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.

2 Comments

  1. Mark Hamilton
    29 December 2005 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    This sounds like a really worthwhile project. Like you, I found the Flickr group interesting but hard to quickly get to useful information.

    There are a number of wiki software packages that are fairly easy to set up and use. I’ve used both pmwiki and dokuwiki, which don’t rely on separate databases. You might want to check them out.

  2. Harry
    29 December 2005 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    Hi Mark.

    Thanks for positive reaction. Perhaps I’ll set something up and see what happens. I’m inclined to use mediawiki/wikimedia/whatever-its-called because it has proved itself as a workable medium for a lot of fairly ungeeky users. I’m slightly worried by the fact that it’s correspondingly more complicated, but I guess that translates as flexibility.

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