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May 10 2007   10:29AM GMT

The Encyclopedia Of Life: An individual Web page for every species of life on Earth

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

Can you imagine a comprehensive, illustrated encyclopedia that documented and described every living species known to humankind?

If scientists succeed in a new, boldly conceived project, such a dream might become reality. Meet the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL). [Press release]

A steering committee of senior officers from Harvard University, Smithsonian Institution, Field Museum, Marine Biological Laboratory, Biodiversity Heritage Library consortium, Missouri Botanical Garden, and the MacArthur and Sloan Foundations has proposed that “an online reference source and database for every one of the 1.8 million species that are named and known on this planet, as well as all those later discovered and described. Encyclopedia of Life will be used as both a teaching and a learning tool, helping scientists, educators, students, and the community at large gain a better understanding of this planet and all who inhabit it.”

The EOL project has its roots in the writing of biologists Dan Jenzen and E.O. Wilson. Wilson’s 2003 essay on the topic and then a speech 2007 speech (read his wish on TED.com) at the influential TED Conference have brought the concept to wider attention.

Essentially, the EOL hopes to combine collaborative editing using wikis and mashups of a number of other sources of scientific materials. Crucially, entries will edited and approved by scientists to ensure the authenticity and accuracy of the information.

Draft species pages that demonstrate some of the possibilities of a fully implemented system are already available at http://www.eol.org.

The project’s creators hope to have actual, authenticated species pages available by mid 2008. You can learn more by reading the EOL FAQ or watching this video on YouTube.

BoingBoing has also posted about EOL , noting that while the project has received a $50 million dollar funding commitment led by the MacArthur Foundation, the EOL “reminds [him] a lot of Kevin Kelly’s All Species Foundation, which ran out of funding around 2003. It was a TED-borne idea.”

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