An Encyclopedic Big Bang
The Encyclopedia of Life went live on February 26, which was a good thing – until it crashed under the weight of its own success. More than 11 million hits in the first six hours, and they kept on coming.
What’s all the fuss? This ambitious project is the brainchild of scientist E. O. Wilson. He presented the idea at the Technology, Entertainment, and Design Conference in Monterey winning the annual contest, whose prize is $100,000, a wish to change the world, and the support of every attendee of the conference in making that dream a reality. Wilson’s wish: an online encyclopedia of all the biological life on Earth.
Only eleven months later, that wish has come true. The EOL is designed to be as user-friendly as possible. Wiki-technology (the same technology utilized by the Wikipedia site) allows viewers to modify and add content, thus making each page a compilation of the expertise of as many people as possible. Contributors to the project (in the current 30,000 pages) include scientists from Harvard University, the Smithsonian Institute, the Sloan Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation and graphics design from Razorfish, Adobe, Microsoft, and Wikimedia.
There is still much left to do – and, by the very nature of the project, there always will be. Consolidating all the known information of the 1.8 billion species on Earth is unprecedented, and it is expected to take ten years to gather approach anything like completeness.
What does this mean for a Philadelphia Encyclopedia? That information projects are possible thanks to the web. That the book form is important for some kinds of publications, but definitely not others. That we’d better think long and hard before we begin.
But not too long.