April 25, 2013, 10:18 AM —
Image credit: Flickr/DOUG88888
Imagine what it would mean if our knowledge of the many life-forms on Earth -- animals, plants, fungi, bacteria and other stuff you can't even see -- "could be gathered together and made available to everyone, anywhere, at a moment’s notice."
You're probably thinking, "Isn't that describing Wikipedia?" No, this is even better because no one's going to change your description of a giraffe to align with their political views. I'm talking about the Encyclopedia of Life, a global joint project led by the Smithsonian Institution, the Field Museum of Natural History, Harvard University, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Marine Biological Laboratory, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, CONABIO (from México), The Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Egypt), GBIF, and Atlas of Living Australia. The EOL leadership's mission: To build the most comprehensive collection of data about every living thing on our humble planet.
The site went live in 2008 and since then has continued adding text, images, video, audio and more about Earth's living things. (You have not lived until you have heard the blood-curdling, augmented battle cry of the common earthworm.)
Do a search on "tigers" and you get this page, which includes a detailed description of those beautiful and endangered striped cats, along with their genus classification, 273 different videos and photos, and a global map showing where Panthera tigris lives (that's what we scientific types call tigers; try it out on your friends sometime!).
Since there are nearly 2 million different known species on Earth, you could do this all day. The EOL doesn't have all of them cataloged, though it is more than halfway there.
If you're into learning about living things, EOL is a great database. And if you're not into "smelling the flowers," you probably should go live on Mars.