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Crowdcrafting: Putting Citizens in Control of Citizen Science

Open Knowledge - September 17, 2013 in Open Science, PyBossa

Press Release: Geneva, 17 September 2013

Speaking at the Open Knowledge Conference, the world’s leading event on open data, Co-director of the Open Knowledge Foundation, Rufus Pollock, announced today that the open-source platform Crowdcrafting has grown to accommodate over 120 projects, making it the world’s most diverse open-source platform for online citizen science and crowdsourced data analysis.

Crowdcrafting is a collaboration between the Citizen Cyberscience Centre and the Open Knowledge Foundation, launched six months ago. Since its launch, a number of important projects have been built and developed using the tool.

The project ForestWatchers, for example, enables citizen-based monitoring of the deforestation in developing regions. Built on Crowdcrafting’s open source technology, it has received the support of the Open Society Foundations for a second phase in which local knowledge from citizens in the field can be integrated with the maps produced by online participants.

crowdcrafting antimatter

Another project, Rural GeoLocator comes from the Public Health Computing group at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel. The goal of this application is to help the SolarMal project, which studies the potential of innovative mosquito trapping technologies for malaria control. The geo-locations of the houses will be used to inform the project logistics and analysis of the SolarMal project.

Other projects that run on Crowdcrafting include “Does Antimatter fall up or down?” an application exploring the effect of gravity on antimatter.; Air quality with lichens to analyse and classify lichens as indicators of air pollution levels; and the Shell JIV transcription project which aims to transcribe the locations of oil spills in the Niger Delta from documents provided by Shell. Recognizing the broad power and potential of this platform, the Shuttleworth Foundation this month awarded one of its prestigious fellowships to the lead developer of Crowdcrafting, Daniel Lombraña González of the Citizen Cyberscience Centre.

Recent new developments have extended the scope of Crowdcrafting to include the collection of sensory information via mobile phones. Seamless integration with the Open Knowledge Foundation’s flagship CKAN database for open data means the tool will form an important part of the future of open science.

John Ellis, keynote speaker at Open Knowledge Conference, and world-renowned theoretical physicist at CERN and King’s College London commented:

“I was amazed how students at the CERN Webfest in August could turn CERN data on antimatter into a new citizen science project within just a weekend. This shows the power of the Crowdcrafting platform.”

Also speaking at Open Knowledge Conference, Francesco Pisano, director of research for the UN Institute for Training and Research, one of the founding partners of the Citizen Cyberscience Centre, remarked:

“Crowdcrafting is more than just a tool for basic science. Our UNOSAT programme is adapting the technology to efficiently combine the strength of volunteer computing with the work the UN and many NGOs have to do in generating information and assessments after natural disasters and other humanitarian crises.”

Denis Hochstrasser, vice-rector for research at the University of Geneva, which is hosting the Open Knowledge Conference satellite event on Open and Citizen Science, added:

“I’m proud that the Crowdcrafting platform is based here at University of Geneva. And I’m personally convinced that this grass-roots approach to citizen science will have a large impact on biomedical research, a core competence of our University. This is an area where increasingly, communities of patients are pro-actively collecting and analyzing their own medical data.”


Crowdcrafting will feature in a special satellite event on Open and Citizen Science at this week’s Open Knowledge Conference in Geneva, where Daniel Lombraña González will be helping prospective new users set up their projects.

Opening up the wisdom of crowds for science

Francois Grey - April 22, 2013 in Featured, News, Open Data, Open Science, Our Work, PyBossa, Releases

We are excited to announce the official launch of, an open source software platform – powered by our Pybossa technology – for developing and sharing projects that rely on the help of thousands of online volunteers.

crowdcrafting logo

At a workshop on Citizen Cyberscience held this week at University of Geneva, a novel open source software platform called Crowdcrafting was officially launched. This platform, which already has attracted thousands of participants during several months of testing, enables the rapid development of online citizen science applications, by both amateur and professional scientists.

Applications already running on Crowdcrafting range from classifying images of magnetic molecules to analyzing tweets about natural disasters. During the testing phase, some 50 new applications have been created, with over 50 more under development. The Crowdcrafting platform is hosted by University of Geneva, and is a joint initiative between the Open Knowledge Foundation and the Citizen Cyberscience Centre, a Geneva-based partnership co-founded by University of Geneva. The Sloan Foundation has recently awarded a grant to this joint initiative for the further development of the Crowdcrafting platform.

Crowdcrafting fills a valuable niche in the broad spectrum of online citizen science. There are already many citizen science projects that use online volunteers to achieve breakthrough results, in fields as diverse as proteomics and astronomy. These projects often involve hundreds of thousands of dedicated volunteers over many years. The objective of Crowdcrafting is to make it quick and easy for professional scientists as well as amateurs to design and launch their own online citizen science projects. This enables even relatively small projects to get started, which may require the effort of just a hundred volunteers for only a few weeks. Such initiatives may be small on the scale of most online social networks, but they still correspond to many man-years of scientific effort achieved in a short time and at low cost.

“By emphasizing openness and simplicity, Crowdcrafting is lowering the threshold in investment and expertise needed to develop online citizen science projects”, says Guillemette Bolens, Deputy Rector for Research at the University of Geneva. “As a result, dozens of projects are under development, many of them in the digital humanities and data journalism, some of them created by university students, others still by people outside of academia.”

An example occurred after the tropical storm that wreaked havoc in the Philippines late last year. A volunteer initiative called Digital Humanitarian Network used Crowdcrafting to launch a project called Philippines Typhoon. This enabled online volunteers to classify thousands of tweets about the impact of the storm, in order to more rapidly filter information that could be vital to first responders. “We are excited about how Crowdcrafting is assisting the digital volunteer community worldwide in responding to natural disasters,” says Francesco Pisano, Director of Research at UNITAR.

“Crowdcrafting is also enabling the general public to contribute in a direct way to fundamental science,” says Gabriel Aeppli, Director of the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN), a joint venture between UCL and Imperial College. A case in point is the project Feynman’s Flowers, set up by researchers at LCN. In this project, volunteers use Crowdcrafting to measure the orientation of magnetic molecules on a crystalline surface. This is part of a fundamental research effort aimed at creating novel nanoscale storage systems for the emerging field of quantum computing.

Commenting on the underlying technology, Rufus Pollock, founder of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said, “Crowdcrafting is powered by the open-source PyBossa software, developed by ourselves in collaboration with the Citizen Cyberscience Centre. Its aim is to make it quick and easy to do “crowdsourcing for good” – getting volunteers to help out with tasks such as image classification, transcription and geocoding in relation to scientific and humanitarian projects”. The Shuttleworth Foundation and the Open Society Foundations funded much of the early development work for this technology.

Francois Grey, coordinator of the Citizen Cyberscience Centre, says, “Our goal now, with support from the Sloan Foundation, is to integrate other apps for data collection, processing and storage, to make Crowdcrafting an open-source ecosystem for building a new generation of browser-based citizen science projects.”

For further information about Crowdcrafting, see

Citizen Science Open Technical Workshop – tomorrow

Daniel Lombraña González - January 29, 2013 in Events, Open Science, PyBossa, Workshop

It’s our pleasure to invite you to join the Citizen Science Open Technical Workshop to be held Wednesday 30th January 16:00 CET virtually using Google Hangout.

You can attend the meeting and send all your comments in this Youtube channel or this twitter account.

Over 2 hours, we’ll have expert talks and open discussions about technologies for volunteer computing and thinking projects like:

  • BOINC, the popular volunteer computing desktop middleware used in scientific projects like Seti@Home where volunteers donate their computing resources for analyzing radio telescope data, Einstein@Home where you could help analyzing weak astrophysical signals from spinning neutron stars, or CERN’s LHC@Home where the users help the physicists to develop and exploit particle accelerators like CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.
  • BOSSA, a distributed thinking framework for creating scientific projects where the volunteers perform tasks that require human intelligence, knowledge, or cognitive skills. An example of this technology is the project Transcribe Bleek & Lloyd where the volunteers help to transcribe Bushman hand written documents.
  • PyBossa, the OKFN’s framework for volunteer thinking projects where volunteers could participate in scientific applications like Feynman’s Flowers where the volunteers help to study how molecules interact with the surfaces they are stuck to, where the users can help to detect deforested areas from satellite images in forests, or for example helping in damage assessment cases like with the Pablo Typhoon or oil spills by Shell experienced by the company in the Niger Delta (Nigeria).
  • and other fantastic technologies!

You can get more details on the Open Science blog and on Google Plus.

Members of the public asked to help tend Feynman’s Flowers

Theodora Middleton - November 12, 2012 in Featured, Open Science, PyBossa, WG Open Data in Science

A project at the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN) is making fantastic use of the Pybossa tool (a project of the Open Knowledge Foundation and the Citizen Cyberscience Centre) in a citizen science project called ‘Feynman’s Flowers’, which launched this weekend.

The project asks members of the public to help unlock the secrets of magnetism at the molecular scale, and is powered by our free, open-source, platform for creating and running crowd-sourcing applications that utilise online assistance in performing tasks that require human cognition.

From their press release:

The project’s website invites volunteers from across the world to analyse microscope images of individual molecules, which have characteristic flower shapes. Anyone can take part, and only a few clicks of the computer mouse are required to collect valuable information.

The Feynman’s Flowers project will allow volunteers to measure the position of a molecule in relation to a metal surface to help scientists understand how this can affect the molecule’s properties. Data that volunteers produce will contribute to a research project run by the group of Dr. Cyrus Hirjibehedin at the LCN, in collaboration with Tsinghua University in Beijing and the Citizen Cyberscience Centre.

Currently, the research project is focused on exploring the behaviour of phthalocyanine molecules. In the past, these were used as dyes for fabrics, but scientists now realise that they also have interesting electronic and magnetic properties that make them potentially useful for creating nanoscale devices that can manipulate or store information.

This website is the first project of its kind in this area of physics, applying the power of crowd-sourcing to help understand images created by a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM). Operating at temperatures close to absolute zero (-273˚C), the STM allows scientists to image individual atoms and molecules on surfaces and to explore their fascinating magnetic and electronic properties. Public participation will allow for the analysis of data in ways that previously would not have been possible.

PyBossa Logo

Find out more on the UCL website – and get involved here! A citizen project for forest monitoring

Daniel Lombraña González - October 1, 2012 in Featured Project, Open Science, PyBossa

Tropical forests provide habitat for most of the world’s known terrestrial plant and animal species. These ecosystems are under increasing threat worldwide. During the last few decades, several million hectares of humid tropical forest were lost each year. Despite the proliferation of new remote sensing technologies, information about the status of world’s forest is limited and unevenly distributed.

The immense task of protecting for future generations an adequate share of world’s remaining forest is outside the reach of traditional conservation strategies alone. It calls for collective action to complement existing initiatives.

ForestWatchers proposes a new paradigm in conservationism, based on the convergence of volunteer computing/thinking with free (or donated) catalogs of high-resolution Earth imagery.

This citizen science project aims at making possible for anyone (locals, volunteers, NGOs, governments, etc), anywhere in the world, to monitor selected patches of forest across the globe, almost in real-time, using a computer connected to the Internet.

The project is an international partnership between the Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the Federal University of Sao Paulo, the Citizen Cyberscience Centre (CCC) and the Open Society Foundations.

Promotional video with Universal Subtitles

Based on the collaboration with INPE (leaders in deforestation monitoring and responsible for the DETER program in the Amazon basin — Real Time Deforestation Detection System), has recently released a first application, an alpha version, where everyone is invited to collaborate with us.

The application tries to reflect one of the first steps carried out by the experts at INPE when they assess deforestation for a given area of the forest.

In this first step, the experts compare several satellite images from the same area using pictures from different days. Why? Because some days some parts of the selected area will be fully or partially covered by clouds making impossible to analyze the deforestation. For this reason, the experts “cut & copy” the good areas creating a “collage”, or composite image, that will be almost “cloud-free”. This final image will be used in the next steps to study and analyze the deforestation of the area.

The ForestWatchers application gives you the option to participate and become one of these experts as you will be able to choose from different days which are the best parts of the image for creating the final one. With the collaboration of many volunteers this step could be done much faster and probably better.

The application has been built using the open source crowd-sourcing framework PyBossa (developed by the Citizen Cyberscience Centre and the Open Knowledge Foundation).

PyBossa Logo PyBossa is a free, open-source, platform for creating and running crowd-sourcing applications that utilize online assistance in performing tasks that require human cognition, knowledge or intelligence such as image classification, transcription, geocoding and more!

In this specific case, the first application is using PyBossa to run image classification or pattern recognition, while the next applications will involve geocoding tasks where the users will actually report where are deforested areas using the images that the volunteers have previously classified.

Introducing PyBossa – the open-source micro-tasking platform

Sam Leon - June 8, 2012 in Featured, Featured Project, OKI Projects, Our Work, PyBossa, Technical, WG Open Data in Science, Working Groups

PyBossa Logo

For a while now our network has been working on applications, tools and platforms for crowd-sourcing and micro-tasking. At the end of last year, we posted about a cute little app developed at a hackday called the Data Digitizer that was being used to transcribe Brazillian budgetary data.

In recent months we’ve been working closely with the Citizen Cyberscience Center on an exciting new platform called PyBossa. In a nut-shell, PyBossa is a free, open-source crowd-sourcing and micro-tasking platform. It enables people to create and run projects that utilise online assistance in performing tasks that require human cognition such as image classification, transcription, geocoding and more. PyBossa is there to help researchers, civic hackers and developers to create projects where anyone around the world with some time, interest and an internet connection can contribute.

There is already a wealth of such projects, including long-running ones such as FreeBMD – a huge effort to transcribe the Civil Registration of births, marriages and deaths in the UK – as well as more recent ones such as GalaxyZoo – a hugely successful project based on volunteer efforts to classify photographs of galaxies taken by the Hubble telescope.

With PyBossa we want to make the creation of such potentially transformative projects as easy as possible and so PyBossa is different to existing efforts:

  • It’s a 100% open-source
  • Unlike, say, “mechanical turk” style projects, PyBossa is not designed to handle payment or money — it is designed to support volunteer-driven projects.
  • It’s designed as a platform and framework for developing deploying crowd-sourcing and microtasking apps rather than being a crowd-sourcing application itself. Individual crowd-sourcing apps are written as simple snippets of Javascript and HTML which are then deployed on a PyBossa instance (such as This way one can easily develop custom apps while using the PyBossa platform to store your data, manage users, and handle workflow.

You can read more about the architecture in the PyBossa Documentation and follow the step-by-step tutorial to create your own apps.


PyBossa currently comes with several demo applications that showcase two types of projects:

Flickr Person shows how easily you can create a project where you have a set of photos or figures that need a classification or a description of the photo. In this demo application, the latest 20 published public photos from Flickr are used as input for the volunteers where they will have to answer a simple question: Do you see a human in this photo?

PyBossa Baby

The demo project Melanoma comes from an idea conceived by a team at Sage Bionetworks. Melanoma is one of the most life-threatening forms of cancer and its incidence is on the rise. It is often difficult for medical professionals to determine if a skin lesion is cancerous or not, but if diagnosed early patients have a 95% chance of survival. Advances in computer-aided image manipulation have improved the diagnostic process, but the hope is that the combination of these techniques and crowd-sourcing will improve these techniques further making early diagnosis more common.

In the demo you are asked to say if a skin lesion shows signs of being cancerous, and are taken through the various key questions: is it asymmetrical?, are its borders blurred?, is its colour uneven? and is it bigger than 6mm in diameter?. The plan is to extend this demo into a project that will help citizens recognise the early signs of skin cancer and also enable scientists to evaluate the role of crowd-sourcing in medical diagnosis.

PyBossa Melanoma

Urban Parks is a rather different kind of project. It shows a web mapping tool where volunteers are asked to locate an urban park for a given city. The goal is to show how web mapping tools can be used to address tasks like geo-locating items in a map.

PyBossa Urban Parks

If you want to try the demos and PyBossa, go to and get clicking. If you are interested in the framework you can download the source code from the Github repo and access the documentation here.

The Future

The focus on PyBossa has initially been on online citizen science projects, but it could have important applications in a host of other domains. For one, PyBossa could be used to help transcribe handwritten manuscripts of historical significance and contribute to existing efforts to make more of our shared cultural heritage available for free online and in a structured form.

We have no doubt that there are hundreds of other use-cases for PyBossa which we haven’t conceived of yet, and we’re looking forward to seeing the unexpected projects that emerge from it.

Call to action

Does PyBossa sound like something you’d like to get involved in? If so…

For any questions that you would like to address directly to the development team please use info [at]

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