Wednesday, May 23, 2007

all your fishbase are belong to EOL

E.O. Wilson has been trying to get this kind of deal going for a while. now that it's coming together I have to admit I'm sort of ambivalent about the whole thing. but at the same time I’m surprised something like this doesn't already exist. when I was six or seven I started making something similar with national geographic photos and notecards. but then I gave up when my system quickly outgrew the confines of its recipe box.

I’m talking about a species of wiki, er, um I mean a species wiki: a wiki for species. The Encyclopedia of Life is what they’re calling it. presumptuous title maybe, but it goes along well with the whole ethos of the project; the introductory page and filmstrip have a nice Age of Aquarius optimism about them. it’s not really going yet, they just have some sample pages and stuff but it should be pretty rockin’ by the middle of next year.

the idea is to get a wiki going for the 1.8 million species we know of. lots of reasons for this, which you can surely imagine, so overall I think it's pretty exciting. and it looks like you’ll be able to search data at different levels of expertise too. from say 4th grade desert biome diorama assignment to Rachel Carson thrice decorated.

this way, to put it in Tyndale’s terms; ere too many years, the lowly talking head on the local news will be able to scrape together his human interest story about walking sticks, killer Africanized bees or the chipmunks at Yellowstone with the same wealth of data as the high priests of biology.

there are other precedents for this besides Brittanica and recipe boxes. for example there’s the complicated fishbase, where a guy can get lost pretty easily. before long you’re backstroking the green arrow just to keep your head above water.

then there’s the White House subcommittee-commissioned ITIS (integrated taxonomic information system) who sullenly explain basically, “look, we’re only doing this because we have to.” and his new, more global sister is the catalogue of life, where I even found they keep viruses! actually, both sites are pretty neat, but duh! no pictures.

wikispecies is pretty good taxonavigation in its 3rd year, but still lots of gaps. no English vernacular name (American Goldfinch) for Carduelis tristis, for example, which is kind of a big deal to me.

here, why don’t you compare the yeti crab pages from each site and see what you think.
wiki yeti crab

EOL yeti crab (still just a demonstration page)

ITIS/catalogue yeti crab

say, you know what would really be nice? a mashup of all of these and other databases with color images, smells, howling, chirps, and things you can chase through the woods with your own feet. actually I think I heard about something like that the other day. I’m going outside now.

1 comment:

T.R. said...

the yeti crab would make a killer beanie baby, eh?