Bringing the Zooniverse to Facebook

logo from WildCam Gorongosa on Facebook

logo from WildCam Gorongosa on Facebook

By Roger Hutchings

Zooniverse is the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research. This research is made possible by volunteers — hundreds of thousands of people around the world who come together to assist professional researchers.

A 2014 survey of our volunteers showed that they tend to fall within the 35 and older age bracket. However, our projects also have Pages on Facebook, and the audiences for those tend to be younger, aged 25 and under. Facebook has been around a good long time now, and so there should be a fairly even distribution of users across ages – this led me to believe that we’re aren’t doing enough to convert our audience on Facebook into volunteers.

So to see if we could use Facebook’s social features to get this younger demographic involved in citizen science, we applied for a grant to convert some of our existing projects to run on Facebook’s app platform, called Canvas.

Our first project was Wildcam Gorongosa, which asks volunteers to classify images taken from Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique in order to track the wildlife conservation efforts there. This is now live on Facebook at

The requirements of the Facebook platform changes how we build our apps slightly. The majority of our custom projects are single page apps, which we deploy to Amazon S3 as static files. But Facebook requires us to package up those apps with their own individual servers as well, to make a secure initial request for sharing login details. We’ve got around that by packaging apps inside Docker containers, which we can deploy on Amazon Web Services as and when needed.

The next big challenge is integrating the two different login systems at work at the Zooniverse and Facebook. However, once we do that, our users can operate seamlessly between the “normal” Zooniverse apps and Facebook; and Facebook login lets us take advantage of the really powerful social features available, like inviting your friends, or competing with them for classifications.

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