Boinc and Zooniverse
BOINC is a platform for volunteer computing and grid computing. At a first glance, it looks dated and unappealing but, after some digging, one finds himself really engaged with the myriad of research projects that are using the system. As a novice user, I felt a great admiration for the people who built the platform, but unfortunately that didn’t encourage me to download the software and contribute, given that my computer is already too full of junk.
In my opinion, there’s a lot of drawbacks in being such a centralized, huge platform. The projects end up looking too similar, and, since all the contribution is passive, it’s harder to get engaged. It ends up looking like a very niche space.
Some projects, like FoldIt or GPUGrid certainly did their marketing better, and look more modern and appealing, but the overall experience could be greatly improved by spending some money in a redesign of the websites, interface and general information architecture. The existing community around the projects is amazing and should probably be the frontline of BOINC.
Zooniverse is the total opposite. It was created in 2007 and, I don’t know if they had this website and system from the beginning, but they obviously did their homework to reach a more mainstream audience.
We just have to compare their two taglines: Open-source software for volunteer computing and grid computing (BOINC) vs. Real Science Online (Zooniverse).
Or the first menu that appears on the site: Volunteer – Download · Help · Documentation · Add-ons · Links vs. Take part in Science Projects, Experiment in the Laboratory
They are based on quite different ideas or needs, so it’s not perfectly fair to compare them, but it’s fair to say that Zooniverse is more attractive for most of the people. It’s web based, the projects require active participation, but they mostly have some kind of gamification, and there’s a certain humanitarian aspect in each of them.
On my first visit, I found myself quickly joining Moon Zoo and identifying moon craters, which turned to be harder than I expected. I really liked that, despite being a modern website, the registration process was so simple that it didn’t even require a confirmation email. It was a proof of confidence towards their users that I really appreciated. The only thing that I missed, and this applies also to BOINC, was an up-to-date status of the project. I somehow needed to know how was the project progressing, if it was finished or just started… and couldn’t find it clear enough.