Come and Join Us!
When Alice and the Zookeepers asked if some of us would like to contribute to the Blog I thought I would use the opportunity to grab the attention of any newbies who wander this way and might wonder what all the fuss is about and why people are still clicking after a year of classifying.
Well here’s my story…
I have been fascinated by the night sky ever since I was a child in the 60s and 70s when my demands to stay up late so that I could learn the constellations sometimes worked! Astronomy as a hobby was given a kick-start in the 1990s when I was given a small telescope as a birthday present. They had come on a bit since the 70s and within days I had bagged
I don’t have a science background and in order to make sense of the astronomy magazines I was reading (not to mention episodes of the Sky at Night!) I decided to do something about it. Several Open University short courses later I was eager to do “something more.”
In May 2007 I came across stardust@home after searching for distributed computing / crowdsourcing projects. Its hands on approach was what I was looking for. Now if only there was a similar project more directly related to visual astronomy….
A few weeks later while browsing the BBC news website I found the entry about Galaxy Zoo and signed up the next day. This was perfect. A way for me, as a lay person interested in astronomy, to get involved in real research based on looking at galaxies – and stardust@home was its inspiration! The forum went live a few weeks later on the 26 July. I signed up the following day after lurking for just one evening.
Now that is interesting because while I might lurk on a forum – I rarely join up let alone contribute. The Galaxy Zoo forum was very friendly and welcoming right from the start with an emphasis on joining in. Classifying soon became addictive as did swapping ideas on classification on the forum. It has since grown into a forum like no other. Together with the Blog the forum has become an invaluable resource to everyone involved in the project, both volunteers and astronomers.
The overriding forum characteristic is its politeness – people are genuinely civil to one another. This makes it a welcoming place and, hopefully, encourages people to join in. Other fora could learn a lot from this. The lack of competition and league tables means that every individual classification click is valued and no one classifier is deemed “better” than another. The forum is also very efficiently moderated – keeping it a safe and polite environment. Educational threads on ring galaxies, spectra, and redshift have taught me a lot. But most of all the forum has become a repository for additional science projects – Bill Keel’s overlaps”, Kevin Shawinsky’s
blue ellipticals”, mergers, peas and gravitational lenses. The science, discoveries and papers are all shared on the Blog and discussed on the forum. You sometimes get the impression that the forum is really a huge focus group where citizens are made to feel as if they really are contributing to science.
This is what keeps me here – the science, the participation and the team work.
With the recent influx of newbies I began to think how they might perceive the project. Classifying galaxies is satisfying but there is so much more to be gained by participating on the forum. The Galaxy Zoo project has over 100,000 participants yet the forum has only around 8,000 members. That’s an awful lot of people who might not be aware of all the additional projects generated by the forum posts.
So if someone joins the forum I like to think it’s as welcoming as it was when I joined – although it’s now much bigger. One or two introductory threads began to appear to guide new members around and I spotted a chance to give something back and to provide a resource for all the newbies. The aim was to encourage new members to stay. If I had just joined I would be bewildered by the number of threads and repeated requests not to post things that had already been posted. Galaxies aren’t a problem as they have their own threads but what to do with the pictures that are clearly not galaxies – the pictures that are downright odd? I would have appreciated a list of these unusual objects to compare my finds against – and instruction about what to do with them. And so I created the “Wow What’s That? thread to help out. It contains a variety of non-galaxy objects such as stars and comets with links to forum threads about them.
It is currently averaging around 100 reads a day so I hope people are finding it useful and that it will continue to be useful in GZ2.
Not everyone who classifies will read this Blog but I hope those that do will consider joining the forum, helping out with the extra projects and getting the most out of being a citizen scientist.
Thanks to the team for allowing me the opportunity to say my bit.