Seismic Crowdsourcing

Data is perhaps one of the most important things that you can crowdsource: whether you’re using that information for study, science, or market research – the more data, you’re gathering, the more rich your results will be.

One of the new pieces of information being sourced from the crowd: seismic data. A program called Netquakes is offering to install the latest in small-scale seismic reading technology that it hopes will be hosted by random volunteers. All one needs to do to is visit the website, sign-up, and Netquakes takes it from there (even offering to install a wireless router for you). The machines gather data, which is automatically reported to Netquakes and helps enrich the wealth of information that they already have on-hand.

Currently Netquakes is only looking for volunteers in Hawaii, Northern and Southern California, the Pacific Northwest, and Utah. It’s a chance for science enthusiasts and amateur geologists to be a part of the fun of scientific discovery with relatively little effort on their part (the machine simply requires some floor space, high-speed Wifi, and about 25 cents of electricity per month).  But volunteers can check online anytime to see if it’s reporting data about the seismic activity in their area.

So far, it’s just a small program, with only 90 machines rolled out in the Pacific Northwest, but it’s possible that it will grow and it reminds me of another piece of crowdsourced information gathering that dates back to the 1930s: the Nielsen Ratings, which were the audience measurement systems developed by the Nielsen Company to determine the audience size and composition of television programming in the US. The Nielsen Company installed Nielsen boxes in American homes and used those readings to determine what America was watching. It later became the standard for understanding American audiences and often became the deciding statistic on whether a show lived or died, but there were many critics who are argued that the response bias and the small sample size (of the 114,500,000 US television households in 2009, only 25,000 American households were participating in the Nielsen system) were not enough to draw real conclusions about the viewing habits of the larger population. I wonder if the same criticisms will exist about this new earthquake data.

In any case, having your own earthquake sensor machine in the basement, seems like a pretty cool distinction – and that’s what Netquakes is banking on, too.

What do you think of crowdsourced research? What scientific project would you volunteer to participate in?

One response to “Seismic Crowdsourcing

  1. Matt (@doc_lee20)

    I’ve never thought about crowdsourcing seismic data in this manner. I just got hooked on the concept of crowdsourcing a few months back by a company called ziptask (www.ziptask.com). They outsource small business projects to freelancers all over the world. If they can successfully make crowdsourcing work, I’m sure this Netquake program can work as well. Power to the people!