Project Report:
Increasing the Crowdsourcing Capacity of Anecdata.org
Purpose
- Investigates the causes of economic imbalances.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.

Summary

We plan to build out the capacity of Anecdata.org, a free online data portal that we created for collecting and sharing crowdsourced environmental data, to meet the growing needs of numerous organizations that are collecting information and observations on the environment, especially as it relates to climate change. Anecdata already has many valuable features including mapping, photo up loading and archiving, and data visualization through graphing. In this project, we will add video upload functionality, a searchable video archive, and development of a general-purpose mobile app to serve the needs of project participants collecting information during field events or on the fly. These added features will greatly expand the utility of Anecdata.org, especially for those who are documenting changes over time. In addition, we plan to implement a commercialization strategy by which we can generate revenue to support the continued development of Anecdata.org as a free site for all users.

Description

The goal of this project was to create and launch a generalized mobile app for all projects on Anecdata.org. We had already created an app specially designed for projects at South Carolina Aquarium (SCA) with funding from SCA and Maine Technology Institute, however creating a generalized app required us to create a large number of new features to provide a full-fledged app for our citizen science platform.

These new features fell under the following:

Project Creation and Administration.
The SCA Citizen Science app provided a way for participants to share observations with projects on Anecdata.org, but since it was only meant to be used by participants, it lacked the functionality to create new projects or to administer existing ones.

The new project creation and administration tool replicates the functionality of the project creation tool on the Anecdata.org website, including:
• A project page editor allowing users to specify project logos, header images, descriptions and protocols
• Datasheet administration, including the creation of new data types;
• A new in-project observation hotspot administration tool, allowing users to specify recurring observation sites;
• Project member administration, including a new function to assign multiple administrators on a single project.

Geolocation improvements.
The SCA app did not originally support observation ‘hotspots’, project administrator-defined locations where users could report data over and over again. Hotspots are particularly useful for projects like King Tides, where participants may be photographing recurring shoreline inundation of the same vulnerable habitat or infrastructure over time. The new app will attempt to automatically detect the closest hotspot within 1 kilometer of the user and ask the user if that is the site they are observing, helping project administrators to group observations of the same site together in an easy-to-browse manner.

‘Likes’ on observations.
Citizen science project participants are motivated by the desire to help the environment, but they also like to know that their observations have been seen. This is why we implemented the ability for users to ‘like’ each other’s observations, providing a quick way to provide and receive positive feedback.

Push notifications.
Anecdata.org already provided users with email notifications; however, mobile app users expect to receive push notifications on their devices even when the app is not open. We developed a new notification system for Anecdata.org, and settled on using Google’s free Firebase Cloud Messaging to deliver notifications to users.

Users of the Anecdata mobile app can now receive push notifications for:
• New likes or comments on their observations;
• New events in projects they have joined;
• New observations in projects they administer; and
• New members in projects they administer.
In the future, we plan to leverage push notifications for in-app messaging for project administrators and users.

A new species database.
Anecdata.org had used the US federal government’s ITIS (https://www.itis.gov) database to reference its species observations. ITIS’s advantage was that it was free to use and quite comprehensive; however, we could not add new species to it directly because new, incremented species ID numbers would conflict with the new species ID numbers in any subsequent release of the ITIS dataset. To improve on this system, we developed a new database that incorporates the existing ITIS tree of life, but allows us to also record new species or incorporate new species databases, as we might need to in the future.

Features still in the works:
We set out to integrate video uploads into the Anecdata app, however we still have to make modifications to our server-side media processing pipeline in order to accommodate video, including the multiple video formats users might attempt to upload through the Anecdata.org web interface. We have planned a new pipeline using the open-source ffMpeg video processing toolkit that will translate a large number of video formats into a format suitable to viewing on a mobile device or in a web browser, and expect to get this feature out by April 2018.


Project Bonus: A complete redesign of the Anecdata.org website:
The development of the new app was the perfect time to update the Anecdata.org front-end. The old site used a ‘server-side templating’ approach that was not flexible enough to meet our growing needs. Instead, we migrated the Anecdata website to a new “single-page app” (SPA) architecture which is far faster and much more responsive than the old one. Users visiting the Anecdata website now only need to load the page and all the assets it uses once; further navigation across the site only requires the loading of structured data from the same web services that the app uses. Single-page architecture has become the de facto standard in the world of social media and allows us to provide a greatly superior experience to other citizen science platforms, all of which currently still use the old server-side templating method.

Features on the Anecdata website enabled by the new architecture include:
• A brand-new user notifications dashboard, showing the same notifications that users receive via push notifications on mobile;
• A new system for help documentation;
• A newly-designed project administration tool with functionality mirroring that of the mobile app;
• New image galleries with a pop-over scrolling lightbox to make it easier to view and explore observation photos;
• The ability to ‘like’ users’ observations like in the app, which sends a push notification to the person who shared the observation.

App Testing:
The Anecdata Team, Ashley Taylor, data specialist, Anna Farrell, program coordinator, Duncan Bailey, systems developer, and Jane Disney, director of the Community Lab, put the app through rigorous testing to ensure usability, including working with community members to gather feedback. Together, they contributed to the development of the Anecdata mobile app and the new Anecdata.org website.

App Launch:
Anna and Ashley coordinated a combined app launch event and King Tides viewing party on February 1st at the Port Security Building in Bar Harbor, which was attended by community stakeholders, educators, 50 students from several local schools, and a reporter from local CBS affiliate WABI. Anna, Ashley, Duncan and Jane gave presentations on the history of the Community Lab, the environmental questions that gave rise to Anecdata.org, and the current issue with climate change and the importance of king tides in predicting inundation in the case of future climate change. Attendees then went out to use the Anecdata mobile app to share their observations of the king tide in the harbor.

Upcoming developments:
As an indirect result of our app launch mailing, the University of Idaho’s MILES project (Managing Idaho’s Landscapes for Ecosystem Services) will be flying Duncan out to Pocatello, Idaho to present at a workshop alongside representatives from eBird and iNaturalist at the end of March. Duncan will give a presentation on how Anecdata can help organizations crowdsource data that does not fit into the existing framework of sites like eBird and iNaturalist, and then meet one-on-one with local project leads to help them walk out of the workshop with a shovel-ready project on Anecdata.org.

Continued work and next steps:
We now have licensing agreements with South Carolina Aquarium and Climate Cost Project and continue to update and maintain their apps. We anticipate that more customized apps may requested by users in the future as more organizations become familiar with Anecdata.org and its capabilities. We want to develop a digital marketing plan so that everyone interested in Citizen Science knows about Anecdata.org and it becomes the “go to” citizen science website for new project development.

Anecdata.org mobile app interfaces with Anecdata.org website, where all data are publicly available
Anecdata.org mobile app interfaces with the Anecdata.org website where all collected data are publicly available.

Purpose

Investigate Causes of Economic Imbalances: Economic imbalances exist where climate change and other environmental problems affect human health, safety, and livelihoods. Anecdata.org is an online tool to help individuals and organizations create projects, and collect, share, and visualize data in order to mitigate problems, effect change, and address economic imbalances in communities.

Explore and Develop Market-Based Solutions: Anecdata.org will help organizations explore and develop market-based solutions to problems like sea level rise, ocean acidification, and coastal flooding. The Anecdata software has applications beyond collecting environmental data and can be used to crowdsource information in public health or economics, for example, on emerging diseases or costs associated with climate change.

Scope

Anecdata.org is a “next-generation” online data portal, with unique feature sets. We have made the site free and openly available for other organizations to create projects, invite users, and manage and share environmental data. The site now hosts 60 projects, 23 of which relate to marine conservation. Several of these relate directly (the King Tides projects) or indirectly (the Eelgrass in Maine project) to addressing impacts of climate change. Anecdata has the potential to host hundreds if not thousands of projects. We have completely re-built the website, improving its functionality, and plan to continue building out the capacity of Anecdata.org to meet the growing data management needs of numerous organizations working on the front lines of environmental change. We have created a mobile app and will add video upload functionality, a searchable video archive in the near future. We have implemented a commercialization strategy by which we can generate revenue to support the continued development of Anecdata.org as a free site for all users. The strategy includes development of customized mobile apps for organizations. In order to get the word out, we plan to develop a digital marketing plan.

Information Dissemination

Anecdata.org has a Facebook page, which keeps people in the citizen science field updated on the site's latest features. We host local public events, such as the mobile app launch at our town pier. Our Development Office put out press releases and invited local news stations to cover the roll-out of the app. These are all featured on the MDI Biological Laboratory website. Systems developer, Duncan Bailey has been traveling to meetings, including the Citizen Science Association meeting in St. Paul last year. He is presenting at the Maine Water Conference and at a Citizen Science workshop at Idaho State University in late March 2018 and Jane Disney and Duncan Bailey have proposed to host a workshop on Anecdata.org at the Oceans 18 conference in Charleston, SC, in October 2018.

Project Link https://www.anecdata.org/

Amount Approved
$13,000.00 on 4/25/2017 (Check sent: 5/11/2017)


  Related Organizations
MDI Biological Laboratory  


Anecdata.org mobile app
Anecdata.org mobile app

Attachments
Anecdata.org mobile app
Using the Anecdata mobile app in the field
King Tides photos uploaded through Anecdata.org mobile app
Anecdata.org mobile app interfaces with Anecdata.org website, where all data are publicly available

Address
159 Old Bar Harbor Road
Bar Harbor , ME 04609

Directions
After driving onto Mt. Desert Island, bear left to stay on Route 3. Drive about 4 miles, then turn left onto Old Bar Harbor Road at sign for the Lab. Turn left again onto Biol Lab Road and continue straight to parking area.

Phone
(207) 288-9880 ext 125

Contacts


Dr. Jane Disney
Eelgrass Project Co-Manager
Judy Sproule
Deputy Director of Development, Mt. Desert Island Biological Laboratory

Posted 4/17/2017 5:07 PM
Updated   3/27/2018 5:56 PM

  • Nonprofit


Using the Anecdata mobile app in the field
Using the Anecdata mobile app in the field

King Tides photos uploaded through Anecdata.org mobile app
King Tides Project photo uploaded with the Anecdata.org mobile app

 
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