Friday, April 27, 2007

Citizen Science...spider style

I have been developing The Nearctic Spider Database for a number of years now. All the nomenclature, database, and web page development are under my purvue, but individuals who have demonstrated some form of expertise on spider systematics, biogeography, etc. have the option to author and/or review species pages. They can upload imagery, select references, add descriptions, plus a number of other functions all via the website. These productions are then open for review in the very traditional sense. Once three reviews have been received and the author has made any suggested changes as expressed by the anonymous reviewers, I receive notice, flick the switch, and the species page is tagged "Peer reviewed" then locked for further editing. However, all point collection maps, other taxonomic references, lists of synonyms & chresonyms, and a phenological chart are dynamically created and may change with additional data from the specimen side of the database.

Since this sort of "expert" authoring/reviewing cut off all option for the casual browser of these pages to contribute, I created a "drop a comment" feature whereby anyone and everyone may write a casual comment on a species, a sighting report, etc. in a manner much like leaving a comment on someone else's blog post. Response to this new feature has been fairly good so, at the request of a few contributors to the database, I created "Spider WebWatch" - a citizen science initiative for anyone and everyone to submit observations on spiders they see in their backyard and elsewhere.

Granted there is no way to track misidentifications, issues arising from nomenclatural change in the event of a revision and other issues that plague or otherwise bring into question the longevity and utility of the data in scientific research, the point of Spider WebWatch is for anyone to contribute. In this way, the hope is more pervasive interest in spider biodiversity research...sort of like a gateway or an introduction to araneology. To limit some of the issues with observational data, there are only 9 species in Spider WebWatch. A discussion in The Nearctic Arachnologists' Forum helped choose these 9 species.

I took the "drop a comment" feature on species pages in The Nearctic Spider Database to a much more interactive level and permit "WebWatchers" in Spider WebWatch to not only upload an observation with an image but to comment on anyone else's observation, thus building threads of discussions in a manner very much like a forum. A contributor may edit their observations or comments at any time and the system for contributing an observation is stripped down to the bare minimum. It was brought to my attention that a web form with too many fields or boxes to tick/fill is overwhelming.

So, try out Spider WebWatch. I also have a poll underway to get some feedback on the possibility of using a web-enabled mobile phone to submit an observation.

1 comment:

David Shorthouse said...

Sadly, Spider WebWatch is no longer. However, much was learned in the process, and the code and database are still available. What's needed is a code rewrite, a migration to a better (=open source) database and a server. Squatters scooped up the domain name since it lapsed, so it will need a new domain as well.