[uf-discuss] species microformats: a penultimate reprise

Shorthouse, David dps1 at ualberta.ca
Thu Dec 7 19:08:19 PST 2006

Andy et al.,

I temporarily subscribed to this listserv once again to:

1) apologize for allowing my emotions get in the way of what can be a
fantastic solution to a very difficult problem and,
2) offer advice to take your proposed species microformats to the next level
of resilience in the face of taxonomic uncertainties.

Apologize to subscribers of this listserv that the repartee Andy and I have
been locked in has done little to realize your ultimate goal.

Some background about myself:

   I am a Ph.D. student working on spider biodiversity and systematics. As
an out-of-pocket initiative, I developed The Nearctic Spider Database and
associated websites including a forum, which is devoted to spider-related
research and is used by school children, educators, and researchers.
Curators and collectors throughout North America contribute to the database
and I also host peer-reviewed species pages. I am one of the first in this
field to embrace Web 2.0 as a means to coordinate much of the input and
output functions (e.g. Google Maps, Rico LiveGrid, etc.).


      I welcome all manner of simplifying and diversifying web resources.
The Semantic Web, though at a very distant spot on the horizon, provides an
interesting direction to work toward. OpenSearch has some promise and I have
adopted that. I also expect GUIDs in the form of LSIDs to contribute in a
dramatic fashion to the aggregation of taxonomic resources in a rigorous
manner, but there is as yet little work done on the very difficult problem
of developing and maintaining name resolution functionality (i.e. the
synonymic to current nomenclatural mappings, though triple stores, RDF, and
other similar schema have some promise). I hope proponents of microformats
can sit at these tables. The current problem with the millions of species
pages in existence is that there are very few schemes governing their
structure and yet there is an opportunity here to do something remarkable
because all biological names naturally have structure. But, there is a
responsibility here to do it right. Organizations like the Taxonomic
Databases Working Group (TDWG) have participated in realizing the sorts of
things biologists dream about. Is there a TDWG participant here to help
species microformats be recognized and adopted?
      So, I apologize for directing a line of questioning that in a number
of instances stepped beyond the goals of species microformats. I hope you
appreciate the fact that my goals are much the same as yours. I am well
familiar with your proposal since it was first brought to my attention on
the forum I maintain. However, I would have appreciated being contacted
directly about it rather than seeing it in an arachnologists' forum. Species
microformats have nothing directly to do with spider research and
identification in their present level of acceptance and adoption. They are
at this stage a web developer's tool with future client possibilities. Andy,
because our discussion had degraded to a level that would offend the school
children and others who use the Nearctic Arachnologists' Forum, I did indeed
wipe out the thread. However, if I receive a similar public apology from
you, I will re-enable your account in the forum and will welcome your
participation in arachnology research and appreciation.


Now, for those of you who have slogged through the above waiting for
something useful to microformat development, I have these things to write.

First, I urge you to be patient and to recognize the fact that many people,
especially those who are involved in developing biological resources on the
web, just won't "get it". I am an exception. I have read through your
species microformat proposal and fully understand it. I was evidently out of
line by playing devil's advocate and forcing you to think outside the box.

I also urge you to participate in organizations like TDWG and bring your
arguments to the table & use language and patience that systematists &
biodiversity database managers will appreciate.

In the face of the mess taxonomy can be at times, it would be worth thinking
about GUIDs like LSIDs for use in microformats for species. uBio is but one
provider of LSIDs. There are at least a half dozen other providers and many
more are in the works.

I have participated in the upcoming GBIF portal development, an initiative
in the works called SpeciesBase, which if realized will be what GBIF is for
primary collections data, but for species pages, and will be participating
in the Entomological Collections Network where a lot of work is devoted to
producing web-based resources for collections data. So, you absolutely must
be more congenial to encourage the adoption and ultimate success of your
initiative. There is simply no other way for your proposal to succeed.


David P. Shorthouse

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