Crowdsourcing is a process that involves outsourcing tasks to a distributed group of people. This process can occur both online and offline. The difference between crowdsourcing and ordinary outsourcing is that a task or problem is outsourced to an undefined public rather than a specific body, such as paid employees.Most marine charts show depths that were laboriously determined, manually, a long time ago. And given the tight situation of today's economics, it is unlikely that there will be any significant updates to those depth readings, ever.
How many boats do you suppose are out there with all the instrumentation required to collect detailed soundings: integrated GPS/Depth Sounders? A LOT! Now imagine a small Wifi device that allowed those boats to report their current GPS location, tidal state at the nearest tide station, and the instantaneous depth reading... Every boat that is out there could be reporting depth, in detail, and each reading shown on a chart would be an average of tens, hundreds or thousands of individual readings made by fellow mariners. And given that the government services that collected those original soundings had different objectives than, say, the guy in a 16' aluminum fishing skiff, those areas on the charts that are shown a uniform blue with little information would be filled in with exquisite detail.
Sadly for us West Coasters tho, the project only covers portions of the East Coast so far. It will be some time before those sandbars behind Bainbridge Island get replotted.
Another potential crowdsourcing project that would be of interest to mariners was recently proposed by our local Seattle weather blogger, Cliff Mass. Cliff suggests that since many smart phones contain atmospheric pressure sensors, it would be possible to get high resolution atmospheric pressure data thru crowdsourcing. With this new information, much better weather prediction would be possible. Here in Seattle, with our varied and detailed micro-climates, this could have some real tangible marine benefits. Sadly, my iPhone is not equipped with a pressure sensor, so I cannot participate.
Any other ideas? (And to you UW Oceanography readers out there - anyone interested in spearheading the ARGUS project in the Puget Sound area?)
If the idea of crowdsourcing intrigues you, Wikipedia maintains a list of crowdsourcing projects that are currently underway.