26 February 2008

A good day for the world

The Encyclopedia of Life has finally moved past the preview stage.

Good luck at trying to access the page. It's been very slow today, the server no doubt reeling under the load of people who have been eagerly awaiting it.

This particular database spring from a TED prize for biologist E.O. Wilson, shown below.

Not to belittle Wilson's enormous contribution for this project, but I do need to say that kind of project has been on the minds of a lot of people for a long time. There are various taxonomic databases out there. The Tree of Life was probably the first major one, and Wikispecies is another. And those projects have been very valuable, but I think it's fair to say they haven't revolutionized the science the way that GenBank did for DNA or that Wikipedia did for general knowledge.

Hopefully, Encyclopedia of Life can be that transformative resource.

It's interesting to compare how different databases look. Let's take spiny sand crabs, Blepharipoda occidentalis, the main species I work with for my doctorate. In Tree of Life, there isn't a listing for the species or even the genus. Just a species name in Wikispecies. Like the Tree of Life, I can't even get close to "my" sand crab species in the Encyclopedia of Life yet, but I think you get a sense of the ambitious nature of these projects.

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