Peer Producing National Geographic

My friend Tommy came rushing into my office yesterday and said "I have to show you something."

He asked me to pull out my android and download an app called Project Noah. I did that and we played around with it a bit. Project Noah is a mobile app (iPhone and Android) that people use to document and share the wildlife and plantlife they encounter in their daily life. I don't have much wildlife and plantlife in my office so there wasn't a lot I could do right then and there. But we did take a look at the website where all of the activity is displayed in map form and by species. The app had just been approved and released and there was already close to 10,000 "spottings" all over the world.

Project Noah is a small team that came out of NYU's ITP program and they started working on this idea while they were in school. They are now full time on the project and I think what they are up to is very interesting. Will this be a great business? Not sure, but then National Geographic has been around for a long time. Can this be impactful in the way that wikipedia and wikileaks have been? For sure.

With a little imagination you can see where all of this can go. Photos are just one piece of the puzzle. Audio (via soundcloud?) and video are natural additions. And the places and ways the content can and should be syndicated are many and myriad.

I'm going to play around with the app a bit. For anyone who is a fan of nature and wildlife, I suggest you might also want to do that.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Sllecks

    Will you (and others) please stop mentioning NYU’s ITP program? I’ve applied to the program and will continue to until I get accepted. However with all this publicity, it’s just increasing awareness. Increased awareness simply means the competitive application process is just that much harder.I would like to be a part of it. So, you understand, yeah?I’ll let you know when I’m accepted. When I do, I will gladly encourage you to talk about it.

    1. fredwilson

      i will stop mentioning ITP when the media stops mentioning all the startupsi want to invest in at good prices 🙂

      1. Joseph Flaherty

        Have you ever talked to anyone from RISD? When I hear about ITP it always sounds like the same vibe. RISD is a bit heavier on the art/design side of things, but I was hacking keyboards to make physical UIs during my time there so the tech aspect is present. Considering the success AirBNB (2 of 3 founders are RISD alum) has had, it seems like it could be a good recruiting ground.

        1. panterosa,

          Well RISD is represented here. I am a BFA grad in Sculpture.

        2. ShanaC

          I know that SAIC has a very active hacker community with a large web presence.

        3. fredwilson

          i talk to John Maeda a few times a year. he’s great.

    2. Tereza

      You’re hysterical. I hope you get in.My spidey sense tells me you have it in you.I have a friend who had a classmate at Harvard Business School who’d applied to HBS six times. Persistent!Or you can do what my friend’s husband did at “Top School X”. He just took classes and classes as a non-matriculant, and kept reapplying and they kept not taking him (in fact he did not have a high school diploma). All along he kept getting straight A’s. When he finally reached a point where he’d taken a full curriculum, he went to the faculty and told them they had to retroactively admit him and that they “owed” him a degree.Need I mention that today this guy is a wildly successful (and certifiably insane) entrepreneur.

  2. Farhan Lalji

    This is amazing, love the idea of experiencing wild life with my young daughter through this app. Thanks for sharing Fred.

    1. fredwilson

      i love to share. call me a sharaholic

    2. karen_e

      Me, too, Farhan. Seems like outdoor fun with the whole family (and our damned iPhones).

  3. Marcelo Toledo

    What a great idea! I loved the map feature, in a few seconds I went from Brazil, to Indonesia, to Russia. It’s a great social way to meet the entire world.

    1. fredwilson

      that was my reaction too

  4. Michael Lewkowitz

    Ya, love it! Saw it at PopTech last year. Might actually be a conference you’d actually like to go with GothamGal and the kids. Met some other people who were doing that and adding on the weekend as well. It’s a beautiful place and a great mix of science, tech, music, and social.

    1. fredwilson

      my partner Brad goes to PopTech every yearwe tend not to go to the same conferences so we can cover more things

      1. Michael Lewkowitz

        Classic, can’t believe I missed him. BTW, the video for the projectnoah preso at PopTech ->… (in case you missed the poptech retweet)

  5. A3Munier

    interesting; just took a photo of a plant in the garden and wonder if any user will detect what it is;)

  6. Dan Epstein

    What a fun idea. This could be a great tool to get kids interested in biology, geography, photography, culture, technology…

  7. panterosa,

    I am working in a tangent space to Project NOAH, which I love, and I hope to meet them soon. My project works on teaching the underpinnings of how all these species are connected in a way that children can work on learning not only visual recognition of plants(and animals), but also understand evolution. We are working on physical products which have digital twins to ensure that younger kids have things to play with as well as fun apps. I have also met with Startl.It’s a very exciting space to be in, especially with NOAH. I’d add TreeID app as another resource, and the Manahatta Project is great for New Yorkers as well.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks for all that info. I’m going to check them out

      1. panterosa,

        There is also this Tree ID they use the Bayesian keys to ask successive questions to identify an organism, and these are differentiated by not having to go in branching order.I have a competition entry (in semi finals now) in an open source education competition for which Startl is also giving a prize. That entry is a Classification System which will work with these systems, and cladograms, but is designed to help children learn to move within the larger picture, as well as be a resource to scientists. Fingers crossed.

  8. Tom Labus

    My wife is a Horticultural Therapist. She uses plants & flowers as a form of therapy for clients ranging from assisted living to dementia. It always amazes me to see how having to nurture and take care of a plant makes their illness fade for awhile.

  9. jfccohen

    Very cool – it also provides great information from a science standpoint in terms of tracking migrations, animal territories, etc. This is effectively crowd-sourced animal research that was made fun by making it social (and the fact that it is animals which are cool).Do you guys all think this model could get some legs if it applied to other fun/important world curiosities like weather patterns, fishing (both fly and salt water) or, scarier yet, celebrities – imagine a platform where people could snap celebrities with their phone so you could almost track them. It is obviously not fair to the celebrities but it is VERY exciting to consumers to find out that Cameron Diaz was just spotted in their city in the past hour by another person…

    1. Fernando Gutierrez

      At MIT I saw a couple of months ago posters of someone that tried to do something like this but for clubs (lenght of lines at the door, amount of people inside…). I can’t remenber their name. It was based on sms. The bad thing was that, wanting to have all the relevant info (I think they wanted to sell sms alerts to users), they were hiring people to go to the clubs and give them the info, so I guess it’s difficult to scalate.I would love the idea applied to weather. A map with photos of the weather everywhere and a time scroll so I could go backward and see what photos people posted at any given time.The celebrity application is creppy!

    2. fredwilson

      yes, this model has legs

  10. kidmercury

    it’s all about platform governance now. i.e. who owns what, who gets to make money, who gets to rub it in, who’s going to cry about it, general i am bullish on peer-produced projects that draw comparisons to wikipedia, so long as they understand niche.and speaking of copyright, fred’s post a couple days ago has 399 comments at the time of this writing — i believe that is a fredland record!

    1. RichardF

      is Andy Swan’s comment the most liked?

      1. kidmercury

        yes, with 39 likes, i believe it is the most popular comment infredland history. he definitely deserves a badge!

        1. RichardF

          he deserves the pappymeister badge – actually he deserves a bottle of pappy for winding Arrington up (along with Charlie)

          1. Matt A. Myers

            I wish I had time to read all of the replies

          2. RichardF

            long comment thread to wade through that one MattI subscribe to comments on posts that I comment on in the disqus settings. I filter them in gmail. Easy to keep up with.OT Another Disqus feature request I would like is to to be able to subscribe to comments on individual posts just by clicking on a button. Rather than having it as default on or off for all posts I comment on.

        2. fredwilson

          and if there was an unlike button it would have also been the most unliked in AVC history. i would have certainly unliked it

          1. kidmercury

            Agreed. He could’ve gotten a badge for that too!

          2. andyswan

            Definitely. As long as they click one or the other, I know it was a good comment.If you don’t elicit a reaction, what’s the point of saying something? Like you said….sand and pearls.

    2. Fernando Gutierrez

      I’m still trying to catch up! some days AVC is almost a full time job.

  11. Tereza

    Awesome I’m going to share this with my friend Marielle Anzelone, a botanist who runs NYC’s Wildflower Week. There are native species that are unique to NYC that are dying out because people don’t know or appreciate that they exist. NYC has a massive amount of parkland, i believe many many more acres than any other urban area in the US.They should team up with her to track the local stuff!

  12. Marielle Anzelone

    Thanks Tereza for the lovely introduction! Project Noah sounds like a great way to engage a younger generation in the natural world and hone their observational skills as e-readers have lead them back to reading. Experiencing in the natural world is critical to human well being – we evolved in nature, after all. Humans hunger for it, even unknowingly and yes even we urbanites. It’s an innate love of nature. After September 11th, New Yorkers flocked to parks and botanic garden seeking solace. This was “biophilia” at work. I started NYC Wildflower Week to connect New Yorkers to the nature in their backyards. Yes, NYC has nature – forests, meadows, marshes. In fact, NYC has more nature than any other city in North America! We offer free programs – this year it’s May 6-15th. I’m also working on developing nature tourism, which would draw tourists into the outer boroughs. I’m definitely going to reach out to the Project Noah team about working together! And Fred, since you are in the neighborhood, the next time you are walking by Union Square Park West & 15th Street take a look in the park at my Native Flora Garden. It’ll help you get your biophilia fix!

    1. awaldstein

      Marielle…I heard a rumor that there are bee hives on NYC rooftops that produce honey from these gardens and flowers you refer to.True? Some 30 years ago I ran bees in the N.Okanagan Valley to support my writing and would love to find out more about this.

      1. Marielle Anzelone

        There are indeed honeybees in NYC. The city recently reversed its decision to make keeping them illegal. Plenty of rooftops around the city can now house these bees. There are lots of gardens in the city -most designed for human aesthetics and not necessarily to provide nectar or pollen rewards for insect visitors. Also honeybees are not native – they were brought to the US by European colonists.We have our own native bees – in fact NYC has over 230 species of bees. Honeybees can overwhelm and push out these local insects. Our nightshade family fruits – tomato and eggplant (fruits have seeds inside) – require bumblebees to pollinate them. Native wildflowers are important for these native insects because they evolved here together over thousands of years and so provide our pollinators food when and in the nutritional proportions they need.For more about keeping honeybees: more about native pollinators and the wildflowers they love – check out the resources page here:

        1. awaldstein

          Thank you. You have touched the (very latent) beekeeper within.

          1. Marielle Anzelone

            Ha! Fantastic!

  13. Yasser

    Fred, thanks for the post.! Agree with you across the board and we are definitely looking at integrating audio and video down the road. To the tech savvy, I like to say we’re kind of like what Foursquare would have been if Charles Darwin and EO Wilson had built it instead of Dennis and Naveen :)Marielle, there is so much nature thriving under our noses and we hope to help people notice it a little more. I’d love to collaborate with you. We can easily set up a NYC Wildflower Week field mission to promote your cause and get you some awesome data. We also launched a pilot program at an elementary school in Maine and I’m looking at doing the same in NYC. It would be great to team up on that.Cheers,[email protected]

    1. Marielle Anzelone

      Yasser, that’s great! I just emailed you – looking forward to getting together to discuss NYC nature and our common interests.Fred, you have a botanist and microbiologist meeting on your site – bet you never thought that would happen. Thanks for curating such a space. It’s good to cross-pollinate!

      1. fredwilson

        i love it!

    2. Tereza

      I am so excited to see you two talking!Marielle is terrific.I met her through last summer.When we went around the room she described herself as a “publicist for plants”, which is necessary because — who else is going to speak for them?Hard to argue with that. I was immediately a fan.Thrilled to see that plants are a welcome voice on AVC!

      1. Marielle Anzelone

        Tereza – you are so generous – heaps of gratitude for thinking of me!!

    3. Nate Quigley

      Yasser – bravo! what a terrific project! absolutely love the concept and super impressed with your execution. frictionless sign on, beautiful design, awesome UX, seamless mobile-web-social cx…wow. and just loved your biosteampunk category selector control. seriously, bravo. really fun and inspiring to come across something that just makes you smile like this. love seeing great work being done. very best of luck to you…can’t wait to show my kids later tonight. they will absolutely love it too. -N

    4. sventured

      Yasser — congrats! All the positive response is well-deserved. Looking forward to our chat on Tuesday.

    5. fredwilson

      yasser – you are up to something very interesting. keep it up!

  14. daryn

    Very cool.As an aside, I built a plant discovery website years ago for a certain Seattle-area billionaire’s house – it was awesome. Basically, we were creating a resource for all the guests that would visit the house. The staff went around the grounds, photographing and tagging all of the plants, marking their location on a CAD of the property, and searching encarta (the was very pre-wikipedia) and consulting with local botanists and plant historians to fill out the description, habitat, classification, colors & seasons etc. We even created audio files of a monk speaking all of the latin names!We did the same for the owners’ art, antiques, books, and letters. There was a lot of human research and curation, and it was very over the top. I wish there had been a way to take what we had built and opened it up to the world.

    1. fredwilson

      wow. i want to hear more about that project tonight over oysters

  15. Neil Braithwaite

    A word of caution to all those “nature” sharing folks.There are some people who might not take kindly to having their plants photographed, mapped and broadcast.

  16. paramendra

    @FoodSpotting’s sibling company.

  17. Mark Essel

    Huge fan of the outdoors and nature (Hiking!)Thanks for the tip Fred, I’ll feed the app content I capture while doing my normal spring hikes (deer/foxes in Connetiquot preserve).

  18. monsur

    I just finished reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything (awesome book!). In it he highlights the sheer magnitude of species on this planet, and the futil attempts to catalog them all. At the time I thought “this sounds like a job for the internet!”; Bryson himself even acknowledges this by mentioning the All Species Foundation (…. Its a challenge for any time, but the growing ubiquity of mobile devices and internet connections makes this type of thing easier.

  19. Andrew Zolli

    Delighted to see Project NOAH get some attention here. For those who are interested, here’s a great, 5-minute PopTech talk by Yasser Ansari, the man behind the project:…Great insights here on citizen science.

    1. fredwilson

      thanks for the link

  20. Food+Tech Connect

    Thanks for posting about Project Noah- Yasser and team have an incredible vision that could change the way we understand the world and address environmental challenges.

  21. famolari

    I love the growing opportunities for ordinary citizens to engage in science. New tools are making it super easy for people with specific interests to find compelling science projects, collect data, share findings and collaborate with others with similar interests.Check out Science for Citizens (http://scienceforcitizens.n…. They list tons of fascinating science activities for people to get involved in. It was founded by Darlene Cavalier, the Science Cheerleader (@scicheer), who’s doing wonderful things to challenge stereotypes of women in science and encouraging more women to pursue careers in STEM.

  22. SoftFacade

    We’re so proud that SofFacade did the design and programming of Project Noah. Check out our website and Project Noah case study

    1. fredwilson

      nicely done

      1. SoftFacade

        Thanks, that’s nice to hear!

  23. Matt A. Myers

    Lots of possibilities for Project Noah …location check-in, reverse photo look up (photo -> what is it? or via community) etcMy friends doing their Phds in biology-related fields will eat this up, good for vacations too.

  24. karen_e

    What a great project. I shared it with colleagues because they are landscape architects who work all over the world. Plant material issues in Jordan, Cameroon, China? You name it, they’ve seen it! This will grow into something really fun over a few years. Also can’t wait to share it, boy scout style, with my son!

  25. Rachel Patterson

    This is great. I for one feel like the city life’s aesthetic beauty is underexposed. No one realizes the natural beauty around them and the amazing pics they can share. I, being a native New Yorker, did even realize the types of urban wildlife exist. This will a great way to explore and discover.

  26. William Mougayar

    What a great idea and app! It is very well done.

  27. Kenyan

    What an awesome idea. Being in Africa, I can see a possible link with the fight against poaching (particularly with rhinos in SA). Have you guys at project Noah thought about this sort of application (for your application)?

  28. Jen van der Meer

    As an ITP adjunct infusing environmental and sustainability thinking at the school I am THRILLED that you talked about this project. Something that came up at the Women’s Entrepreurship Festival was how to organizationally structure ideas like this at the formation stage, social and environmental impact ideas that are not obviously primed for VC funding at their conception, nor might it ever be. But ideas that need to come to life.Kickstarter has had a huge impact on these projects that can get funding before they decide to go the for profit or not for profit path (or both).I also encourage you to check out an ITP alum and WEF panelist Britta Riley’s project – – DIY makers, hydroponic farmers, and a highly participatory community.Thanks, Fred.

    1. fredwilson

      i will check out windowfarms.orgthanks for pointing it out Jen

  29. Csquared888

    I love this idea, however the map functionality can have some negative consequences. A little background: Oddly enough, I love snakes, so I go around and look for rare snake species whenever the time allows (not often these days). About 6 months ago I started wondering why something like this didn’t exist for reptiles, so I began coming acquainted with the reptile forums online. Turns out, in these forums no one will even share (streets, general descriptions, coordinates, nothing) the location in which they might have encountered a rare species because it becomes is a bulls-eye for a snake collector to capture it and either sell it or keep it as a pet. They won’t even post pictures of the surrounding scenery this has apparently become such a problem.This is a obviously very specific situation, but the consequences are significant. In a related vein, the map functionality could be used by hunters, something else with which I don’t agree. Anyways, just something to think about. Again, I love this idea. I just wish that everyone else out there would use it like us.