Saturday, December 16, 2017

App Review: Clean Swell

Recently,  my 8-yr old and I participated in the International Coastal Clean Up - an annual worldwide event hosted by the Ocean Conservancy. I have been on different sides of this event over the years: as a site coordinator, as the breakdown/clean up after the clean up crew, as a participant with friends and alone. But this was a new experience as I shared it with my son and the Ocean Conservancy added a new tool too, the Clean Swell App. 

Every year, in addition to just picking up trash and debris, the Ocean Conservancy has quested participants to record their findings. This data is important when creating jaw dropping graphics like this one:

I have unfathomable respect for organizations that include data and research with their good deeds. We, as consumers, must wade through countless fountains of strange and random facts only to wonder “where on earth did they get that information?”. As a scientist, I understand how any opportunity to incorporate citizens into the gathering of data is priceless. Just like this App!

Clean Swell is a free application for your phone, available for your Apple people or Droiders. This is a great option for those who have no desire to carry around the clipboard and pen to record their collection data – however, this DOES require you to have your phone out and on the beach during a cleanup which is maybe not the best option for chronic phone destructors like myself.

Signing up is easy, only requiring very basic information such as your e-mail. Incidentally, I abhor getting junk mail and I have found only summary e-mails from what I have reported appear in my inbox. I can absolutely live with that. The intro page for the app is self explanatory and user friendly. The purpose of installing this app is to motivate those participating in a structured clean up to consider doing more cleanups on their own and still report the data. This is an efficient and waste-free option and to be honest not particularly time consuming. I'm sure most people, like myself, keep their phone on them anyway so sending in the data was even less trouble than sending an e-mail. The "History" tab is a very cool function that provides the use an opportunity to track what they have done and where. The profile is simplified, with only your zip code and e-mail kept so you don’t have to fret about too much personal information being on file.

I have always found recording data during a clean up to be bulky and sometimes difficult. Add in weather such as wind or a light rain, and getting data down was a mess. I imagine trying to sort through sandy, torn and wet pages was not particularly fun for those charged with reporting the data either. Flipping through pages on a clipboard while holding trash bags and picking up trash is impossible to do alone without getting frustrated. My favorite part of the app is the data tracking grid. A sample is pictured here, but there are so many options that you don’t have to think about anything while collecting except to tap the items being picked up. Every time you snag a plastic bag, or lid, or even just a fragment – they all have their own separate icon that can simply be tapped. Having said that, deleting an item accidently tapped is tricky and much easier to do on the back-end right before you submit the final data. Stopping everything to tab backwards to delete an extra balloon isn’t really worth the effort when you are out in the elements or on a time crunch (or trying to chase down an 8-yr old with a pair of trash pickers who is really excited and hauling down the beach at speeds I am not capable of without copious amounts of coffee in advance).
As a motivational perk, the app has 'badges' you can earn for participating. For instance, completing our first clean up yielded the "Ahoy Matey" and apparently, I am the queen of beverage related items such as bottle caps and straws with my "Beverage Buster" badge earned in only 3 outings.

Here is an easy pro / con list:

  • Less to carry vs a clipboard, paper and pencils
  • Easy to report data
  • Data is quickly available to the Ocean Conservancy
  • The ability to track your own data and look at what you (or your team) have collected. This type of data can really help a program measure the direct impact in a community.

  • The phone must be out and used every 10 seconds or so. Otherwise it will time out and your cleanup data is lost. I am not aware of this being fixed via update since my last clean up. I did not find a way to change the timeout settings.
  • Clumsy users might want to have someone else handle the phone while they pick up trash.
  • In the Florida heat, your phone may get hot being out in the elements. I put mine in a dry bag, and was able to touch the screen through the plastic, but my phone became very hot since it was on constantly. (I have a GalaxyS7)
NOTE:  not necessarily a “CON”, but it is important to understand this is designed to collect data on marine debris - meaning shoreline and aquatic debris. If you are cleaning up a park, the app should not apply and the data collected could be skewing the overall project results. When cleaning up in a park, and not a reef, beach or along a freshwater system, do not report your data via this app.

Have fun reclaiming the water and consider adding the Clean Swell App to help keep that New Year's Resolution to be a citizen scientist in 2018!