a million eyes

Earlier this morning, in a discussion of yesterday’s post about Spring Azure butterflies, Wayne (from Niches), and I addressed the topic of all of the natural history data which is being produced on the web — much of it in nature-related blogs such as this one and many of those listed in my Blogroll. Add to that the data that is gradually being amassed by various online natural history websites — for starters, I’m thinking of sites such as Monarch Watch with its tagging database; and other sites for reporting Hummingbird migrations, etc.. and… well, you get the idea. There is a terrific amount of data being collected, generated, and posted around the net. Some of it is being systematically compiled and made available on websites. Much of it is randomly floating around in cyberspace, waiting to be “found” using search engines. The good thing is that at least this information is finding its way into a medium where it might be of use. The bad thing is that a lot of it isn’t too organized or easy to find — but maybe that will change over time.

One interesting project which recently came to my attention is the Thousand Eyes project based in the province of Nova Scotia. It’s an online program in which the public can register to be “watchers” who can report up to 50 pieces of data such as flower bloom dates, first hummingbird, first June bug, etc… That in itself is quite fascinating, but the history of the project is of particular interest. The project has been developed to build upon a much earlier program which took place in Nova Scotia schools between 1900 and 1925. During that period, the superintendent of schools, Dr. Alexander Howard MacKay, initiated a program under which all students were asked to record information in special books. Rather than me trying to explain more about this, it’s probably better to visit the webpage and read the fascinatinghistory of the orignal project which the Thousand Eyes project has grown upon. I’m not a resident of Nova Scotia, so I can’t participate, but I would not be surprised to see many more similar projects appearing. However, I think the Nova Scotia project is particularly unique as it will be building upon data which was collected by students a century ago.

Anyhow, it seems to me that, much as some of us may feel a little frustrated at all of the somewhat fragmented phenological data that is floating around, I suspect that, someday, somewhere, someone will find a way to collect the information — hopefully for some good and useful purpose. It would certainly be wonderful to see the net being used for something “nice” and “worthy”.

Tags: , , , ,

  • Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Trackback URI:
  • Comments RSS 2.0

2 Responses to “a million eyes”

  1. Wayne Says:

    This is such a neat idea, Bev.

    The Thousand Eyes Data is a great start, though it presumes people are visiting a site and entering their data.

    A blog surveillance project is another level up. It probably requires a lot of thinking about extracting and compiling the data and the attributions, but the nice thing is that that isn’t an urgent requirement.

    It certainly pushes me toward being more observant and either entering the info on my blog, or entering the observations elsewhere and making sure they’re accessible from my blog.

    I’ve been trying to google that English woman who did the meticulous observations and haven’t succeeded in finding her yet. It seems to me that I heard about it on NPR All Things Considered. Kind of a given, since NPR is the only radio I listen to.

  2. burning silo Says:

    Wayne – Yes, isn’t it a neat idea. It does seem to be a great start — although I would love to see it go a bit further. That’s actually my “problem” with a lot of the net surveillance programs — that they’re just a little basic as far as the info that they collect, although, that said, I do believe even simple phenological data is well worth collecting. I also agree that, with data now being stored online and often becoming much more permanent than most people guess, there probably isn’t an urgent need to compile the information. What’s probably more important is for people to try to figure out what kinds of information they should be recording, try to use fairly standard measurements and things like location coordinates, and develop a good format that would make it easy to compile into a database. However, most important of all is finding a system that works for each person and encourages them to record information without finding it all too difficult and unwieldy so that they give up after awhile. Lots of details to think of, but I think it’s good that people are recording even basic observations. That’s how things start when you get interested in nature. From there, it all just seems to grow.