[Taxacom] Global biodiversity databases

Roderic Page r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
Wed Aug 8 01:34:10 CDT 2012

Reading this thread I fear we are failing to learn from the experience of others. The notion that distributed systems will somehow magically provide the kinds of services people need seems to me to be fatally flawed. There's a great interview that makes this point:


In that interview Geoffrey Bilder of CrossRef says:

"...my personal and unfashionable observation is that “distributed” begets “centralized.” For every distributed service created, we’ve then had to create a centralized service to make it useable again (ICANN, Google, Pirate Bay, CrossRef, DOAJ, ticTocs, WorldCat, etc.)."

The key phrase here is "usable". Much of the taxonomic databasing has been focussed on the needs of providers, not end users. Distributed may met the needs of providers (they get to control "their" data) but it does nothing for users (who have to search across multiple, often incompatible resources to find what they need). 

If you want further evidence, consider the success of NCBI where primary data (sequences), a unified taxonomic classification, and the scientific literature are aggregated in one place. Anybody want to argue that a distributed model would work better? That genomics would be better if NCBI didn't exist?

I suspect the unsatisfactory state of taxonomic (and other biodiversity) databases will persist until we switch from trying to keep providers happy to trying to giving users with the data and services they need. 



Roderic Page
Professor of Taxonomy
Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences
Graham Kerr Building
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK

Email: r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
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