Crowdsourcing science: Researcher uses Facebook to identify thousands of fish

May 13, 2011

Facebook is well-known for connecting friends, publicizing events and allowing people ample space to procrastinate online.

But recently, a scientist at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) helped illuminate a powerful new use for the tool.

In January, UTSC PhD candidate Devin Bloom helped conduct the first ichthyological survey on Guyana's remote Cuyuni River. Led by Oregon State University's Dr. Brian Sidlauskas, the goal was to find out which species of fish live in the Cuyuni and get a good estimate of their abundance.

During the survey, Bloom and the rest of the research team spent two weeks catching as many fish as they could. They even slept in makeshift camps. But after collecting more than 5,000 specimens, the team had a big problem.

In order to get the fish out of the country, the research team need needed an accurate count of each species and provide a detailed report to the Guyanese government. Since the team had to return to North America as soon as possible, they had just a few days to identify thousands of specimens.

That's when Bloom, who isn't exactly the most tech-savvy guy out there, suggested Facebook. Sidlauskas loved the idea, so he uploaded photos of each species. And in less than 24 hours, their network of friends—many of whom hold PhDs in ichthyology and are "diehard fish-heads"—had identified almost every specimen. With 5,000 identifications in hand, the team was able to deliver their results to the government and return home on schedule.

The team's novel use of Facebook to accurately crowdsource scientific data could change the way academics view social networking. It has certainly led Bloom to change his mind about the value of online tools. "Social networking is so powerful," he says, "and scientists should be using it more to connect with the world-at-large."

Explore further: Authors find social networking technology helps reveal what matters most in campus culture

Related Stories

Facebook lets friends share online memories

October 28, 2010

Facebook on Thursday launched Friendship Pages at which online pals can stroll virtual memory lanes that chronicle what they have shared at the world's top online social networking service.

Facebook to suggest friends to tag in users photos

December 16, 2010

(AP) -- Facebook will try to make it easier to identify friends in photos uploaded to the social networking site by using facial recognition software to suggest people that users may want to tag.

Recommended for you

'Hog-nosed rat' discovered in Indonesia

October 6, 2015

Museum of Natural Science Curator of Mammals Jake Esselstyn at Louisiana State University and his international collaborators have discovered a new genus and species on a remote, mountainous island in Indonesia. This new ...

Stress in adolescence prepares rats for future challenges

October 5, 2015

Rats exposed to frequent physical, social, and predatory stress during adolescence solved problems and foraged more efficiently under high-threat conditions in adulthood compared with rats that developed without stress, according ...

Most EU nations seek to bar GM crops

October 4, 2015

Nineteen of the 28 EU member states have applied to keep genetically modified crops out of all or part of their territory, the bloc's executive arm said Sunday, the deadline for opting out of new European legislation on GM ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.