Enter E.O. Wilson’s Encyclopedia of Life: Free Access to All The World’s Knowledge About Life

One of the trea­sures of our time, biol­o­gist E.O. Wil­son, the folksy and bril­liant author of two Pulitzer Prize-win­ning books and the world’s lead­ing author­i­ty on ants, is 84 years old and retired from his pro­fes­sor­ship at Har­vard. But even in retire­ment he came up with one of the most inno­v­a­tive new sci­en­tif­ic resources avail­able today: the Ency­clo­pe­dia of Life, a net­worked ency­clo­pe­dia of all the world’s knowl­edge about life.

Six years ago Wil­son announced his vision for such a project while accept­ing the 2007 TED Prize. He expressed a wish for a col­lab­o­ra­tive tool to cre­ate an infi­nite­ly expand­able page for each species—all 1.9 mil­lion known so far—where sci­en­tists around the world can con­tribute text and images.

Wilson’s dream came true, not long after he announced it, and the EOL was so pop­u­lar right away that it had to go off-line for a spell to expand its capac­i­ty to han­dle the traf­fic. The site was redesigned to be more acces­si­ble and to encour­age con­tri­bu­tions from users. It’s vision: to con­tin­ue to dynam­i­cal­ly cat­a­log every liv­ing species, as research is com­plet­ed, and to include the rough­ly 20,000 new species dis­cov­ered every year.

Wilson’s vision is man­i­fest in a fun and well-designed site use­ful for edu­ca­tors, aca­d­e­mics, and any curi­ous per­son with access to the Inter­net.

Search for a species or just browse. Each EOL tax­on­o­my page fea­tures a detailed overview of the species, research, arti­cles and media. Media can be fil­tered by images, video, and sound. There are 66 dif­fer­ent pieces of media about Tas­man­ian Dev­ils, for exam­ple. A group of Tassies, as they’re known, get pret­ty dev­il­ish over their din­ner in this video, con­tributed by an Aus­tralian Ph.D. stu­dent.

EOL also offers myr­i­ad pod­casts. A fea­tured series, One Species at a Time, does just what it says, fea­tur­ing sci­en­tists talk­ing about one species at a time with host Ari Shapiro (of NPR Sci­ence Fri­day). The inter­views are avail­able for free on iTunes.  All con­tributed media are screened and curat­ed by EOL staff and every­thing can be shared through Face­book and Twit­ter. It’s pos­si­ble to cre­ate cus­tom col­lec­tions of species includ­ing all media.

As E.O. Wil­son so elo­quent­ly puts it, the EOL has the poten­tial to inspire oth­ers to search for life, to under­stand it, and, most impor­tant­ly, to pre­serve it.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

E.O. Wilson’s Olive Branch: The Cre­ation

Cen­tral Intel­li­gence: From Ants to the Web

Free Biol­o­gy Cours­es

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal media and edu­ca­tion. Fol­low her on Twit­ter.

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  • mojojojo says:

    The EOL is real­ly lack­ing, com­pared to what it could be. Do they need vol­un­teers, because as an ama­teur zool­o­gist I could add a lot of miss­ing data. I was very excit­ed when I found this page, but end­ed up being dis­ap­point­ed.

  • Bob Corrigan says:

    If you are inter­est­ed in being a con­trib­u­tor, vis­it the site, sign up for a free account and request cura­tor sta­tus. If you have large amounts of data in struc­tured for­mat that you would like to pro­vide, or if you know of projects who would like to become con­tent part­ners, you can con­tact the EOL Sec­re­tari­at at secretariat@eol.org — we hope to hear from you.

    Bob Cor­ri­g­an
    Dir of Ops, EOL
    Smith­son­ian Insti­tu­tion

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