Public Release: 

iSpot: Research finds crowdsourcing effective for gathering biodiversity data

Pensoft Publishers

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IMAGE: The conceptual social network structure of iSpot, showing the group (3 of the 8) compartmentalization and its interaction. view more

Credit: Jonathan Silvertown

Launched in 2009, iSpot is a citizen science platform aimed at helping anyone, anywhere identify anything in nature. To date, around 42,000 people have registered as iSpot users and over 390,000 observations have been made, leading to the identification of more than 24,000 species.

New research, undertaken by the OU, looking into the success of the iSpot model has found that the structure of the platform's social network to be a key feature. iSpot combines learning technology with crowdsourcing, enabling beginners to connect with experts, and leading to plant and wildlife species being identified accurately.

Over 94% of observations submitted to iSpot receive some sort of identification with more than half being named within an hour. Using a unique process based on an iSpot user's 'reputation', the platform motivates iSpotters to verify species and rewards them for doing so. In 57% of such cases the reputation system improved the accuracy of the determination.

The research concluded that by effectively connecting users in this way they are able overcome the social as well as geographic barriers that prevent the sharing of knowledge.

Janice Ansine, Citizen Science Project Manager at The Open University and iSpot manager said: "Being able to correctly identify plant and wildlife is a key skill to furthering our understanding of biodiversity, but sadly one that tends to be neglected in formal education at all levels. This research shows that a social network such as iSpot is an incredibly effective tool in not only connecting nature lovers from across the globe, but also in capturing invaluable biodiversity data and insight."

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Lead author Prof. Jonathan Silvertown, former Professor of Ecology and now Visiting Professor at the OU and co-author Janice Ansine will be giving talks on iSpot at the inaugural International Citizen Science Association Conference in San Jose, California (11-12 February 2015).

The findings of this research were published this month in the academic journal Zookeys.

Original source:

Silvertown J, Harvey M, Greenwood R, Dodd M, Rosewell J, Rebelo T, Ansine J, McConway K (2015) Crowdsourcing the identification of organisms: A case-study of iSpot. ZooKeys 480: 125-146. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.480.8803

Additional information:

iSpot is a project of the Open Science Laboratory at The Open University. It has been supported by the Big Lottery Fund for England, Garfield Weston Foundation,the Wolfson Foundation and other funders. Launched in 2009, iSpot is a citizen science platform aimed at helping anyone, anywhere identify anything in nature. It engages people through their interest in wildlife, helping them identify species through a system that connects novices to experts. iSpot has a large and rapidly-growing user base of nearly 50,000 registered users (close to 40,000 in the UK alone) with millions of visitors to the site who can share their observations of the natural world. Users have submitted more than 460,000 observations of over 30,000 species. Over 90% of observations receive a determination, usually within hours and often within minutes of appearing on iSpot. The platform also gathers valuable biodiversity data used by more than 150 natural history organisations.

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