[Picture credit: davedehetre]

Social tools and networks enable crowdsourcing more easily than ever before. On a micro scale people throw out questions to Twitter or Facebook friends or pin items of shared interest to Pinterest boards.

On a much grander scale, thousands upon thousands of people are helping identify galaxies by scanning images sent back from the Hubble telescope.

In his recent article on ‘the dawn of citizen science‘ Tim Adams talks to Kevin Schawinski and Chris Lintott who set up Galaxy Zoo, a site for citizen scientists who want to participate in documenting space.

The site is phenomenally successful and recently Lintott and Schawinski carried research into what motivates their ‘scientists’. The answer:

Nearly half suggested their primary motivation was a desire to be involved in useful research. Others cited “wonder” and “beauty” and “community” in about equal measure.

Aside from the fact that science is set to benefit from this kind of participation (think community synthetic biology labs etc), it is worth remembering what drives people to help out. Understanding this ensures that you manage your community effectively and that it is a sustainable entity.

It is also worth noting that users of Galaxy Zoo organised themselves into groups – they were almost entirely self-organising. And that is an important finding too. Maybe it is the nature of the work of the community that helps it self-organise, but you need to let that happen or at least see if it can happen without getting too involved first.