Short description

Leafsnap was developed by researchers from Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution. It is an interesting step towards transformative transparency. While the current app is quite limited (need for a white background for photos/limited accuracy/etc) the use of visual recognition software is part of an advanced and visually pleasing interface.

Leafsnap is the first in a series of electronic field guides and help identify tree species from photographs of their leaves. Leafsnap contains high-resolution images of leaves, flowers, fruit, petiole, seeds, and bark. Leafsnap currently includes the trees of New York City and Washington, D.C., but have stated that it will soon grow to include the trees of the entire continental United States.

Read more about Leafsnap here.

The best with the app/supporting initiative

+ Demonstrates the potential for mobile application as a tool that supports deeper knowledge.
+ Supports curiosity about nature in a time when most information to people is of a commercial nature.
+ Allows users to store images of nature
+ Beautiful images and an interface that is easy to use. Scientific initiatives are seldom designed in a user-friendly way, let alone visually pleasing.

The weak parts of the app/supporting initiative

- Not working very well if images and contrast are not optimal
- The current version is only US focused. App development overall is creating a digital divide in content and structure that will be difficult to address later unless progressive stakeholders create platforms that can be used globally.
- No direct links to work that enables users understand the role of and threats to the ecosystem (such as other excellent work done by the Smithsonian Institution)

What could accelerate this app/supporting initiative into a world changer?

> Improve the software so the app works better
> Ensure that others who want to build up databases outside the US can get access to the software.
> Link information about the trees to underlying trends so that users better can understand the urgency to protect the world’s ecosystems.
> Allow groups that work to protect nature to provide information to users of Leafsnap that are interested. In this way users that identify trees could get information along the lines “if you care about this tree you might be interested to know that…”.


How direct is the delivery of the result the app tries to achieve
  • Direct
  • Indirect
  • Inspirational
  • Long shot


The current version is inspirational and can hopefully inspire people to learn more about nature and their relation to it.

Transformative approach

How transformative is it
  • A new world
  • A major shift
  • A bit of a shake-up
  • A gentle rocking


The development of visual recognition software is helping to support transformative transparency, but the approach right now is more one-way education.

How much does it encourage collaborations

How much are new networks supported
  • Strong support for global networks?
  • Currently encourages new forms of collaboration
  • Provides interesting opportunities in the future
  • Restricted to a small (expert) group


The potential is significant, but the current app is limited when it comes to sharing and creating networks for transformative change.

What synergies can be delivered

How well does it also solve other problems/generate solutions
  • It solves everything
  • Several important challenges
  • Some important challenges
  • Only one challenge


The potential for a change in values by providing people with apps that make them understand their natural environment better is significant. The app can trigger discussions about the way we consume and the role nature plays in our lives.

Nine billion contribution

How global is it? Is it helping/will it help everyone on the planet
  • Instant global equality
  • Almost global
  • Getting (incrementally) global
  • Not applicable


Here is a weak part of the app. The app does not link the information about trees to the threats to trees created by unsustainable production and consumption, and it is developed only for North America (and even more limited in the first version). These kind of important apps should have a global distribution strategy.

Building on current trends

How well does it use current trends
  • The app is setting new trends by itself
  • Building on multiple trends
  • Effectively building on one trend
  • Not really building on any major trend


Apps for smartphones allow people to try things they might never have tried before, like learning more about nature around them.


How fast can it deliver
  • It's already happening
  • In the coming weeks
  • In a year or so
  • In a distant future (hopefully)


The app is not delivering anything direct, but can help accelerate the interest in nature and visual recognition software.


Does it support transformative transparency
  • Brave new transparency
  • Transparency that is innovative (never seen before)
  • Increased transparency, but nothing innovative
  • No increase in transparency


Visual recognition software and new interfaces will be key to ensure transformative transparency. The importance of processing images in real-time can not be overemphasized as this will allow people to understand more about the world when they are curious.

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