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Education Science

Earth's Species To Be Cataloged On the Web 147

Posted by kdawson
from the can-you-spell-noah's-ark dept.
Matt clues us in to a project to compile everything known about all of Earth's 1.8 million known species and put it all on one Web site, open to the world. The effort is called the Encyclopedia of Life. It will include species descriptions, pictures, maps, videos, sound, sightings by amateurs, and links to entire genomes and scientific journal papers. The site was unveiled today in Washington where the massive effort was announced by some of the world's leading institutions. The project is expected to take about 10 years to complete; it starts out with committed funding for 1/4 of that."
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Earth's Species To Be Cataloged On the Web

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  • by yurik (160101) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @11:54PM (#19047815)
    Wikimedia Foundation already has a project called WikiSpecies -- http://species.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page [wikimedia.org] . Not sure how different that project will be.
    • by sethawoolley (1005201) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @12:00AM (#19047863) Homepage
      Wikipedia is great and all, but its stated intent to not validate its data (unlike Citizendium, for example) means it has a limited usefulness.
      • by sethawoolley (1005201) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @02:17AM (#19048607) Homepage
        And the grandparent wasn't a WikiTroll? I had mod-points but decided to post instead of moderate.

        Do people really believe that "anybody can edit" and "accurate information suitable for reference" are one and the same?

        Look at the question the grandparent asked -- it exposes a hidden assumption that liberal editing and accuracy are identical.

        Citizendium still allows liberal editing, but on top of it they have a peer-review system in place to approve snapshots of articles. They aren't mutually exclusive. However, Wikipedia has a policy of not having any process to gain any modicum of authority.

        Citizendium has its issues too, like that it hasn't fully articulated its desire to have authoritative processes in concrete terms that aren't couched in Larry Sanger's own degree-oriented biases, but at least it's trying.

        My whole point was that the Encyclopedia of Life has a reason of existence outside of the no-holds-barred lack of authority that Wikipedia provides.

        References and Echo Chambers are entirely two different things.

        For making that distinction, I'm modded as a troll. Whatever. /., echo away.
        • by DrYak (748999) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @07:12AM (#19049843) Homepage
          If anything else, Wikipedia's way of doing things has also proved a couple of things :

          - YES, you can find trolls, vandals, spammers and such ...BUT...
          - Liberal editing gives better growing speed. Wikipedia has grown much more faster than any other work that requires reviewing.
          - Liberal editing is much better for very small and rare subjects that *almost* nobody care about. In organised work, there aren't enough ressource to distribute to those subject and they are left un addressed. In liberal editing regimes, there always be an - albeit small - community of dedicated people who'll write on the rarest subjects. Granted : There is less guarantee about the accuracy without peer review, but at least it's a good starting point.

          So there is a place for both EOL (for providing "official" reviewed information) and for WikiMedia's species (where you'll still find information about some obscure bug that almost nobody cares about - but all the 4 labs in the world that intensively study it have written an article about).

          Just like there's a place for both traditionnal encyclopedia and wikipedia.
        • Citizendium has its issues too, like that it hasn't fully articulated its desire to have authoritative processes in concrete terms that aren't couched in Larry Sanger's own degree-oriented biases, but at least it's trying.

          And, sadly, it probably won't ever do so - so long as Larry has anything to do with the project. I ceased my participation in Citizendium when I realized how deeply Larry's control over the project goes - and the extent to which his ego and biases drive the project.

      • by h2g2bob (948006)
        You have that backwards.

        Citizendium relies on expert contributors, which means it doesn't need to validate its claims. Experts discuss and prescribe what is right.

        Wikipedia encourages people [wikipedia.org] to post their sources. To be a good or featured article this is required, and unsourced material can be deleted without question.
      • by bynary (827120)
        Have you verified that it's not valid? Proving a negative is quite difficult. Not A Therefore B is not exactly a good use of logic either.
    • by Easy2RememberNick (179395) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @12:00AM (#19047867)
      ...and also this http://www.tolweb.org/tree/ [tolweb.org]
    • FAQ on Wikipedia (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Nymz (905908) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @12:13AM (#19047951) Journal
      From the EOL FAQ

      6. What about Wikipedia?
      Wikipedia inspired us. Wikipedia accumulated about 1.5 million entries in English in its first four years. That gave us confidence that our tasks are manageable with current technology and social behaviour, although the expert community in a lot of the subjects for pages in Encyclopedia of Life may be only a handful of people. Wikipedia has also created some species pages, as have other groups. Encyclopedia of Life will, we hope, unite all such efforts and increase their value. The Wikimedia Foundation is a member of the Encyclopedia's Institutional Council.

      From the article

      "I dream that in a few years wherever a reference to a species occurs on the Internet, there will be a hyperlink to its page in the Encyclopedia of Life," concluded Edwards.

      I suppose anyone could try and duplicate any current effort, like a search engine, browser, video site, political site, movie site, music site, and then hope that with enough money and lawyers behind it to gain a large portion of the market.
    • by femto (459605) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @12:36AM (#19048081) Homepage

      It's interesting to read this FAQ [eol.org] from the Encyclopedia of Life:

      6. What about Wikipedia?

      Wikipedia inspired us. Wikipedia accumulated about 1.5 million entries in English in its first four years. That gave us confidence that our tasks are manageable with current technology and social behaviour, although the expert community in a lot of the subjects for pages in Encyclopedia of Life may be only a handful of people. Wikipedia has also created some species pages, as have other groups. Encyclopedia of Life will, we hope, unite all such efforts and increase their value. The Wikimedia Foundation is a member of the Encyclopedia's Institutional Council.

      They don't mention WikiSpecies directly, but would have to be aware of it with the Wikimedia Foundation on board. It will be interesting to see what license will the EoL be using and will it be WikiSpecies (GNUFDL) compatible? Hopefully the Wikimedia Foundation will give some good advice.

      Given that a stated aim of the EoL is to get lots of people involved and be a cooperative effort, a copyleft license might promote cooperation. Perhaps it would be worth a few Slashdotters politely contacting the EoL [eol.org] and suggesting that copyleft would be a good thing for the EoL?

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by logixoul (1046000)

        ...a copyleft license might promote cooperation. Perhaps it would be worth a few Slashdotters politely contacting the EoL and suggesting that copyleft would be a good thing for the EoL?

        Well, from that same FAQ:

        A possible area of obstacles or dangers is intellectual property. The Encyclopedia will be very generous with credit and recognition, and we will soon be posting a general statement of principle about open and accessible content, encouraging sharing, and so on. The world of the Internet and software changes so fast, we know we need to be very alert to what are considered good and prudent practices.

        A bit vague but at any rate they do know about copyleft...

      • by linguizic (806996)
        Some other students and I had the chance to have dinner with E.O.Wilson several months back and he told us about this project. When one of the students asked him what he thinks about wikispecies his eyes kind of glazed over. He had no idea what it was. I'm not sure if that's because he's not internet saavy, or he didn't know what wikispecies was in particular.
    • by Bob54321 (911744) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @12:40AM (#19048109)
      I had a look at a couple of the page mock-ups on the site. The information seems organized in a much better way than on the Wiki-species page. If the actual site turns out to be as good as the examples I will use it frequently.
      • by AlHunt (982887)

        I had a look at a couple of the page mock-ups on the site. The information seems organized in a much better way than on the Wiki-species page. If the actual site turns out to be as good as the examples I will use it frequently.

        Still waiting for the front page to finish loading ... maybe I'll make coffee while I wait.

        Seriously, they need to re-think their bandwidth. If it loads slow on DSL, dialup users are screwed.

    • by Anthony (4077) *
      FYI, Wikimedia are one of the EOL partners [eol.org]
    • by Tatarize (682683) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @01:11AM (#19048281) Homepage
      In theory, the Wikipedia version will constantly have "Bigfoot" added over and over again whereas the other one will not.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by vux984 (928602)
        The elephant population will be a lot more dynamic too on the wikipiedia one.
      • by owlnation (858981)
        Well, after all, sightings of Bigfoot have tripled in the past six months.
    • by Soiden (1029534)
      I find 2 main reasons this is different: 1-It's not editable. 2-EOL will feature a lot more media, like images, videos, sounds.
    • Paid expert editors will be doing the main part of the new site but I'm guessing the content will be under a more restrictive license.
    • Heck, Wikipedia itself is well on its way. And it's available in practically every language spoken throughout the world.

    • by mykdavies (1369)

      Wikimedia Foundation already has a project called WikiSpecies -- http://species.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page [wikimedia.org] . Not sure how different that project will be.
      Based on its performance today, it will get slashdotted more easily.

      Interestingly, the EOL "Institutional Council" includes "Wikimedia Foundation Represented by: Erik Moeller (Executive Secretary)"

  • It seems that many species would be extinct by the time they finish this in 10 years. Why not just make it a wiki and then it could be completed in a fraction of the time and perhaps not as many species would be extinct by the time their entry is completed. Or just find a way to do it faster without compromising the integrity of the entries
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Why not just make it a wiki...

      Yeah, and watch web pages sprout up featuring rare species like Cowboyus Nealicus, Scuttle Monkey, and the Zonk Toad.

    • It seems that many species would be extinct by the time they finish this in 10 years. Why not just make it a wiki and then it could be completed in a fraction of the time and perhaps not as many species would be extinct by the time their entry is completed. Or just find a way to do it faster without compromising the integrity of the entries.

      I thought the problem would be with fact that the species were extinct in 10 years. Apparently the bigger problem is the integrity of the entries.

      • by KiLLa_TK (1030038)
        I think the 10 year timetable is a problem. A wiki would fix that but most likely compromise the integrity of the entires. Sorry for not clarifying that enough. Is there another solution out there that is able to get the best of both?
  • It seems like a good idea overall, I hope the funding continues.
  • by Lawn Jocke (1064716) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @11:58PM (#19047849)
    Mostly Harmless
  • by Yath (6378) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @12:02AM (#19047881) Journal
    From the press release:

    Over the next 10 years, the Encyclopedia of Life will create Internet pages for all 1.8 million species currently named.


    These Internet pages, are they something I'd need an Internet browser to enjoy?
    • Unless they get all tangled up of course. My staff will send you a new Internet in that case.
    • These Internet pages, are they something I'd need an Internet browser to enjoy?

      Yes, you may only read these pages while connected to the internet.

      Other examples:
      Single player games that require an internet connection to install or run. (Value Steam)
      Operating systems that require an internet connection to activate or validate genuineness. (Microsoft Windows)
      Music that requires an internet connection before authorizing a computer, up to 5 limit. (Apple Itunes)

  • What About... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @12:04AM (#19047891)
    the tree of life project: http://tolweb.org/tree/phylogeny.html [tolweb.org]
  • Heh... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Nick_13ro (1099641) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @12:23AM (#19048003)
    Call me when they have added Big Foot footage. Until then watching Bush on TV will be enough zoo time for me.
  • It's always great to see iniciatives like this one.
    I think that this one could be a lot better because of the people and partners who are involved.

    Anyways there are always room for good pages like these two, so now we only have to collaborate and spread the word.
  • Site Extinction (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Bob54321 (911744)
    With that massive jpg on the site, it won't be long until the site becomes extinct.
    • by hdparm (575302)
      Maybe not but by the time it finally loads up, it will become totally irrelevant. All the species will be gone.
  • Oy. I guess I can see some kind of value to the project, but the notion of species that we get/got in HS is not very closely related to the ones folks currently work with. I suspect that, at best, this will "be a vital tool for ... [grade school] educators [and desperate students] across the globe."

    It looks like smart folks are behind this, but it is strongly reminiscent of Gore's proposal to have NASA prioritize the project of making live satellite photos of the planet available 24/7. Sure, it'd be cool,
  • Already being done (Score:3, Informative)

    by jaiagreen (1099645) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @12:40AM (#19048103)
    Discoverlife.org has been doing something very similar for several years and claim to have cataloged over a million species.
  • I'm going to list my sightings of, let's see, that's an Indian Mynah Acridotheres tristis, and a household rat rattus rattus. Oh, and there's a dog next door, and we have a cat.
    Here's to participating in important research!
    • Let me be the first to congratulate you to your personal ultimate contribution to research! But how empty will your life not be when you have past your prime. ;-)

      Jokes aside, maybe not everyone realises that in some areas amateurs can actually make useful scientific contributions, especially when it comes to field work. I'm guessing that the ones that have the best chanes of doing something useful are amateur botanists and entymolgists. Other examples might be ornithologists and herpetologists.

      So what
    • Hey, it's not like the photographer has to identify the animal. And besides, people who aren't scientists can take decent pictures of pigeons [flickr.com], of frogs [flickr.com], or of squirrels [flickr.com]; there are various forums for positively identifying plants and animals, and there's no good reason to restrict media sources to experts.
  • But... (Score:5, Funny)

    by kitsunewarlock (971818) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @12:45AM (#19048137) Journal
    I wonder if creationists in the future might later claim that the website didn't take 10 years to compile, but was created in a day...
    • by BuR4N (512430)
      No they will claim it was already there for us to discovered, sort of a background story to a moive franchise :)
  • Web 2.0 (Score:5, Funny)

    by Comatose51 (687974) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @12:46AM (#19048143) Homepage
    And for the web 2.0 version, I'll make a mash-up between that and hotornot.com where the user can rate the animal on perceived taste from "Yuck" to "Let's farm these suckers" to "Will all be eaten before domestication".
  • Storytime (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zombie_striptease (966467) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @12:50AM (#19048153)

    A few years ago, when I was babysitting the neighbor's kid, I spotted an odd grashopper in the street. It was larger than any of the species I've seen up here before (Pacific Northwest), nearly four inches long, and mottled grey in a way that matched the asphalt pretty closely, with bright blue on its hind legs. It stayed very still for the most part, but occasionally walked a few inches before stopping again (I'm talking over a span of a few hours). Getting closer revealed that it looked like it was sucking on the road itself (or maybe some of the lichens within? I dunno). Now I spent much of my childhood chasing and catching grasshoppers in this same area, so this quite fascinated me and I wondered if there wasn't some urban offshoot of Orthoptera I hadn't previously known about. I let the bug be, but resolved to scour the web for information on it. Unfortunately, there was nothing to be found. No matching descriptions, and certainly no pictures. It didn't occur to me until much later that it may have been an as yet undocumented species.

    This is all to say, it is about damn time we had something like the Encyclopedia of Life. Wikis are great to a certain point, but an organized project with funding, set on being as comprehensive as possible? Sign. me. up.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by poor_boi (548340)
      I, for one, welcome our new giant blue legged asphalt sucking grasshopper overlords.
    • .. and send the pic to the biology dept of your local university. They'll probably be happy to identify the species for you - especially if you tell them you've looked around but couldn't identify it.

      (Oh - and a large, unknown-until-now species of grasshoppers in the Pacific Northwest doesn't sound very probable. But hey - you never know!!)
      • I'm afraid I didn't have a working camera at the time I spotted it, though I've been kicking myself since for not trying to borrow someone else's. I'd not seen anything like it before, and haven't seen any since, so it could have been a one-off mutation that didn't survive or a stowaway from another region (seems likelier since there are various blue-legged grasshoppers in the midwest, though the rest of the coloring, size, and markings were still strange). Still, I'll be sure to make some sort of documenta
      • I found a huge bug in my kitchen last fall; I took a picture [flickr.com] and mailed it to my local university's entomology professor, who was kind enough to identify it.
    • Re:Storytime (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ibentmywookie (819547) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @03:01AM (#19048781)
      Would be really cool if you could upload a photo of the insect/animal, and have the website find matches. Not sure how far research has come with finding similar images. It would have to try and determine the part of interest, and then search on colours, shapes, etc... not sure. But it would be a very interesting research project.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by femto (459605)

      Except the Encyclopedia of Life will be a catalogue, not an identification key.

      A catalogue simply records that a species exists and is usually organised by scientific name. You can't find something unless you know its full name, or are prepared to flick through and compare your find with 1.8 million entries.

      An identification key on the other hand is organised to answer the question "What is that?", a bit like trying to guess what animal someone is thinking of by asking them questions. A key allows you

    • BugGuide.net (Score:3, Informative)

      by mikeboone (163222)
      Take a good picture and post the bug image to BugGuide [bugguide.net]!
  • And then 50 years down the line, Encyclopedists will be removed in a bloodless coup and we'll all be told that the Encyclopedia project has always been a fraud. Now where the bleep is this Star's end?
  • Museum Collections (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BayaWeaver (1048744)
    It would add tremendously to its usefulness if they could include high quality pictures of the specimens in the great museum collections. Especially for stuff like birds, butterflies, beetles where there's a lot of diversity and variations. There's no mention of this being done in the EOL FAQ. I'm aware that it take plenty more resources to do this but it will be worthwhile. There's still new discoveries hidden in those vast museum collections.
  • by misanthrope101 (253915) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @01:09AM (#19048273)

    ...the project is expected to take about 10 years to complete...
    What's the holdup? It only took Noah a few days to get them all on a boat, and we can't even make a list? This is really making us look bad, people. He even had to figure out care and feeding, but we can't even get a list of names together. Sheesh. We're really going downhill here.
    • by Tree131 (643930)
      The species weren't as diverse back then, and many weren't discovered.
      Besides, they weren't crossbreeding chihuahuas with wiener dogs back then... :P
  • by moosesocks (264553) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @01:17AM (#19048317) Homepage
    Anybody who's ever worked in sales or IT is going to be understandably agitated by their choice of acronym [wikipedia.org] for the project, especially considering the subject matter [wikipedia.org] at hand.
  • Google (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tree131 (643930) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @01:22AM (#19048355)
    I wouldn't be surprised if Google got behind the funding and made it super-searchable... :)
  • by ydra2 (821713) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @02:02AM (#19048543)
    A database that will get smaller over time instead of always growing out of it's disk space! Do your part to help by killing everything you don't recognize as a member of your family.

    -- ydra
    • by ydra2 (821713)
      I guess I should have said "That was a joke!" Please don't kill anything except cockroaches. Cockroaches don't need help surviving humans, but most other life forms do. -- ydra
  • Very cool.

    (simple)
  • Interesting to compare the sample EOL page for Rice and the existing entry for Rice in Wikipedia. Not only does the existing Wikipedia entry already have the same public domain image attached but it is (to this layman) more authoritative, more detailed and even better written when compared to the wooden 'encarta-style' prose in EOL.

    Wikipedia foundation is a sponsor, of sorts, so hopefully EOL will benefit from the association, but I see this as a kind of showdown between the power of benign anarachy vs t

  • Just wait until Nintendo sues for Copyright Infringement on their own efforts in
    An Encyclopedia, cataloging all known species of life - The PokéDex.

    Yes, I went there.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @02:26AM (#19048647)
    I've described new species and worked in systematics for around the past 10 years. Of course by "all" them mean 'vertebrates', 'flowering plants' and some 'fish'. This sounds *a lot* like passed failed attempts, including the ill-fated All-Species project that was to be funded by .com millions. What most people don't realize is that many, perhaps most, of those 1.8 million species have terrible descriptions that may be hundreds of years old, and are basically represented by a name alone. While vertebrate taxonomy may be in the position to build comprehensive species pages that might be useful in this context, the real diversity lies in elsewhere (insects, bacteria, etc.), and remains for all intents and purposes undescribed (based on estimated total species). Look closely, this effort will be data-base related, and will try to federate already populated lists of names, and simply gathered data (i.e. stuff that won't be of any use to the practicing scientist). It will be woefully underfunded, and very little money will make its way to the people who can make a difference- practicing taxonomists. Want to make a difference with respect to biodiversity? Fund the people on the ground (and institutions, i.e. research collections) doing the work of describing what is new.
             
  • Should've used a boat instead.
  • Who else here thought of the Foundation Series, and the Encyclopaedia Galactica when you read this?
  • At present extinction rates, the longer you delay, the less work you'll need to do. I wish I had a job like that!
    • by tompaulco (629533)
      At present extinction rates, the longer you delay, the less work you'll need to do. I wish I had a job like that!
      Don't wait too long, or the new species rate will start outpacing the extinction rate again.
      • Don't wait too long, or the new species rate will start outpacing the extinction rate again.

        A thousand new species of algae and bacteria hardly make up for the loss of one mammal species. And I haven't heard of any slowing down in the extinction rate, so it looks to me that you are suffering from wishful thinking.

  • Wheee (Score:2, Funny)

    by durin (72931)
    Perhaps we'll discover intelligent life on earth at long last.
  • by craagz (965952)
    There is an entry for FireFox.. that Red Orange plumed animal that is famouss for its nightly browsings and daylight spankng of IE
  • by HaydnH (877214)
    How ironic that the "Encylopedia of Life" have chosen the acronym for "End of Life" [acronymfinder.com] as the URL!
  • Cuz the world [speciesalliance.org] is rapidly [well.com] running out [www.dal.ca].

    Which also means we're next. [youtube.com]

  • I hope there's not too much duplication with the Tree of Life [tolweb.org].
  • A preliminary mockup of the effort can be found here [badgerbadgerbadger.com].

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