HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
May 21, 2007, Herald Journal

‘Life’ found on the Internet


“The Encyclopedia of Life” that is. This new website is set to begin documenting over 1.8 million species of life that populate the Earth.

Recently some of the world’s leading scientific institutions made the announcement about this bold endeavor.

The website is located at http://www.eol.org, and will eventually have Internet pages for all 1.8 million species.

These pages will provide written information along with photographs, video, sound, location maps and detailed information on each species of life.

Created on the scientific reliability of thousands of experts from around the globe, this encyclopedia will be freely available to all users everywhere.

How long will it take to add Internet pages that catalog in detail almost two million species of life?

The press release says it will take over 10 years.

Ten years is a long time. . . this will require some serious dedication and money to compile the data and enter it into the website. It will also need to be kept up-to-date.

It just so happens they do have the “seed money” needed.

With $10 million from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and $2.5 million from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, this project is off to a determined start.

The Field Museum of Natural History, Harvard University, Marine Biological Laboratory, Smithsonian Institution, and Biodiversity Heritage Library combined together to begin the project. These organizations are bringing together species and software experts from across the world.

The Encyclopedia of Life also announced the initial membership of its Institutional Council, whose members will play important roles in carrying out this enormous project.

An international advisory board of distinguished individuals will also help guide the Encyclopedia of Life.

How will the public use this information once it is available?

People will be able to access this information when, for example; they are on field trips or outdoor hikes. The Encyclopedia information will be accessible from their laptops and PDA’s (personal digital assistants). Students will be able to research and learn about all the plants, trees, insects, aquatic life and animals that might be found in and around their town or neighborhood.

The Encyclopedia of Life website states that it will allow any student to browse all of nature. It says the site will provide students one common web location where they can learn about every living species that populates the planet Earth.

The Encyclopedia of Life has the potential to be an important resource. . . serving as a catalog, database, and learning tool on just about every life form that has ever lived on the planet. In the same way that dictionaries help us with language literacy, the Encyclopedia of Life can help our understanding of all forms of life.

 The press release on the website quoted Dr. James Edwards, Executive Director of the Encyclopedia of Life, “The Encyclopedia of Life will provide valuable biodiversity and conservation information to anyone, anywhere, at any time.”

Edwards goes on to say, “Through collaboration, we all can increase our appreciation of the immense variety of life, the challenges to it, and ways to conserve biodiversity.

The Encyclopedia of Life will ultimately make high quality, well-organized information available on an unprecedented level.

Even five years ago, we could not create such a resource, but advances in technology for searching, annotating, and visualizing information now permit us, indeed mandate us, to build the Encyclopedia of Life.”

The Encyclopedia of Life hopes to provide easy to understand access to the latest and best information on all known species on Earth. It wants to be an important tool for scientists, researchers and educators across the globe.

Ultimately, the Encyclopedia of Life will provide users the opportunity to personalize their learning experience.

The site can be made available in all major languages and will connect scientific communities with information ranging from ants to zebras.

A large NASA photograph taken of the Earth greeted me when I visited the Encyclopedia of Life’s home page.

Several species “demonstration” pages are presented in a “beta” test mode for viewing.

One demonstration page is the Ursus maritimus (Polar Bear) web page, which provided brilliant photos and excellent descriptions of their habitat.

A table of contents along with a list of sources used, expert references and other web resources are shown on these beta “demo pages.”

Six example species are presented on the demonstration pages. This shows how they are planning to present the information.

When will the new website be available for actual use? I looked this up under the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section. It said they will work as “quickly and efficiently as possible” to provide people with access to the Encyclopedia and the wealth of information it will provide. They expect to have actual, authenticated species pages available by mid-2008.

For more information on this new and exciting Encyclopedia of Life website, visit http://www.eol.org.