There is no doubt that crowdsourcing is the buzzword these days, and its recent use in tracking down the mysteriously disappeared MH 370 plane is only one among many.
Crowdsourcing is “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers”, and, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, its first known use as a word dates back to 2006 (other sources say 2005. Not that it changes a lot. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/magazine/08wwln-safire-t.html?_r=4&ref=magazine&)
But SETI@home, the Internet-based, public volunteer computing project using idle computer power from a user community, is from the 90s. The sourced crowd in that case was composed by motherboards and RAMs, but the concept was there, and remained in place (and so did the project. Should you feel inclined to devote some of your PC GHzs to science, http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/. For a more active participation, try instead SETI Live, http://www.crowdsourcing.org/document/ted-the-seti-institute-and-zooniverse-launch-seti-live-to-empower-citizen-scientists-to-search-for-extraterrestrial-intelligence/11854)
Using humans for performing a series of more or less interesting (or boring) tasks is becoming increasingly common (a good starting point is: http://www.crowdsourcing.org) and in some instances is difficult to separate what is technically crowdsourcing from other forms of cooperative work. Interestingly, and not surprisingly given the origin, many of these projects are related to space.
Take Zooniverse (https://www.zooniverse.org/), for example. In one that is without any doubt one of most interesting collaborative initiatives for astronomy, you can track down where stars are actually born, hunting planets among a variety of unclassified space object, mapping the Milky Way or even discovery massive black holes, like the one at the centre of our galaxy. Not bad, eh?
And, as if this was not enough, about two million+ people have joined the hunt for the plane MH730 vanished into thin air in a Tom-Clancy’s style techno-thriller (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-03-13/satellite-crowdsourcing-adds-2-million-searchers-for-missing-jet.html).
DigitalGlobe, a satellite company, launched on Monday 10th a crowdsourcing campaign to help the search using its Tomnod imagery platform (definitively a good cause, even though the site has crashed almost immediately for the massive numbers of visitors. Now it is operational again, and in case of free time, have a go at it: http://www.tomnod.com/nod/challenge/malaysiaairsar2014).
What about results? Difficult to say for such ambitious projects – like SETI Live and Zooniverse.
Especially for SETI, claims we may discover alien (intelligent) life in 20 years or so nonetheless… (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/10694445/Faster-computers-will-find-aliens-in-20-years-says-SETI.html; I can’t but be skeptical, and not just for the Fermi’s paradox, http://www.fermisparadox.com. Why in hell should an allegedly intelligent species want to get in touch with humans really beats me. They would rather steer clear of us like the plague.)
I would be more than happy to have news of MH730, albeit the first week of investigations, crowdsourced or not, doesn’t give a lot of room for optimism. (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/14/mh370-search-for-missing-plane-extends-to-the-indian-ocean-live-updates)
Maybe I will switch to black hole search (http://radio.galaxyzoo.org/?utm_source=Zooniverse%20Home&utm_medium=Web&utm_campaign=Homepage%20Catalogue), after all: at least, matter-engulfing event horizons, like the one who seemed having claimed the plane, won’t come as any surprise.