Encyclopedia of Life

Later this year the project to create an Encyclopedia of Life will pick up speed for this ambitious project. The encyclopedia was first proposed by scientist E.O. Wilson who wished to see a type of “one stop shop” for information on the natural sciences; it’s aim is to be the next step up from an earlier project from the University of Arizona called the Tree of Life Web Project. With an initial founding of $12.5 million from the MacArthur Foundation, and the Sloan Foundation, yesterday the beginnings of this encyclopedia were formally revealed to the public. (The completed project is expected to cost $100 million, and take 10 years to complete.)

The idea is to collaborate with all the libraries and repositories in the world who gather information on the natural sciences and aggregate all this information in one location. Yet, as so many individuals have access to post their own material on the web, researchers are working on creating a new software program called “bots” that will trawl the web for further relevant information. The information found in this manner is to then be corroborated by scientist before linking or posting it to the encyclopedia.

A million books and 250,000 research papers from the Natural History Museum in Chicago will be available through the encyclopedia, with much more to come. And while the initial projection is just to gather existing information, the project’s leaders realize that todays technology allows for great collaboration. They realize that just anyone who gets a good picture while on a nature walk, or while bird watching will want to share their discoveries and the encyclopedia will allow for this as well. They also foresee a lot of comparative research to arise for the site.

As it stands, the Encyclopedia of Life has a few sample pages up which show the structure of what is to come. The idea is that every species will get it’s own page, including common and scientific name, type, an image, location, explanation, and even videos where applicable. Each page will also give credit to the creator and will provide sources and expert references. The project is starting off with the bigger species, and leaving amoebas and the like, that can’t always be so clearly defined into species for later on.

The encyclopedia also wishes to be free and in doing so is part of the Linking Open Data Project, which aims at making data available to everyone. There is more on this collaboration at AI3 (Adaptive Information, Adaptive Innovation, Adaptive Infrastructure).

The Guardian has an article about this project today. Boston.com had another article a few days ago.

26.02.08 – On Thursday the Encyclopedia of Life released the first 30,000 pages of information, with an expectation of close to 2 million more to come. Much of the initial information available here has been gathered through software designed to search the web for content. There is an emphasis on species that much is known about such as amphibians, fish and plants. You can read about this in a NYT article here, and from a BBC article here.

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