[Taxacom] Google, Wikipedia, and EOL

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Tue Sep 1 18:43:39 CDT 2009

Rich Pyle wrote:

>  > I am currently sitting here
>>  putting todays Zootaxa references on Wikispecies, e.g.
>>  http://species.wikimedia.org/wiki/Arsenurinae#References )
>I think this says it all...if, by "putting" you mean typing content on a
>keyboard.  We're moving towards a direction where journals like Zootaxa will
>produce XML output that can be automatically harvested by the likes of EOL,
>following TDWG standards, and put into proper context without a single
>keystroke by any human.  Will Wikispecies or Wikipedia ever be able to
>populate themselves automatically in that fashion?  Will they be able to
>automatically update a piece of metadata for a specimen in my Museum after
>it's been updated on our local server?  I can easily imagine a scenario
>where EOL can do that; but I'm not so sure the Wiki model will work that
>In my mind, efforts like EOL play the role of content
>aggregators/organizers, and Wikixxxx plays the role of providing an
>interface for content that is best added and edited by human fingers on a

For most people, that extra value-added content that the Wiki allows 
and - most importantly - makes easy to view and easy to edit, is 
going to make it a lot more useful.

Just compare the entries for the Monarch butterfly in both resources 
(I sincerely urge people to do so, so you can form your own opinions):




Frankly, I think the latter is VASTLY superior - and, relevant to the 
present discussion, just look at the taxonomic hierarchy each entry 


  Animalia +
     * Arthropoda +
           o Insecta +
                 + Lepidoptera +
                       # Name not in Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of 
Life: Annual Checklist 2009

[Note: I would imagine that I'm not the only person who finds it 
inconceivable that Danaus plexippus does not appear in Species 2000 
or ITIS!]


Kingdom:	Animalia
Phylum:	Arthropoda
Class:	Insecta
Order:	Lepidoptera
Superfamily:	Papilionoidea
Family:	Nymphalidae
Subfamily:	Danainae
Tribe:	Danaini
Genus:	Danaus Kluk, 1780
Species:	D. plexippus

Binomial name
Danaus plexippus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Danaus archippus (Fabricius, 1793)[1]
Danaus menippe (Hübner, 1816)[2]

Wikipedia also shows a distribution map, indicates the subspecies, 
lists adult host plants, talks about the taxonomic and nomenclatural 
history (including etymology), and even discusses related species. 
None of that appears in EOL. If no one told me which of these 
projects was based on volunteer work, I'm afraid I would never 
believe the truth. Maybe it's not as bad as comparing a video of a 
baking-soda volcano versus the USGS page 
(http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/), but still...

It may well be that EOL can have content added automatically, but if 
that content is hopelessly skimpy and hard to display, then I'm not 
sure what *function* it can serve the user community that Wikipedia 
cannot. You raise the issue of specimen metadata - looking at the EOL 
entry, I see no specimen metadata linked to Danaus plexippus. Am I 
missing something? On the other hand, among the links on Wikipedia 
are some that DO display specimen metadata. True, you have to click 
on a link to access it, but in EOL you have to click on something to 
see ANY information beyond the "introduction". And, speaking of 
clicking, just look at how *massively* hyperlinked the text is on 
that Wikipedia page: nearly every place name, person name, taxon 
name, chemical name, and scientific term is hyperlinked (and, 
conversely, there are 124 other Wikipedia pages that link *to* the 
Monarch page). EOL will never have that level of functionality. What, 
exactly, is EOL realistically ever likely to do *better* than 

Maybe more to the point, if there are functions that Wikipedia 
doesn't perform, like attaching links to XML documents, might it not 
be a better investment of time and energy to sit down with the folks 
at the Wikimedia Foundation and see if they could be convinced to 
accept such auto-links, or whatever other features you think it 
needs? After all, WP pages have auto-links to other Wikimedia sources 
(e.g., "Wikispecies has information related to: Danaus plexippus" - I 
doubt it would be too hard to have a similar box saying "GBIF has 
information related to: Danaus plexippus", for example). If they've 
got 90% of what you want from an online taxonomic resource, already 
in place, then working with them to add some of that missing 10% 
would seem an easier and more efficient course than engaging in a 
massive - and costly - duplication of effort simply because they 
didn't offer *exactly* what you want.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314        skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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