Shenango Channel

Shenango Channel is no doubt a great example of citizen science at work. It captures a huge amount of data and makes what was previously invisible to many extremely visible, but I do have some questions regarding it’s efficacy in empowering people.

There’s quite a bit of complexity when trying to understand air pollution. A lot can be seen by the naked eye, but much of it is also invisible; the live camera feed displays visible information, but the PM 2.5 data represents invisible particles. Data reads can give hints as to what section of footage to watch, but it’s difficult to know how to interpret the data. Is a tuft of smoke just water vapor being blown about or is it actual smoke that is cause for concern or is it just stray fog? Understanding what one is looking at is rather a complicate task and one that requires subject matter understanding.

That isn’t to say that one can’t make any conclusions from looking at Shenango Channel. I’m just not sure how accurate these conclusions might be. A more robust on boarding system might be necessary to instruct users on how to interpret what they are seeing and craft educated conclusions.

A decent amount of labor is required on the the viewer’s part. I wonder how the experience would change if user’s received notifications of abnormal readings through a Twitter bot or text notifications. If differences in smoke color could somehow be codified, perhaps computer vision could be utilized.

Citizen science is sometimes criticized as a misnomer; participants are not actually participating in science, they are just cog in the machine, completing menial tasks or answering questions in the name of science. They are not truly par

In what context is the web page meant to exist? Is it a window that users have open regularly, that they check on periodically? Or is it something that they check once in a while? Should it be more integrated into our lives, like the Sensitive Aunt Provotype? How should users proceed with data that they’ve collected? What can they do moving forward?

It also might be worth updating the page to reflect the plant’s closure.


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