BOINC in Retrospect

BOINC is a software system for “volunteer computing”: it lets people donate time on their home computers and smartphones to science research projects. It has been used by about 50 projects in many areas of science, and has run on millions of computers.

Here’s an interesting retrospective on BOINC – the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing – and Seti@Home’s use of it written by it’s lead David Anderson. It is – as you would imagine a discussion about a long running project that never quite lived up to its authors expectations – somewhat melancholy in tone, but it’s certainly a good read.

After running classic Seti@Home during it’s formative years, I switched to the BOINC version of Seti@Home shortly after it launched and, over the next two decades, managed to wrack up a reasonable amount of completed work. I also poked at some of the other projects – mainly – but they never really grabbed me in the same way that Seti@Home did. And there were the local environmental issues that made my involvement fade away – BOINC/Seti felt like an easy thing to run when you had a computer running on electricity someone else paid for in a room cool enough that your system wasn’t forced to spin it’s fans up (like my Uni dorm room!) but, once you took one or other of those away, it became much harder to justify the downside costs.

And the Seti@Home had a tremendous web 1.0 vibe about it that never really translated to the Web 2.0 world – it was, at it’s core, fundamentally uncynical and unshowy and uninterested in anything other than finding out if there was an alien signal buried within the mass of data they had – and it’s slow, lingering death during the Web 2.0 era leaves me feeling rather sad.