Building a Low-Cost Geographic Website For Collecting Citizen Science Contributions

Michael Scholz and I presented our paper “Building a Low-Cost Geographic Website for Collecting Citizen Science Contributions” at the Applied Geography Conference in Atlanta, Georgia on October 15, 2014. The paper will be published in Volume 1, Issue 3 of the Papers in Applied Geography journal.

Abstract:

In 2004, shortly after the introduction of Google Maps, Paul Rademacher created the first web mashup mapping housing data from Craigslist. Since then, web mapping has become ubiquitous in many applications including social networking, collaborative mapping, and citizen science. Web mapping technologies have developed rapidly. A wide variety of new software from both private vendors and open source collaborators has made the barrier to entry for web mapping platforms relatively easy. Using this technology can assist geography researchers to collect information from citizen scientists. In this project, we explore different low-cost, low-barrier options of web technologies for citizen science websites. Choosing the right combination of software to implement a geographic citizen science project requires understanding the basics behind web portals. Web mapping portals are built on a GeoStack, or the layers of database and storage, data server, imagery server, and viewer that allows seamless integration of web portal technologies. We present the most popular open source software choices for each GeoStack layer and a comparison of the features for these products.

Using this information, we created a website to collect volunteered information about low water crossing hazards perceptions in Central Texas. For our project collecting low water crossing hazard information, we selected a combination of WordPress blogging software and a Google Maps plugin. The software allows users to submit possible low water crossings as point data in addition to descriptions and photos. Other users can comment and verify locations. A group of undergraduate students, some with GIS experience and some without, tested the software for usability. The results indicate that the software is easy to use for most students although familiarity with geographic concepts and comfort with spatial skills may be a barrier for usability. Using such a portal should allow applied geography researchers to work with citizen scientists to collect photos and information about a wide variety of geographic phenomena.

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