[Taxacom] encylopedia of life

Shorthouse, David dps1 at ualberta.ca
Thu May 10 15:53:51 CDT 2007

But, what if such an "Encyclopedia of Life" wasn't merely a 2-dimensional
resource requiring contributions to develop content?

Behind the scenes & what hasn't been talked about very much is the EoL
workbench being called "MyEoL". To date, folks associated with EoL envision
this as the wiki-like environment whereby content is dragged-dropped to
supplement what was harvested by name-smart bots or to clean content that
was magically derived by some other means. This is fine and dandy and is
fundamentally identical to using a word processor to write a manual. Where
they differ is the rich interactivity and access to resources that would
ordinarily take many years to collect.

What I have argued for is something at a much lower level: a systematist's
"Living Encyclopedia", if you will. Here, the "MyEoL" is essentially a blank
slate or an organizational workbench where you may query participant
services like GBIF, GenBank, ZooBank, ARKive, etc. to build a collage of
resources to assist one's workflow when conducting a revision or building a
manual. The eventual product need not be for publication in EoL. In the case
of a revision on a particular species concept, the visual circumscription of
specimens as pulled from GBIF would facilitate direct communications with
curators. You can no doubt imagine other sorts of uses for a digital tabula
rasa with click-to-connect resources. When one finishes their masterpiece
revision, the species concepts or assertions thus created in a visual array
of connections may then be permanent URL(s) & necessarily inserted in the
outgoing manuscript. Once accepted, the DOI for the publication can then be
tagged onto one's "MyEoL" workflow page that was used to write the ms or
manual. Thus, that "MyEoL" page is locked in perpetuity, becomes property of
the public domain if so chosen by the author and perhaps becomes the
scaffolding or the seedbed for a species page. The social networking may
arise when the page is mashed in others' "MyEoL" pages much like what we are
fundamentally doing when citing others' work. It's this sort of low-level,
modularized organization that is desperately needed. Without it, I don't see
how EoL can persist unless it adopts a distasteful advertisement-driven

My 2 cents,

David P. Shorthouse
Department of Biological Sciences
CW-403, Biological Sciences Centre
University of Alberta
Edmonton, AB   T6G 2E9
mailto:dps1 at ualberta.ca

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Snow, Neil
Sent: Thursday, May 10, 2007 8:36 AM
To: Mary Barkworth; Donat Agosti; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] encylopedia of life

Mary touches on an important point.  The lack of fiscal incentive to
taxonomists producing treatments is one reason, in certain cases, it
takes large Flora projects 10-20 years to pull off.  The idea of an
updated North American "Grass Manual" was hatched in 1986.  The finished
product, which includes Flora of North America Vols. 24 & 25, was
completed 20 years later.  Public kudos to Mary for sticking with a
herculean task.  I do not believe that all aspects of the "business
model" should be universally overlaid on universities and museums.
However, decent remuneration for a well-produced product delivered on
time is one of them.  NS

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