SETI@home is one of the best-known distributed computing projects in the world. It is an internet-based public volunteer computing project, hosted by the Space Sciences Laboratory, at the University of Berkley. The purpose of this project is to analyse radio signals, searching for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

SETI@home was released to the public on May 17, 1999, making it the third occurrence of technology like this being used for volunteering. The project uses the idle processing resources of thousands of personal computers owned by volunteers who have installed the relevant software on their systems.


When the volunteer downloads the software every time they aren’t using their computer it analyses some data and sends the results back to SETI@home. While each individual part may not mean a great deal, when amalgamated at the other end it allows them to have a much deeper and broader understanding of the universe around us.

Intrigued? Have a look on their website to find out more:

In addition to a cool screensaver where volunteers can track basic data regarding their input to the project SETI@home quickly developed a competitive side. Volunteers started to compete with each other on league tables about who could process the most work units. The competitive aspect of the project has definitely played a part in encouraging long-term involvement.

Successes of SETI@home:

  • engaging the audience  – there has always been an interest and a wonder in the question of extraterrestrial life. Think about Independence Day, E.T., Alien … who wouldn’t want to know for sure!
  • very easy to get involved – just download BOINC software and leave your computer to it.
  • uses idle power  – just imagine what people could achieve if they did a bit of microvolunteering instead of spending hours scrolling through Facebook?
  • going strong since 1999. In 2013 there were 1.4 million computers registered in the system.
  • benefits for the volunteer – getting the feel-good factor without actually doing much.
  • SETI gets masses of computer time – essential for an underfunded project like this.


  • the software needs to be redeveloped as computers advance – though using new systems and processes these days is part and parcel of everyday life
  • single focus platform – SETI@home is research based, used for analysing and processing data
  • involvement of people is minimal – depending on the purpose of volunteering, in our super-busy lives today this might actually be a positive aspect.