Encyclopedia of Life has launched with explosive press and $100 million in funding promised over the course of the next ten years. The project goal is complete coverage of earth’s 1.8 million species, and features an open collaborative model similar to Wikipedia or Citizendium. The project is supported by an enormous cadre of high profile partners, panels, councils, experts and advisors.
The layout is much more welcoming, colorful and readable than Wikipedia or Citizendium. And the project’s funding, mission, and management team are truly impressive.
What Does This Mean for Wikipedia and Citizendium?
There is some sense among Wikipedians that the Encyclopedia of Life is overlapping with territory already covered by Wiki Species, Wikimedia Commons, and well, Wikipedia. Larry Sanger has already written a defensive blog post, explaining why Citizendium will prevail, and why he feels the EOL will probably fail.
There is no doubt the Encyclopedia of Life is deeply inspired by both Wikipedia and Citizendium. The EOL stratifies its experts like Citizendium, while providing an open Encyclopedia like, well, Wikipedia. Its example articles contain references to Wikipedia, and I am pleased to see Erik Moeller included on the Institutional Council. Erik reports that the EOL is “very interested in using Wikipedia articles as part of the encyclopedic component,” a fact which is potentially threatening to Wikipedia since Erik concedes that the EOL may fork Wikipedia content without making any effort to further contribute to or improve Wikipedia.
In my heart of hearts, I suppose I am curious why the EOL’s organizers couldn’t find a way to use their zillions of dollars and scholarly ties to simply improve Wiki Species or Wikipedia. On the other hand, their interface and level of quality control is arguably superior to Wikipedia. Will be interesting to see how this and other projects affect the evolution of open Wikis.