There has been an incredible growth in mobile apps to facilitate citizen science, but most are unused and subsequently abandoned by the developers.
Abstract: Citizen science has become an increasingly popular means of engaging the public in the collection of scientific data. In parallel, scientists are creating mobile platforms to facilitate their citizen science projects. Such mobile apps hold the potential to significantly increase our capacity to do scientific research, as well as our ability to provide informal science education to broad audiences. However, our understanding of the development, use, and efficacy of mobile applications for citizen science remains limited. How do we know what apps are available and how they are being engaged? We used web crawlers to search for citizen science mobile applications on the Android and iOS platforms. We used a number of different keywords to capture all possible applications and then reviewed each one to ensure it met criteria for inclusion. We identified 138 unique citizen science mobile applications, including 48 common to both platforms. The median range of downloads for applications on the Android platform was 500-1000, indicating that very few experience widespread adoption. We also observed that more than 70% of the applications have not been updated for more than a year. This raises interesting questions regarding the return on the investment in developing these apps. As such, we searched for peer-reviewed science or science education literature associated with each application and found articles relating to only 15% of them to date. At this time, it appears that very few mobile citizen science applications are resulting in published data and that little is known about how those applications affect public engagement in science. However, of those applications with widespread adoption, analysis of the text of user reviews indicated that participants liked facilitating science, appreciated application functionality, and were engaging applications to seek scientific information. While such results are promising, there is clearly a critical need for the community to study how we engage technology for citizen science and science education, as well as translate these findings into best practices that can inform how we invest our resources in the future.