Wednesday, 14 November 2012

iSpot a global #mobile enabled environmental #crowdsourcing initiative

For those interested in the development logic behind an ever growing, durable mobile project, the iSpot growth will be of interest. Especially as they share the choices they made and whether those were good or bad. There is also a link to the new Google mDesign recommendations.

Last October I met Will Woods who is part of the team behind iSpot a UK-based group linked to the Open University of UK. The iSpot team is now rolling out a worldwide mobile enabled project. iSpot a global mobile enabled environmental crowdsourcing initiative

iSpot focuses on sharing knowledge on what people can see in nature: birds, mushrooms, trees, flowers... and to determin what type of species or plant it is based on expert and peer knowledge. The project started out as something local, but is now set to go worldwide as an Open Educational Resource for nature in all it's wonders. In it's current version newly uploaded content to iSpot is determined (analyzed for what type of flora or fauna) within one hour!!

Different versions

The first version of iSpot was mostly web-based and was focusing on people willing to consume content related to nature. People could look up which type of flora or fauna they had met while being in the open. This was done based on a database with a list of visual and other information on local (UK) wildlife.
This first version was opened up for evaluation by all the stakeholders. As the project team got feedback from their first users, they quickly found that users wanted to be able to immediately access and share what they saw in the open field through their mobiles. the team got to work on a second version of iSpot, focusing on the possibility to share what had been seen in the open more quickly and immediately.

Version 2 got more interactive: people were now able to share their own content, load it up to the iSpot server, and ask for feedback on the determination of the species they had found, or simply add an extra visual to a specific species. By this crowdsourcing effect, the iSpot database is becoming a source of interest on where species were located, how their population is doing, how they migrate... Of course the database still needs to mature in terms of content, but ... it is a longterm project with a definite surplus to science.
For version 2 development choices had to be made which are of interest (see a bit further down this blogpost).

Version 3 wants to go international. This version will be rolled out by June 2013 but is already being developed and its vision was shared during the same session in mLearn2012. For this version to become of international interest, it meant that species not only had to be determined by the crowd, but that different language options for specific species needed to be embedded as well. This 3rd version is built based on the new Google recommendations for mDesign (G+), really new so check it out.
So what to expect in this version: html5, international options with regional mapping features, ecological relationships (relationship between different plants and animal life), improved social media tools, caching options for offline use and 'bioblitz' (which I forgot what it was... feel free to fill me in :-)

Interesting learning reward addition
An interesting and useful learning reward was offered. If people were able to determine which type of animal life they saw, they would grow through the 5 levels of expertise that the iSpot team had put up. This means that anyone with an interest and willingness to get into wildlife had the opportunity to work her/his way up to the 5th or expert level. Meaning they would reach a status where they would be the one's determining flora and fauna right up there with all the professors and experts connected to iSpot.

Choices made while developing
  • When content is uploaded ideally it would be anchored to specific regional coordinates, as this would be of scientific interest.
  • The mobile team also shared some pointers for ideal mobile project development:
  • foresee short windows of development: if the iterations are short, it will enable you to cater much quicker to your target learner audience
  • ensure adequate mDesign for an optimal user experience
  • add features most suitable to app development
  • design for a single platform initially as this will save you time and effort (= cost) and will enable you to focus on what matters => the actual content and user experience
  • started as a mobile native app, but now turning into html5 project (the ECAR mobile preferences report of September 2012 indicated that students prefer mobile apps to web optimized content, so with the html5 option they hope to offer an optimal mobile web application).
  • as different project iterations move on, it is of interest to analyse all the actions taking place in the project with event level Google analytics (this is also a new beta Google option and google looks for feedback so have a look).

Want to know more, contact Will Woods either through his twitter account @willwoods or his blog:

A nice extra, the iSpot project has resulted in an 8 year old girl finding and naming a newly found spider! How great is that?!

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