09 May 2007

Learning from the Encyclopedia of Life

One of the great trends online is to pool data to create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. The Encyclopedia of Life is one example, but on a splendidly ambitious scale:

an ecosystem of websites that makes all key information about life on Earth accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world. Our goal is to create a constantly evolving encyclopedia that lives on the Internet, with contributions from scientists and amateurs alike. To transform the science of biology, and inspire a new generation of scientists, by aggregating all known data about every living species. And ultimately, to increase our collective understanding of life on Earth, and safeguard the richest possible spectrum of biodiversity.

Highly laudable, not least the last part. But I can't help feeling that something has gone wrong in the realisation of this grand project.

The opening page of the website is a huge image that takes a while to load even with a decent broadband connection, and which conveys absolutely nothing (it's a nice picture taken from space of the Earth from mesopotamia to poor oppressed Tibet: and?). The home page has a video on it (why?), and all the demo pages are PDFs (er, isn't this supposed to be a website - you know, groovy HTML stuff?). slow to load, presumably because they are over-coded.

All-in-all, then, a superb idea, but one that clearly needs a lot of tweaking - to say nothing of slimming down - if it is to be really useful.


Vlad Lungeanu said...

I agree with you in all points (both pros and cons), except for the demo pages issue. They are NOT available as PDF only, they are HTML, with PDF as an option. Just click on the name (e.g. "Polar Bear"), not on "[PDF]". True, the layout is rather misleading.
Keep up the good work.

Glyn Moody said...

You're right: I stand corrected. But it's noticeable that it takes just as long to load the HTML version as the PDF - which suggests there's far too much stuff crammed in there. Less is more, chaps.

Anonymous said...

Mr Willsons talk is very interesting-my faourite subject.Do not worry -nature will overcome anything that we can throw at it-one way or another,even if it takes forever.p