Revolutionary Measures

Saving the planet with Facebook

Phathological form of twigs of Fraxinus excels...

There was a big surge in interest around gamification a few years back. Essentially improving the user experience and getting people to do things that weren’t that interesting by turning them into a game, it never really made it into the mainstream.

But now a new twist to gamification promises not to enhance the user experience but to actually help improve the world around us. Researchers at the Sainsbury Laboratory at the John Innes Centre in Norwich have come up with a Facebook game that will help in the fight against ash dieback, the fungus that threatens to wipe out Britain’s 80 million ash trees.

Players on the Fraxinus game have to match sequences of genetic letters represented by leaf shapes, helping sort genetic information into matching sequences and therefore pinpointing genetic variation in either the tree or the Chalara Fraxinea fungus that causes ash dieback. Those samples that don’t match will be flagged for further investigation to see if the genetic variation is linked to potential immunity to the fungus.

Of course harnessing the power of distributed computers is nothing new. Projects such as the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) use the idle time of home PCs to crunch data as part of the effort to find alien life.

However what is different here is that Fraxinus actually uses human intelligence, rather than just our IT. We’re actually a lot better (and faster) at recognising patterns than computers are, so the research effort relies on our skills to fight ash dieback. Obviously putting the game on Facebook provides a scalable, global platform that can be accessed by millions – and also gives a welcome boost to the profile of the research efforts at the same time.

It is early days to see if Fraxinus takes off, but it would be good to see other researchers adopting a similar approach – involving the crowd in their work doesn’t just help get it done quicker but it also makes it more real to people. Rather than science being something done by people in white coats it is all around us that we can all take part in. Being able to say that you’ve helped solve a scientific problem gives extremely powerful bragging rights for your status updates, compared to the norm. My only concern is timescales – research takes years and the attention span on social media is measured in seconds and minutes. So scientists need to break their work into bite sized chunks with defined goals if they are to engage with those on Facebook and Twitter. This can be easier said than done, but the benefits to individual projects and the scientific community could be enormous. Let’s hope that Fraxinus is the first of many games that do wider good.

August 14, 2013 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Networking in Norfolk

Judging by the turnout and discussions at yesterday’s Norfolk Startup Masterclass, the county has the potential to cast aside rural stereotypes and foster a new generation of innovation-based businesses.

The Startup Masterclass programme aims to equip entrepreneurs and early stage businesses with the skills and advice they need to turn their ideas into successful companies. Backed by ideaSpace, as well as number of local partners the programme runs across East Anglia, combining events, mentoring and online resources. In Norfolk local partners include Norfolk County Council’s Enterprise Hubs, the Norwich Research Park and Norfolk Network.

Monday’s event was the first event in Norfolk as well as the official launch of the programme and an audience of over 50 startups and business leaders gathered in the space age surroundings of the Hethel Engineering Centre to share their experiences and learn from a panel of four entrepreneurs.

Under the imposing shadow of a locally built, race-winning Lotus F1 car, which provided a reminder of the county’s engineering heritage, the evening focused on Stories from the Startup Jungle. Ian Doughty of StructureFlex, Andy Fisher of iPatter, Thomas Haizel from Anglia DNA Services and Tom Wood from Foolproof discussed what they’d learnt building their own businesses and shared advice for would-be entrepreneurs. Have a vision, be flexible and build the right team were just some of the points they highlighted.

What impressed me most (apart from the F1 car) was the breadth of attendees, which really demonstrated the range of sectors operating in Norfolk. From biotech through engineering to creative, internet and gaming businesses there was a real spread of ideas and companies.

On a day that saw the government announce My New Business, an online-only resource for startups, the event reinforced the need for face to face networking as participants shared their experiences and learnt from each other. Following the launch the programme moves into providing advice and mentoring in specific areas, such as valuing your business, protecting intellectual property and sales and marketing – to sign up to the next event simply click here to learn more.

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November 15, 2011 Posted by | Startup | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment