In Praise of Amateurs
In the Virtualpolitik book, I write about how the NASA website took advantage of the enthusiasm of amateur astronomers to connect to a vibrant online community that was interested in sharing personal experiences and data. So it was interesting to meet Iona Munteneanu of the Smithsonian Institution at the Gov 2.0 Expo, since she is considering how to engage amateur naturalists in a similar way. Of course, the challenge is that data from fieldwork done by non-professional botanists, birdwatchers, and others may not be as uniform as the astronomy work, and there may be fewer pre-existing personal connections between formal and informal communities of practice. However, in the age of database science being funded by the NSF and iPhone applications able to recognize biological taxonomic distinctions, there is hope that more could be done in this area.