Pictures, puzzles, and play. Citizen Sort is a collection of interactive games in which players sort and classify photos of unidentified animals. The project is the brain child of researchers at Syracuse University School of Information. The goal is to enable scientists to use pictures of wildlife from the web to help them study changes in species populations, the health of an ecosystem or the effects of urbanization.
Just as scientists might do, the games teach you to group images based on different physical traits such as an animal’s fin shape, skin coloration, or tail length. By sorting the images into specific trait combinations it is possible to identify an animal’s species.
In Happy Match, players are asked to classify pictures of sting rays, moths or sharks. The game starts with a set of pictures. In each consecutive round, you receive a different trait to sort by. At the end, you learn how many pictures you successfully identified. The more you play the more challenging the sorting. You can challenge friends and family to see who the best sorter is.
Another game, Forgotten Island incorporates image sorting into an interactive puzzle. Players find themselves on an isolated island, confused and disoriented after an unfortunate lab accident. Forced into labor by the island’s malevolent robot, and aided his slightly nicer brother ‘bot, the players must use their image matching skills to solve the mystery of the island.
While it is all fun and games for the player, the Citizen Sort project is an experiment it is own right. The project is a model for how game play and scientific research can be combined to make citizen participation more accessible and inviting. So sharpen up those eyes and get sorting.
Dr. Carolyn Graybeal holds a PhD in neuroscience from Brown University. She is a former National Academies of Science Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow during which time she worked with the Marian Koshland Science Museum. In addition the intricacies of the human brain, she is interested in the influence of education and mass media in society’s understanding of science.