Social and Collaborative Computing

A prominent early use of the Internet was the exchange of email among researchers and this remains one of the most important means of communication among ecologists. Ecologists subscribe to a number of email lists, run by list management software such as LISTSERV. Entirely web-based alternatives to email lists such as forums or bulletin boards have not been widely used in ecology.

Long before the Internet, amateur naturalists began collecting data for science in projects such as the Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count. Now this 'citizen science' is greatly enhanced by the web's ability to reach vast numbers of participants and provide access to the resulting data archives and analyses. Cornell University is a pioneer in web-based population monitoring via citizen science. More recent projects such as the United Kingdom's Phenology Network enable widespread tracking of seasonal changes in species movements and distributions.

Becoming widely available in the early 2000s, wiki technology provides a way for individuals to collabora-tively create web documents. A wiki is a web page that is easily edited using a web browser interface. Thus many people can work together on web pages without needing to download any special application. In 2004, the board of Wikimedia authorized a Wikispecies project. Like the extremely popular collaboratively built general encyclopedia, Wikipedia, Wikispecies is intended to provide encyclopedic coverage of the world's organisms. While many ecological informaticists are using wikis to work collaboratively, they have not yet gained wide adoption among traditional ecologists.

Figure 6 The architecture of the Lifemapper system. Preprocessing consists of data collation via distributed Internet query, processing via distributed PC screensaver clients, and postprocessing of results into a digital library of spatial images and other information. Reproduced from Stockwell DRB, Beach JH, Stewart A, etal. (2006) The use of the GARP genetic algorithm and Internet grid computing in the Lifemapper world atlas of species biodiversity. Ecological Modelling 195: 139-145.

Figure 6 The architecture of the Lifemapper system. Preprocessing consists of data collation via distributed Internet query, processing via distributed PC screensaver clients, and postprocessing of results into a digital library of spatial images and other information. Reproduced from Stockwell DRB, Beach JH, Stewart A, etal. (2006) The use of the GARP genetic algorithm and Internet grid computing in the Lifemapper world atlas of species biodiversity. Ecological Modelling 195: 139-145.

Weblogs, or blogs, are emerging as a new platform for ecologists to communicate and perhaps even gather data. Originating in the late 1990s, blog use accelerated with development of easy-to-use tools. A blog is a publicly viewable journal to which an individual or group of individuals posts frequent entries organized by date. Major topics for blogs in general include commentary on current events; ecological blogs similarly tend toward applied and environmental topics such as ecological sustainability. Blogs often link to each other, and public discussion is usually allowed. Specialized search engines such as Technorati allow users to find blogs or blog posts on particular topics.

Scientists in University of Maryland Baltimore County's Spire Project are researching the potential for harvesting ecological observations from blogs. Just as many blog authors have essentially become citizen journalists, providing major news sources with leads and on-the-ground reporting, bloggers could provide surveillance for invasive species or emerging diseases.

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