[Taxacom] Occurrence data...

Walker, Ken kwalker at museum.vic.gov.au
Sat Feb 19 02:03:48 CST 2011


"transitioning museum-based science to information-based science" - I knew it was not going to be easy.

> because the users will be people with the same viewpoint as the creators.

I had almost the same comment/discussion this week with someone in charge of developing our online content: "Our online visitors will be the same as our visitors who walk through the front door."

Citizen science and web access to data has changed the game plan - no longer can we develop product for "just" people with the same viewpoint as ourselves.

Let me give you an example. Many years ago, I made available the Victorian butterfly occurrence data and I value added to the dataset with food plant data.

I have always been amazed to hear the ways this online dataset has been used -- ways that I as the "creator/aggregator" of the dataset had never envisaged.

What could this online occurrence data offer that was not already in the published scientific literature or in the many books on Australian butterflies -- what I call fact sheets where you can only use the data in the way it presented.

Here is one use that the online data had all over the "static" fact sheets in books.

A group of individuals decided to replant a park down near Mt Martha as it would have been approx 50 years ago.  They used the Victorian butterfly online occurrence data to build a combined spatial and temporal query to create a butterfly checklist for the Mt Martha area in the 1950-1960s.  Because they could create such a query - something I had not pre-determined but the web interface allowed -they were then able to put together a butterfly food plant checklist that formed the basis for their park planting guide.  These users really had no interest in the primary occurrence data or the local butterfly fauna.  The occurrence data was simply a means to develop a planting guide.

The Victorian butterfly occurrence data was an aggregation of the Museum's specimens as well as data from a number of long term collectors and members of the Victorian Entomological Society.

>"If you haven't a clue what the user wants, how can you claim to be doing something useful?"

I do not claim to be doing something useful, rather I claim that users will find ways to do something useful.

>" How can you ask for millions of dollars to build and maintain something you promise will be useful, without knowing whether potential users will want what you're offering, or not?"

That's the basis of taxonomy and a range of other sciences that create primary data.

I believe if you work on the basis that you offer your datasets to only "people with the same viewpoint as the creators" -- Guarantee of failure.

It's the same as limiting "museum-based science" to only "people with the same viewpoint as the creators" - which refers to an earlier point I made about the current crisis in taxonomy. Information-based science exposes your data assets to a broad range of users who never thought of using your dataset and you never thought of them as "clients" of your dataset.



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