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Innovation

Project NOAH keeps 'citizen science' afloat

Web site and iPhone app allow students, scientists and naturalists track the comings and goings of flora and fauna around the world.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

Earlier this week, I wrote about a new e-business application for community supported agriculture (CSA), Farmigo, that has bootstrapped itself into existence using the Google App Engine cloud-based software development platform. There's one more that I'd like to highlight, Project NOAH, because it has risen up to contribute to supporting so-called citizen science projects.

(Incidentally, NOAH stands for Networked Organisms and Habits.)

The founders of Project NOAH, Yasser Ansari and Martin Ceperley, developed NOAH originally as a way of helping groups and individuals submit their observations about flora and fauna from different locations around the world. This process, dubbed citizen science, is widely credited with helping scientists keep track on all manner of animals and things over the years, most notably bird migration patterns. IBM even recently got into the act by releasing an iPhone application called Creek Watch, which encourages people to report on freshwater supply and pollution levels.

What Ansari and Ceperley have created is, at its core, a mobile platform for citizen scientists to report on all manner of projects -- there is a collection of more than 5,000 different cataloged nature sightings on the web site today. Ansari says the Web site supports three basic "modes" including an application to record images and notes about things you have spotted, a field guide that lets you know what you might find in your immediate surroundings, and a field mission application that lets groups and organizations set off on specific projects. You can record information either via the Web site or with an Apple iPhone. (The two are working on an Android application, as you might suspect given their use of the Google platform.)

Project NOAH was actually a student project when its founders were at New York University, so the business model for the site is evolving. One definite priority, however, is education and encouraging the use of Project NOAH as an educational tool, Ansari says. The company also believes there is revenue to be generated in field missions sponsored by corporations, museum or even municipal governments. The NOAH platform could, for example, be used by communities to keep track of potholes or downed trees.

"Our intention was to help people get over their nature deficit disorder," Ansari says. "We want to get people reconnected with nature."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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