[tdwg-content] What I learned at the TechnoBioBlitz

joel sachs jsachs at csee.umbc.edu
Mon Oct 11 13:46:43 CEST 2010

One of the goals of the recent bioblitz was to think about the suitability 
and appropriatness of TDWG standards for citizen science. Robert Stevenson 
has volunteered to take the lead on preparing a technobioblitz lessons 
learned document, and though the scope of this document is not yet 
determined, I think the audience will include bioblitz organizers, 
software developers, and TDWG as a whole. I hope no one is shy about 
sharing lessons they think they learned, or suggestions that they have. We 
can use the bioblitz google group for this discussion, and copy in 
tdwg-content when our discussion is standards-specific.

Here are some of my immediate observations:

1. Darwin Core is almost exactly right for citizen science. However, there 
is a desperate need for examples and templates of its use. To illustrate 
this need: one of the developers spoke of the design choice between "a 
simple csv file and a Darwin Core record". But a simple csv file is a 
legitimate representation of Darwin Core! To be fair to the developer, 
such a sentence might not have struck me as absurd a year ago, before 
Remsen said "let's use DwC for the bioblitz".

We provided a couple of example DwC records (text and rdf) in the bioblitz 
data profile [1]. I  think the lessons learned document should include an 
on-line catalog of cut-and-pasteable examples covering a variety of use 
cases, together with a dead simple desciption of DwC, something like 
"Darwin Core is a collection of terms, together with definitions."

Here are areas where we augemented or diverged from DwC in the bioblitz:

i. We added obs:observedBy [2], since there is no equivalent property in 
DwC, and it's important in Citizen Science (though often not available).

ii. We used geo:lat and geo:long [3] instead of DwC terms for latitude and 
longitude. The geo namespace is a well used and supported standard, and 
records with geo coordinates are automatically mapped by several 
applications. Since everyone was using GPS  to retrieve their coordinates, 
we were able to assume WGS-84 as the datum.

If someone had used another Datum, say XYZ, we would have added columns to 
the Fusion table so that they could have expressed their coordiantes in 
DwC, as, e.g.:

(I would argue that it should be kosher DwC to express the above as simply 
XYZ:lat and XYZ:long. DwC already incorporates terms from other 
namespaces, such as Dublin Core, so there is precedent for this.

2. DwC:scientificName might be more user friendly than taxonomy:binomial 
and the other taxonomy machine tags EOL uses for flickr images.  If 
DwC:scientificName isn't self-explanatory enough, a user can look it up, 
and see that any scientific name is acceptable, at any taxonomic rank, or 
not having any rank. And once we have a scientific name, higher ranks can 
be inferred.

3. Catalogue of Life was an important part of the workflow, but we 
had some problems with it. Future bioblitzes might consider using 
something like a CoL fork, as recently described by Rod Page [4].

4. We didn't include "basisOfRecord" in the original data profile, and so 
it wasn't a column in the Fusion Table [5]. But when a transcriber felt it 
was necessary to include in order to capture data in a particular field 
sheet, she just added the column to the table. This flexibility of schema 
is important, and is in harmony with the semantic web.

5. There seemed to be enthusiasm for another field event at next year's 
TDWG. This could be an opportunity to gather other types of data (eg. 
character data) and thereby 
i) expose meeting particpants to another set of everyday problems from the 
world of biodiversity workflows, and ii) try other TDWG technology on 
for size, e.g. the observation exchange format, annotation framework, etc.

Happy Thanksgiving to all in Canada -

1. http://groups.google.com/group/tdwg-bioblitz/web/tdwg-bioblitz-profile-v1-1
2. Slightly bastardizing our old observation ontology - 
3. http://www.w3.org/2003/01/geo/
4. http://iphylo.blogspot.com/2010/10/replicating-and-forking-data-in-2010.html
5. http://tables.googlelabs.com/DataSource?dsrcid=248798

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