Crowdsourcing is the connective sharing of knowledge, people-powered research defined as “participatory online activity with a specific aim.” It is the practice of engaging a crowd or group for a common goal, often innovation, problem solving or efficiency. This offers significant value in being able to broaden our understanding of particular areas, as contributors can easily and efficiently share their knowledge. Crowdsourcing can allow organisations and institutions access to new ideas, possible solutions, optimisation of tasks as well as the potential for reduced costs. Especially with the improved connectivity of today’s society, it is now even easier than ever for individuals to collectively contribute their time, expertise or ideas to a project or cause.
The purpose of projects on online spaces such as Zooniverse is generally in identifying particular digital objects and attempting to establish provenance so that people can actually use these as artefacts. Not only in research but for greater future development and enrichment of knowledge on this particular area. The initial process of getting involved in a crowdsourced project was signing up to Zooniverse and sifting through various projects, understanding the aims of the project alongside what would be involved as a contributor.
After researching into various projects, the one which stood out by far was SONYC – Sounds Of New York City. Choosing this for numerous reasons, mainly due to personal interest in the social sciences alongside my minor in Economics which has led me to have a huge interest of societal impacts of decisions made by organisations and institutions. I also felt my expertise from past electives such as Digital Media and Multimedia gave me a substantial base of knowledge to be able to contribute to the project in an informed and productive way.
The Process Involved
The process involved in contributing to the project begins with some information about the purpose of the work SONYC are doing explaining their mission is. There is a detailed guide following this which goes through, step by step, what tasks are involved in contributing to the project.
Initial instruction is to find a quiet place with minimal background noise or else to use headphones if possible. Then you will find a list of sound sources which you use to label and identify in the 10 second recording which you will be presented with. It’s noted to ensure you’re familiar with the descriptions of each sound to enable you to make the best choice when identifying various clips.
You will also see a spectrogram visualization of the sound recording, which is linked to player used to listen to the audio. When you click the play button to listen to the recording, a red line will indicate the corresponding position in the spectrogram visualization. This correspondence will help in identifying sounds.
The task requires you to try to identify the sounds you hear in the recording, and select each of the appropriate labels from the list as well as what kind of proximity the sound seems to be, choosing either near or far. There’s also an outline as to what you should do if you are having difficulty identifying the sound and explain how differences in the spectrogram may help disambiguate some classes.
If you’re unsure there is a guide which shows you detailed descriptions as well as examples of the different sound sources listed, in order for you to be able to compare and identify the sounds efficiently. Finally you finish and submit your response, you can choose to comment and discuss your work and findings or else continue on listening to further clips. As I went through the sounds I annotated what I heard to hopefully add value and more extensive feedback.
The Implications Of Participating
In helping to identify various urban soundscapes recorded by the sensors deployed across NYC by participating in this project, I have become one of the 962 Volunteers who collectively have completed 8,213 subjects. This project involves large-scale noise monitoring leverages the latest in machine learning technology, big data analysis, and citizen science reporting to more effectively monitor, analyze, and mitigate urban noise pollution.
The tasks I take upon myself will be able to aid the sensors which have been installed on NYC buildings and locations to record street sounds will then help to recognize and differentiate between different types of noise. Using a highly advanced algorithm and artificial intelligence protocols the aim is that this will eventually allow the data to be used to have concrete information about the noise pollution. Including what the noises are, when they occur and to what extent they impact various aspects of everyday life as well.
SONYC provides new and exciting data-science methods for large-scale noise analysis, including predictive noise modeling in off-network locations using spatial statistics and physical modeling, development of interactive 3D visualizations of noise activity across time and space to enable better understanding of noise patterns, and novel information-retrieval tools that exploit the topology of noise events to facilitate search and discovery.
This sensing and analysis has the ability to improve mitigation in two ways. Firstly by enabling optimized, data-driven planning and scheduling of inspections by the local government, making it more likely any violations will be detected and consequences be enforced. Secondly, by increasing the flow of information to those in a position to control emissions like building and construction-site managers, drivers, and neighbors providing credible incentives for self-regulation.
The SONYC project is currently in the third of five years of its research and development agenda. It’s initial focus was on developing and deploying intelligent sensing infrastructure but has progressively moved toward analytics and mitigation in collaboration with city agencies and other stakeholders. The implications of the extensive amounts of knowledge built through this project has huge socioeconomic impacts which are very exciting to be a part of.
The technology will be able to support novel scholarly work on the effects of noise pollution on public health, public policy, environmental psychology, and economics. But the project is far from purely scholarly. By seeking to improve urban-noise mitigation, a critical quality-of-life issue, SONYC promises to benefit urban citizens worldwide. In involving myself in this project and bringing the information I have gathered throughout the years academically, as well as my own accumulated knowledge I was able to contribute to an incredibly impactful project.
Learning From The Experience
The experience of being able to share my limited expertise in a way which could potentially have such an extensive impact on the world around us I found to be both is gratifying and rewarding. The tasks in themselves were simple to complete and the easy to follow making the whole process enjoyable.
Having participated in a few crowdsourcing and collaborative projects, I found SONYC to be one of my favourite to contribute to by far.The contribution of my work on such a phenomenal project has potentially had an impact on the socioeconomic behaviours of the Economy as a whole. The information gathered has the ability to influence decisions of huge government bodies, city agents as well as various private initiatives that provide access to existing infrastructure in the city. Thus making it an exciting project to be involved in and knowing there could potentially be extensive benefits to come from this type of UGC is very rewarding.
In taking what I have learned, I feel it’s of utmost importance to ensure you carefully choose the projects you contribute to. Although my knowledge was by no means extensive I did feel as though the work that I was able to do was impactful because of what I have already learned about sound analytics and various media knowledge as well. Going forward, I will undoubtedly participate in future projects which I feel align with my expertise and interests. The amount of value one can bring depends on both of these in my own opinion.
The other part of what i have taken from the project is more about the actual tools and materials I was exposed to. Sound analysis, audio visual displays and categorization are all things which have broadened my understanding of this type of media. Alongside being able to now differentiate various sounds and categorize them accordingly, I feel as though I also have a greater knowledge of how various environmental factors impact various decision making process made by various government bodies as well which is something I can carry through with my studies in Microeconomics.
Overall, participating in a crowdsourcing project such as this I find to hold a huge amount of value and would encourage everyone to get involved. Ensuring you have an interest in what it is you choose to contribute to as well as having clarity as to what the impact of your work will be. I’d strongly recommend a visit to Zooniverse to browse through the various projects there and find one which interests or excites you. UGC is the future of knowledge sharing and will undoubtedly become an essential part of our digital academic research going forward.