A new site getting some press is the Encyclopedia of Life. The goal is to catalog all 1.8 million species or organisms on the planet. A lofty goal, and one they think they can accomplish in roughly 10 years. A few interesting things in their FAQ.
“Unlike conventional encyclopedias, where an editorial team sits down and writes the entries, the Encyclopedia will be developed by bringing together (“mashing up”) content from a wide variety of sources. This material will then be authenticated by scientists, so that users will have authoritative information. As we move forward, Encyclopedia of Life and its board will work with scientists across the globe, securing the involvement of those individuals and institutions that are established experts on each species.”
The bit where they say, “authenticated by scientists so that users will have authoritative information” almost sounds like a jab at wikipedia. You won’t get information from just anybody, you’ll get it from ‘scientists’. But a bit further down, appropriate props are given to the ‘Wild West’ of encyclopedias:
“Wikipedia inspired us. Wikipedia accumulated about 1.5 million entries in English in its first four years. That gave us confidence that our tasks are manageable with current technology and social behaviour, although the expert community in a lot of the subjects for pages in Encyclopedia of Life may be only a handful of people. Wikipedia has also created some species pages, as have other groups. Encyclopedia of Life will, we hope, unite all such efforts and increase their value. The Wikimedia Foundation is a member of the Encyclopedia’s Institutional Council.”
Conspicuously missing from all of the FAQ is the subject of price. Will this be a free resource? If not, how much will it cost? None of that is addressed, and I suspect that there will be a fee for schools and individuals to access the EOL. And I suspect that the entire site will also be securely copyrighted, so no derivative works will be allowed. Which is too bad, because the whole site is possible based solely on the idea of building on the works of others.