Friday, December 7, 2012

If EOL Started All Over Today, What Would be the Best Approach?

Today I participated in a very engaging conversation with a group of systematists and ecologists who are intensely interested in cataloguing the diversity of life in their neck of the woods. They immediately recognized that such a compilation should contain authoritative content, it should contain links to relevant resources so as not to repeat efforts elsewhere, and it most definitely should be online. In my (perhaps naive) interpretation, it sounded much like the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), albeit at a smaller, more focused scale.

But has EOL taken a winning approach? Has it sustained the interest it once had? Is it duplicating effort? Is it financially sustainable? Are remarkable, value-added products being built off its infrastructure that would not otherwise be possible? These aren't rhetorical questions. I just don't know. Shouldn't I know by now? Part of the answer will certainly depend on which metric you wish to use. And, these metrics will invariably draw upon the engagement of one audience or another.

Here's an interesting thought experiment:

If EOL had taken a radically different approach at the outset by becoming a taxonomically intelligent index (e.g. a Google-like product, but specifically tuned using a graph such as may be the eventual underpinnings of the Open Tree of Life) instead of serving species pages aggregated from elsewhere, where would it be today? What could have been built from such a "product"?