Tuesday, August 18, 2009

To wiki or not to wiki?

What follows are some random thoughts as I try and sort out what things I want to focus on in the coming days/weeks. If you don't want to see some wallowing and general procrastination, look away now.

I see four main strands in what I've been up to in the last year or so:
  1. services
  2. mashups
  3. wikis
  4. phyloinformatics
Let's take these in turns.

Not glamourous, but necessary. This is basically bioGUID (see also hdl:10101/npre.2009.3079.1). bioGUID provides OpenURL services for resolving articles (it has nearly 84,000 articles in it's cache), looking up journal names, resolving LSIDs, and RSS feeds.

iSpecies is my now aging tool for mashing up data from diverse sources, such as Wikipedia, NCBI, GBIF, Yahoo, and Google Scholar. I tweak it every so often (mainly to deal with Google Scholar forever mucking around with their HTML). The big limitation of iSpecies is that it doesn't make it's results reusable (i.e., you can't write a script to call iSpecies and return data). However, it's still the place I go to to quickly find out about a taxon.

The other mashups I've been playing with focus on taking standardised RSS feeds (provided by bioGUID, see above) and mashing them up, sometimes with a nice front end (e.g., my e-Biosphere 09 challenge entry).

I've invested a huge amount of effort in learning how wikis (especially Mediawiki and its semantic extensions) work, documented in earlier posts. I created a wiki of taxonomic names as a sandbox to explore some of these ideas.

I've come to the conclusion that for basic taxonomic and biological information, the only sensible strategy for our community is to use (and contribute to) Wikipedia. I'm struggling to see any justification for continuing with a proliferation of taxonomic databases. After e-Biosphere 09 the game's up, people have started to notice that we've an excess of databases (see Claire Thomas in Science, "Biodiversity Databases Spread, Prompting Unification Call", doi:10.1126/science.324_1632).

In truth I've not been doing much on this, apart from releasing tvwidget (code available from Google Code), and playing with a mapping of TreeBASE studies to bibliographic identifiers (available as a featured download from here). I've played with tvwidget in Mediawiki, and it seems to work quite well.

Where now?
So, where now? Here are some thoughts:
  1. I will continue to hack bioGUID (it's now consuming RSS feeds from journals, as well as Zotero). Everything I do pretty much depends on the services bioGUID provides

  2. iSpecies really needs a big overhaul to serve data in a form that can be built upon. But this requires decisions on what that format should be, so this isn't likely to happen soon. But I think the future of mashup work is to use RDF and triple stores (providing that some degree of editing is possible). I think a tool linking together different data sources (along the lines of my ill-fated Elsevier Challenge entry) has enormous potential.

  3. I'm exploring Wikipedia and Wikispecies. I'm tempted to do a quantitative analysis of Wikipedia's classification. I think there needs to be some serious analysis of Wikipedia if people are going to use it as a major taxonomic resource.

  4. If I focus on Wikipedia (i.e., using an existing wiki rather than try to create my own), then that leaves me wondering what all the playing with iTaxon was for. Well, actually I think the original goal of this blog (way back in December 2005) is ideally suited to a wiki. Pretty much all the elements are in place to dump a copy of TreeBASE into a wiki and open up the editing of links to literature and taxonomic names. I think this is going to handily beat my previous efforts (TbMap, doi:10.1186/1471-2105-8-158), especially as errors will be easy to fix.

So, food for thought. Now, I just need to focus a little and get down to actually doing the work.