Flickr field guide

There’s a group on Flickr called Field Guide: Birds of the World. Pretty self-explanatory, really – they’re trying to form a collection of photos that can be used to help identify birds. It’s a great idea and they’ve already got a lot entries, though it’s weighted towards European and N American birds, not surprisingly. But it quickly exposes the failings of Flickr as a content-management system. Although it’s possible to search within the group pool for photos tagged with a particular name, it’s not obvious how to do it. More crucially for a field guide, it’s not easy enough to add information to a photo in an organised way – for example, to provide a link from a species to any confusion possibilities. Or to give distribution info.

In some ways, like most reference works, it’s a good candidate for a wiki; there’s a network of people who are very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the subject, it’s naturally modular and so on. The internet would allow for many pictures attached to each species, as well as audio and even video. You could easily establish a standard template for an entry, to encourage people to include all the useful information – distribution, easily confused species, call, and so on. I suppose I could set it up – the Wikimedia software which Wikipedia runs on is open-source and I think I could set it up on my server space, although I suspect there would be a bit of a learning curve to cope with. More seriously, if it ever really caught on, especially with a lot of audio and video, it would be quite bandwidth-heavy.

With mobile broadband on the verge of becoming widespread, people might even start using it in the field to complement traditional field-guides.

Galileo satnav

The first satellite of Galileo, the EU’s competitor to GPS, was launched yesterday – initially to test out the kit, with the service planned to go online in 2010. One of the explicitly stated aims is provide independence from reliance on the US government, since GPS is a military system that is made available for civil users at the discretion of the government and, presumably, the Pentagon. I’m always intrigued when interaction between Europe and America slips into rival-Great-Powers mode, rather than the usual closest-allies shtick.

In practical terms the project sounds pretty sane to me anyway (not that that I know much about these things). In future, I’m sure all the devices that currently use GPS will be designed to use both – Galileo is designed for compatibility with GPS anyway – and the number of GPS-equipped things will increase for some time yet. The combination of GPS and Galileo will provide better accuracy than either of them alone and will provide backup if either goes offline for whatever reason. So it’s not a redundant system just reproducing the functionality of GPS.

Whether all that justifies the cost is another question. €3.4bn sounds a lot, but it pales in comparison to the €50bn for the Common Agricultural Policy this year. I think it’s probably a good idea, but then I am a bit of a geek.