Deep breath; I promise it will be okay.
By now, many of you have probably seen the one image that haunts your dreams: the backlit photo of the towering acacia that makes the wildebeest in front look tiny, with those two terrible words in big white print across the front — “We’re Done!” Now what are you going to do when you drink your morning coffee?? Need a break from staring at spreadsheets?? Are in desperate need of an African animal fix?? Trust me, I know the feeling.
Deep breath. (And skip to the end if you can’t wait another minute to find out when you can ID Snapshot Serengeti animals again.)
I have to admit that as a scientist using the Snapshot Serengeti data, I’m pretty stoked that Seasons 5 and 6 are done. I’ve been anxiously watching the progress bars inch along, hoping that they’d be done in time for me to incorporate them in my dissertation analyses that I’m finally starting to hash out. Silly me for worrying. You, our Snapshot Serengeti community, have consistently awed us with how quickly you have waded through our mountains of pictures. Remember when we first launched? We put up Seasons 1-3 and thought we’d have a month or so to wait. In three days we were scrambling to put up Season 4. This is not usually the problem that scientists with big datasets have!
Now that Seasons 5 and 6 are done, we’ll download all of the classifications for every single capture event and try to make sense of them using the algorithms that Margaret’s written about here and here. We’ll also need to do a lot of data “cleaning” — fixing errors in the database. Our biggest worry is handling incorrect timestamps — and for whatever reason, when a camera trap gets injured, the time stamps are the first things to malfunction (usually shuttling back to 1970 or into the futuristic 2029). It’s a big data cleaning problem for us. First, one of the things we care about is when animals are at different sites, so knowing the time is important. But also, many of the cameras are rendered non-functional for various reasons – meaning that sometimes a site isn’t taking pictures for days or even weeks. To properly analyze the data, we need to line up the number of animal captures with the record of activity, so we know that a record of 0 lions for the week really means 0 lions, and not just that the camera was face down in the mud.
So, we now have a lot of work in front of us. But what about you? First, Season 7 will be on its way soon, and we hope to have it online in early 2014. But that’s so far away! Yes, so in the meanwhile, the Zooniverse team will be “un-retiring” images like they’ve done in previous seasons. This means that we’ll be collecting more classifications on photos that have already been boxed away as “done.” Especially for the really tricky images, this can help us refine the algorithms that turn your classifications into a “correct answer.”
But there are also a whole bunch of awesome new Zooniverse projects out there that we’d encourage you to try in the meanwhile. For example, this fall, Zooniverse launched Plankton Portal, which takes you on a whole different kind of safari. Instead of identifying different gazelles by the white patches on their bums, you identify different species of plankton by their shapes. Although plankton are small, they have big impacts on the system — as the Plankton Portal scientists point out on their new site, “No plankton = No life in the ocean.”
Wherever you choose to spend your time, know that all of us on the science teams are incredibly grateful for your help. We couldn’t do this without you.