In his 2003 essay E O Wilson outlined his vision for an "encyclopaedia of life" comprising "an electronic page for each species of organism on Earth", each page containing "the scientific name of the species, a pictorial or genomic presentation of the primary type specimen on which its name is based, and a summary of its diagnostic traits." Although the "quiet revolution” in biodiversity informatics has generated numerous online resources, including some directly inspired by Wilson’s essay (e.g., http://ispecies.org, http://www.eol.org), we are still some way from the goal of having available online all relevant information about a species, such as its taxonomy, evolutionary history, genomics, morphology, ecology, and behaviour. While the biodiversity community has been developing a plethora of databases, some with overlapping goals and duplicated content, Wikipedia has been slowly growing to the point where it now has over 100,000 pages on biological taxa. My goal in this essay is to explore the idea that, largely independent of the efforts of biodiversity informatics and well-funded international efforts, Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page) has emerged as potentially the best platform for fulfilling E O Wilson’s vision.
The content will be familiar to readers of this blog, although the essay is perhaps a slightly more sober assessment of Wikipedia than some of my blog posts would suggest. It was also the first manuscript I'd written in MS Word for a while (not a fun experience), and the first ever for which I'd used Zotero to manage the bibliography (which worked surprisingly well).