The Loom

The Encyclopedia of Life, about which I blogged and wrote about in the New York Times, has gone live earlier than previously scheduled. So go check it out. A few people have left comments here, and others are blogging too. I’m very curious to see what hard-core bioinformatics folks think as they take this baby out for a ride. Deepak Singh at business bytes genes molecules has some complaints, and Rod Page has a lot of them. It will take a little time to sort out these comments into the constructive criticisms and the outright dismissals. For example, I’m sure that it wouldn’t take too long for EoL to get a decent search engine. Rod points out that ultimately, every page will be authenticated by an expert. Are there enough experts out there to authenticate 1.8 million species? That was a point that I raised in my article. Taxonomy is not a boom industry. If species were nothing more than bits of DNA, this would be a slam dunk. But real species are DNA and bodies and ecologies and lots more. I would not be surprised that the interests of communities within biology drive a lot of the growth of the encyclopedia. If the kinks are worked out, it could be a tool that a group of people interested in, say, orchids, could use to store and study their data. Seen that way, it wouldn’t have to hit all 1.8 million species pages to achieve something important.

Update: I just discovered that the news of EoL triggered a tidal wave of traffic–11.5 million visitors Tuesday morning! (I hope I played some part in the chaos.) This brings up an important aspect of EoL–it’s not just for scientists. This could potentially be a place where millions of people can learn about cuttlefish, mushrooms, slime molds, and all the rest. That strength should not be forgotten in the discussion of genome access and the like.

Update, Wed. 2/27 8 am: Henk Poley informs us that the EoL web site has reverted to the demo version. Hmm…


  1. #1 Trey
    February 26, 2008

    I have to say, I’m intrigued and hopeful. I agree with both Drs. Singh and Page with many of their points. I have a few of my own quibbles. I think the phylogenetic and evolutionary integration of the species is a bit weak. Though I’m going to have to caveat that with the fact that every time I tried to delve into it more, I couldn’t get to the site. From the youtube intro video it looks like there is some there. It is nice to see that the Tree of Life ( will be integrated and collaborate.

    EOL has a lot of potential.

  2. #2 Camerin
    February 26, 2008

    I see they treat Chromista as a separate Kingdom; is this a commonly held taxonomic status now?

  3. #3 Deepak
    February 26, 2008


    If you drive a fraction of that traffic to my page, I’ll happily take the down time :).

    As Rod suggested in his post, the expectations were so high that it was probably impossible for EOL to live up to them. It just seems so “web 1.0” in some ways that I was definitely disappointed. Of course, the implications of its existence far outweigh those quibbles at this point and they have ample time to make up, but they really need to address some of those issues.

  4. #4 Sven DiMIlo
    February 26, 2008

    Thought I’d pass this on from over at PZ’s:

    It seems ToL and EoL have agreed to cooperate rather than compete:

    Posted by: Gregory Kusnick | February 26, 2008 9:22 PM

  5. #5 Henk Poley
    February 27, 2008

    Heh, they just (10 sec. ago) just replaced the EoL site with the dummy demo site they used to run.

  6. #6 Carlie
    February 27, 2008

    Sven, that was just going to be my question: Wasn’t that what the Tree of Life was supposed to do? Glad to see that they’re going to cooperate!

  7. #7 themadlolscientist
    February 27, 2008

    11.5 million hits? That has to be far and away the biggest first-day traffic jam in web history!

    BTW, I couldn’t get through to the site at all just now.

  8. #8 luca
    February 29, 2008

    They took it down allright. Probably realised they couldn’t serve that many requests.

    11.5 M Hits/day can only be the consequence of being mentioned on /., here’s the link.

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