Encyclopedia of Life

Missouri Botanical Garden has partnered with other scientific institutions on the creation of the Encyclopedia of Life. The purpose of this site is to provide a free, publicly accessible site with a page for every species of animal and plant on Earth. According to an article at PNN Online:

Over the next 10 years, the Encyclopedia of Life will create Internet pages for all 1.8 million species currently named. It will expedite the classification of the millions of species yet to be discovered and catalogued as well. The pages [...] will provide written information and, when available, photographs, video, sound, location maps, and other multimedia information on each species. Built on the scientific integrity of thousands of experts around the globe, the Encyclopedia will be a moderated wiki-style environment, freely available to all users everywhere.

“The Encyclopedia of Life will be a vital tool for scientists, researchers, and educators across the globe, providing easy access to the latest and best information on all known species,” said Jonathan F. Fanton, President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “Technology is allowing science to grasp the immense complexity of life on this planet. Sharing what we know, we can protect Earth’s biodiversity and better conserve our natural heritage.”

“For more than 250 years, scientists have catalogued life, and our traditional catalogues have become unwieldy,” said Ralph E. Gomory, President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “The Encyclopedia of Life will provide the citizens of the world a ‘macroscope’ of almost unimaginable power to find and create understanding of biodiversity across the globe. It will enable us to map and discover things so numerous or vast they overwhelm our normal vision.”

From one of the demonstration page, this site looks to be one of the better designed and organized of its kind, and a rich source of data about the natural world. It incorporates an amazing array of media and resources, and turns around and makes all available to anyone, without limitation.

The EoL is an expert driven wiki site–top down, not bottom up like Wikipedia. Contributions will be welcomed from all, but the overall effort is authenticated by trained scientists. I imagine that media files, in particular, will be welcome. The Missouri Botanical Garden is providing most of the information about the plants from its store of data it has been gathering for over 100 years. Much of this data is already available for botanists via the MBG’s own library, and available for everyone at the Botanicus Digital Library.

(The Botanicus Digital Library features pages scanned from many (if not all) of the MBG books. Through this effort, the organization has developed a metadata model that will now be used in the new effort for the EoL. More at the Botanicus Weblog. )

Bill Moyers did an interview on the EoL with the concept creator, E. O. Wilson. Wilson talked on this at the recent TED conference, and gave a demo of the end product that just blew me away. Find the interview at FastTrack Musings.

The EoL is an incredibly exciting project, probably one of the most important on the internets. The plan is to start putting pages online mid-2008. Even now, the list of sources for the site is a rich information resource.


More on the EoL and how RDF will play a part at an earlier post I missed.

Rich times, indeed, from a metadata perspective.

second update

Another post on the early framework.

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7 Responses to Encyclopedia of Life

  1. Jim Hendler says:

    it’s worth noting that several members of the bioinformatics advisory group on this, the group responsible for the technological underpinnings, have backgrounds in RDF, and I’ve been asked to join that group — so it looks like EoL will definitely have some capabilities for RDF export and possibly a SPARQL access (if I get my way)
    -Jim Hendler

  2. Shelley says:

    That’s fantastic Jim. Is there anything publicly accessible on the model to be used, or the architecture on this project? Especially the RDF bits?

  3. Aruni says:

    That’s amazing! What a great resource (verified by experts) for the entire world! I can already see my kids referring to this when doing projects for school when they are older.

    I still remember our first set of encyclopedias sitting on a bookshelf in our house that we referenced often because we did not have access to computers much less the Internet. What a wonderful endeavor!

  4. Phil says:

    That’s brilliant. Has Clay Shirky explained why it can’t possibly work yet?

  5. Scott says:

    Oh yeah? Does it have the “Octosquid” in it? http://starbulletin.com/2007/07/05/news/story03.html

  6. Jim Hendler says:

    Not sure how to reply to a comment on a comment — but the answer is the architecture stuff is still very much in flux – there’s a job announcement out for a chief engineer for the project, and the plan is not to firm up too much until that person is in place (which I thought was a surprisingly intelligent decision :-)) The goals of the program, and a reason I agreed to be involved, include doing everything as much in the open as possible, so I expect the model to be publicized soon as it can be.

  7. Shelley says:

    It is a terrific resource, Mr. Shirky aside. Jim, you’re a lucky person to be involved with this.

    Scott, wonderful discovery wasn’t it?