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Project launch

6.1 Prepare for launch

When you have finished implementing the changes from your beta test, you are ready to launch your project. As you head toward launch, you want to ensure that your project is prepped, you have an engagement strategy, and that you and your team are prepared for the human effort required. The first few days after launch are critical, as you will typically experience your highest number of volunteers in that time. However, as the initial rush levels out, you will also need a long-term engagement plan (see section 8) to build a lasting community of volunteers around your project.

To make sure that your project will run as smoothly as possible after launch, make sure that you have reviewed all of the content on your project and that you are happy with it. You should still expect issues to arise after launch, but careful pre-launch review will help ensure that you are prepared to fix anything that comes up later.

Before you apply for launch, make sure you’ve done the following:

  • Carry out a final 'check' of your project, including:
    • Reviewing all volunteer resources (Tutorial, Field Guide, etc.)
    • Testing your workflow from start to finish
    • Clicking on any links you have included in your project text, to make sure they work
  • Upload your full dataset
  • Plan your own PR efforts via social media, listservs, etc.
  • Make a launch schedule: how often will you check Talk in the first few weeks? In the first month?

6.1.1 Apply for launch

To apply for launch, you will post on the private Talk board that the Zooniverse team set up during project review. At this point, the Zooniverse team will also carry out a final quick check of your project to ensure it is launch ready.

6.1.2 Prepare your data

After the final review, you will upload the remaining Subject Set(s) you have for launch. Be sure to attach the appropriate Subject Set(s) to your Workflow(s). You can always upload additional Subject Set(s) later on, but you want to be sure you have plenty of data available at your initial launch so the early wave of volunteers does not run out of items to transcribe. Visibility of metadata

If you want to include metadata with your Subject upload, you can do so via a Manifest. Instructions for how to upload data (with or without metadata) is available in section 2. Retirement limits

When you first launch your project, keep an eye on your early Data Exports (or initial data in ALICE) to make sure that the quality of the output is meeting the expectations set via your beta testing results. If it isn’t, you may need to make additional adjustments to your project Tutorial, Help text, or even your Workflow.

6.1.3 New project announcements

New projects are announced to the Zooniverse community via an email newsletter, typically sent out on Tuesdays, which reaches hundreds of thousands of people. This provides a large surge of volunteers at the beginning of a project, known as the Launch Rush. Managing this initial surge may require a significant amount of time in the first days or weeks after launch. Not only will you need to be prepared to answer questions from volunteers, but you should expect some issues to surface and be prepared to fix them quickly.

When you apply for launch, you will submit copy about your project for the launch newsletter. You will submit this via the private Talk board the Zooniverse team set up during beta. You can also read our guide to writing an amazing newsletter for additional suggestions. In short, be short. Also, be personal, clearly describe the project and its goals, and include links to associated sites (social media, other web homes of your project, etc.). Example Newsletters

You may also choose to do a ‘soft launch,’ in which your project is set to ‘Approved’ and listed at without sending out a newsletter. This can give you time to work out any kinks in your project management infrastructure, while still leaving a public announcement as an open possibility for the future. If you are interested in a soft launch, be sure to mention this to the Zooniverse team member carrying out your internal project review.

6.1.4 Prepare your team

Before you launch, it is important to think and discuss how people’s time and energies will be divided up both before and during the initial Launch Rush as well as in the long term.

If you are working on a team, take some time to discuss the division of duties: Who will be responsible for checking Talk boards? When will they be monitoring and responding to questions and comments? Who is in charge of keeping an eye on your stats and early results to spot any potential problems? After the Launch Rush, how will these roles change?

If you are working alone, try to plan out the time you will spend on monitoring your project during and after launch. How will you balance this work with your other commitments? Is this amount of effort realistic and sustainable? If not, you may want to consider delaying your launch until you can find some additional team members to work on your project. For both large and small teams you may find it useful to schedule regular time during the week to check on Talk, engage with your volunteers, and follow up on any technical issues that have arisen.

6.2 Build a community

Building a healthy community of volunteers is vital to both an ethical and successful crowdsourced project. You will need a community of people interested in volunteering their time and energy to your project and you also need to maintain that community, interest, and trust over time. There are many different ways to build community around your project. By building a project on the Zooniverse platform, you are tapping into the millions of people who regularly use Zooniverse or receive the newsletter, which offers a significant amplification of your project in its first days. However, to build long-term engagement, you will want to craft a sustainable plan to reach new audiences and inspire returning volunteers (see section 9).

6.2.1 Develop a strategic engagement plan

Your first step will be to determine who may be interested in the content or methodology of your project. For example, does your project relate to specific interest groups, such as academic, political, or cultural organizations, local communities, or organizers? How might your project be a useful teaching tool that could appeal to teachers or students? Does your project appeal to a particular academic discipline or profession that may be tapped? Identify as many different potential audiences as you can think of.

Next, determine your team’s capabilities for outreach to these groups, and create your outreach plan. This includes both technical capacity and labor bandwidth. Possible outreach strategies could include traditional media, social media, listservs and newsletters, targeted outreach to interest groups, and live events. If you want teachers to incorporate your project into the classroom, you can design sample lesson plans. If you are located at an organization with a marketing or communications team, coordinate your plans with them. Many Zooniverse projects have received TV and newspaper coverage in local markets.

Case Study: Engaging the public

Deciphering Secrets: Unlocking the Manuscripts of Medieval Spain brings medieval Spanish manuscripts online, and provides volunteers with the opportunity to learn paleography before participating in transcription.

Roger Martinez, Project Director:

“Engaging the public in citizen science initiatives can be enhanced by identifying the natural affinity groups that may have personal, cultural, regional, thematic, and professional interests in your materials. Often we think about our materials in one dimensional terms where we are focused on a distinct perspective. For example, the Deciphering Secrets: Unlocking the Manuscripts of Medieval Spain project is specifically focused on uncovering cathedral and municipal manuscripts that pertain to Jewish, Christian, and Muslims relations. This niche theme can be marketed to a broader range of individuals and organizations.

First, U.S.-based genealogical societies that focus on LatinX populations are a prime candidate as the crowdsourced manuscripts offer the opportunity for individuals to find new clues about their surnames and places of origin. Similarly, cultural institutions that are dedicated to distinct Spanish religious populations, like the American Sephardi Federation, provide an opportunity for Sephardic Jews and their supporters to recover lost elements of their pre-1492 expulsion history. Regional and local historical groups, especially those intent on promoting cultural heritage knowledge, similarly offer the avenue of building cadres of crowd-sourcers tying their local American heritage to their ancestral origins.

Thematically, institutions and their members who are focused on issues like interreligious and interfaith initiatives, international collaboration, and comparative studies, are also ideal to reach out to with invitations to participate.

Lastly, there are professional organizations that might have peculiar interests in your distinct materials, such as graphic artists and typographers who are seeking unique and intriguing ways to inject historical features into their works. Think broadly about your materials to maximize opportunities to find new types of collaborators.”

6.3 Sustain your community

Finding a community of volunteers is one thing; sustaining a community is very different. This section will provide guidance on how to support your project community in the long term.

6.3.1 Talk

Your primary point of contact with volunteers will be your project’s Talk boards. Talk is Zooniverse’s message-board space. Each project has its own Talk boards that act as a forum for volunteers to interact with one another as well as the research team. Talk is often one of the first places volunteers will go if they have questions about either your project or its content.

It is important to dedicate time to regularly review questions and comments on Talk. During your initial launch rush, this may mean daily or even more frequent review. As volunteer participation levels out after its initial spike, you will get a sense for the rhythm of Talk and your volunteers’ posting frequency. It is often best to designate specific team members and/or specific times for engagement with volunteers on Talk boards. Ideally, you should aim to respond within a few days, if not sooner. If you plan to take breaks for holidays, etc., use the Announcement Banner to let your volunteers know it may take longer than usual for you to respond. Technical questions

Volunteers will often pose questions about Workflows, Tasks, and Subject Sets on Talk. Be prepared to answer these questions succinctly and in jargon-free language as much as possible. You should do your best to respond to technical questions before reaching out to the Zooniverse team for help (we’re a small team, so it will take us longer to respond). If a lot of volunteers are struggling with technical issues, you might consider whether your Tutorial or Help text needs to be edited for clarity. Some issues may be solved by a volunteer updating their web browser, clearing their internet cache or cookies, or even just refreshing the page.

If you are unable to resolve the issue, please send an email to with the following information:

  • The project ID number
  • A brief explanation of the problem
  • Links to any relevant Talk threads Discoveries

Talk is often a place where volunteers will post about things they find interesting in the Subject Sets they are working with. These are important ways to build interest and long-term engagement with your project and can even inspire new directions for your research. Sharing discoveries from Talk on social media or project blogs (with permission of the original post author) is a simple way to highlight volunteer effort as well as share interesting project content with the broader public.

6.3.2 Project updates

Part of ethically engaging with your volunteers is sharing regular updates on the project progress, both in terms of how the transcription project is progressing and how the larger project is using the data produced by those same volunteers. However, you should think carefully about when and how you share project updates – the last thing you want is for volunteers to get discouraged by what seems like a lack of progress.

Project updates can be shared on Zooniverse via Talk and through project-specific newsletters (which are distinct from the Zooniverse-wide newsletter that announces new projects). These are emails that you can send to your registered volunteers after your project has launched. Newsletters should share your project progress and will often bring people back to your project. To send out a newsletter, email plain-text copy to and we will send it out for you.

You can also share your project updates outside of the Zooniverse platform, through social media, a project website, listserv, etc.

6.4 Acknowledging volunteers

Many projects choose to acknowledge volunteer work in their publications and other research outputs. Volunteers generally appreciate and have increasingly come to expect formal acknowledgement of their effort in crowdsourced science. There is no one way to effectively acknowledge volunteers and their contributions, but the best place to start figuring out an appropriate acknowledgement of their efforts is to ask them. You can begin this conversation by posting a Talk thread which seeks advice about how volunteers would like to be acknowledged. Since some volunteers may not have considered this question before, you might start the conversation by providing examples of how other researchers have recognized volunteer labor.

For instance, the team of researchers behind the Bash the Bug project acknowledged its volunteer community generally in the acknowledgements section of its most recent publication while the Exoplanet Explorers project listed every volunteer contributor by either their username or real name (if the user opted in to share it) under the Team section of their Zooniverse project. There are even projects like Radio Galaxy Zoo in which volunteers have made such significant contributions they were invited to become co-authors on peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals.

As the European Commission’s Parthenos Project points out, such formal acknowledgements in scientific publications are important, but may not be the most important form of acknowledgement to the volunteers themselves. Creative ways of recognizing volunteer participation through such means as in-person or virtual events and portable badges might mean more to a given volunteer community. Your volunteer community and individual volunteers will always be the place resource to guide you on how to acknowledge their contributions in a way that’s meaningful to them.