online volunteering has not yet made it to the mainstream. Why sign up? Well, here are five good reasons why you should look for a project to join today:
See the World (and Beyond!)
I have a bucket list of adventures I would love to go on. Every year, it just seems to get longer: monitor baby macaws in Peru, excavate a Roman ruin, see Earth from space. However, there is no way that I could possibly afford to do everything on that list. Chances are, you probably can’t quite drop everything to go off on your adventure, either.
This is where the beauty of online volunteerism comes in. You can go wherever you want, whenever you want. I was able to search Mongolia for Bronze Age tombs on our own Expedition Mongolia platform, all without leaving home. It’s not quite the same as having your picture taken in the Gobi Desert, but online volunteering can transport you to new places virtually. Volunteers have helped disaster victims around the globe with the Ushahidi platform, transcribed Egyptian papyri and even explored the surface of the Moon. Thanks to crowdsourcing technology, our whole universe is becoming more accessible for the armchair explorer. Your next adventure may be much closer home than you think!
Commit as Much or Little Time as You Want
In today’s world, free time is something hard to come by. Work, school and family often leave little time left to explore our interests. Traditional volunteering often requires a commitment ranging from several hours to months. In the case of online volunteering however, any time that you commit can go a long way. You can spend as little as twenty minutes on an individual project, or up to several months. The choice is yours! Either way, your contributions will be valuable.
Be your own Renaissance Man (or Woman)
Quick! What is anorthosite? What kinds of burial mounds can you find in Mongolia? Why is the shape of a protein important?
A decade ago, you would have had to take courses in geology, astronomy, archaeology and biochemistry just to answer those questions. Today, online volunteerism serves as an important educational tool in the sciences. Moon Zoo and Foldit (among others) provide excellent introductory materials on astronomy and biochemistry. Not only can they help you understand the projects, but they can foster an interest in science as well. I for one stuck to the humanities in college. However, thanks to getting involved in online volunteerism, I have folded proteins, identified Moon craters and done other activities that would have been strictly in the domain of STEM specialists in the past. No matter where you are in life, you too can learn and get involved in the scientific process.
Contribute directly to Research
No matter what online projects you choose to do, you can guarantee that your time will be well spent. Many such initiatives are connected to academic institutions that are actively working to use the data that you provide to tackle big questions in science. Foldit players for instance managed to solve a problem in AIDS research that biochemists struggled with for years. Most of the players had no biochemistry experience past high school, but their puzzle-solving abilities helped make a major breakthrough. As of this writing, user work from the Galaxy Zoo platform has managed to produce thirty published academic papers. The next time you want to indulge in procrastination, you might want to consider moving to an online citizen science project. You could be at the forefront of the next major discovery.
Save a Life
I know what you are thinking. How can you save a life online? Does it involve donating money to charity? Or help solve a scientific problem in medical research? Yes, all of these things can help. However, there is yet another way to make a difference that has only come about in the last few years. Satellite imagery and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) have been used to involve the public in disaster management.
During the 2010 Haiti Earthquake, some victims trapped under rubble used their mobile phones to make calls for help. Ushahidi volunteers in Boston intercepted the phone’s GPS signals and transmitted their coordinates to on-the-ground rescue teams. They also coordinated efforts to identify the addresses of buildings where victims were trapped. Similarly, after the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch New Zealand, Tomnod’s platform was used to identify building damage to aid in the recovery efforts. This combination of traditional humanitarian aid and online response helped speed up the rescue effort and recovery efforts. Not only that, it saved lives as well.
So, what are you waiting for? Get involved and volunteer online today!