2011 Wrapup to the Mushroom Observer Community
To the Mushroom Observer Community,
2011 has been a relatively quiet year for Mushroom Observer at least from the perspective of new development. I have personally been working overtime on a new version of the Encyclopedia of Life and Jason has been working hard on a new lichen related website and book.
Even so the site has continued to grow. We now have over 180,000 images, 80,000 observations and we are very close to 3,000 registered users. This continues our trend of nearly doubling every year. Fortunately, due to generous donations from all of you, Jason was able to substantially upgrade our server configuration and to the best of our knowledge the system has been working very well despite the ever growing demand. While we still have some money in the bank, we will continue to need additional donations to keep the system going.
As was true last year, the donations are made through a not-for-profit corporation called The Consortium for Digital Mycology Resources (CDMR). The CDMR is recognized as a non-profit by the state of California, but is still not an official federal 501c3 non-profit. However, the application process has moved forward and for now we continue to act as a non-profit and donations are tax deductible. For anyone interested in the details of that process please visit the CDMR website.
There have been a few notable new features added to Mushroom Observer over the last year. Jason did a great job developing the MO Feature Tracker interface that interacts with our new freely accessible Pivotal Tracker account for tracking bugs and feature requests. In addition, I have been working quite a bit behind the scenes to prepare for a roughly 10 fold increase in the number of Mushroom Observer images that will be sharable with the broader biodiversity community and EOL in particular.
Along with this note, we are also releasing the newly developed Black on White color theme. With this theme I am trying to provide a more current and professional look for the site. Feedback on the theme or suggestions for improvements are very welcome.
While there have not been a lot of new features released this year, there have been a number of important discussions going on about potential future development. These have included discussions of better ways of managing naming and voting so they align better with standard herbarium practices, improving the expressiveness of the voting system, rearranging the interface to be more workflow driven, and expanding the role of projects to encourage more focused collaboration within MO.
Which brings us to the biggest news. I have begun doing some of my own research with the data from the Mushroom Observer and I have received several inquiries from other scientists interested in either using Mushroom Observer as it is to support their own research or to support additional development of the Mushroom Observer to expand the connections between Mushroom Observer and the scientific community.
My own research has included some preliminary analysis of the data in the Mushroom Observer database. The most interesting finding has been that users who collect in the Western US on average find more species there than users who collect in the Eastern US. I am currently in the process of developing funding and collaborators to more fully pursue this and other interesting questions that can be answered using our data. Another area of research development has been with some of the computer scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The group I am working with are focused on the emerging semantic web. We are developing a system for creating a new naming system for amateur/citizen mycologists. It will include a global, web-based registration system for names that are then associated with rigorous definitions that computers can reason about. We have plans to support a summer internship through the EOL to help develop this idea.
In addition, as many of you are aware Tom Bruns at UC Berkeley has already been using Mushroom Observer to catalog the collections his collaborators (including many of you) have been finding in Yosemite National Park. He and I have also begun discussions of what features would be valuable to add Mushroom Observer to support his call for developing a North American Mycoflora. Another promising development was being asked to write a letter of support for a proposal that Barabara Thiers and Roy Haling have submitted to digitize the fungal herbaria throughout the US. If that gets funded, they are interested in making their data available through the Mushroom Observer.
Finally, through connections at the EOL, I was able to participate in a workshop focused on citizen science biodiversity observation systems. The workshop was held in October outside of London and included representatives from iSpot and iNaturalist along with several other significant global projects. I went to the workshop not only to represent the technical side of the EOL, but also the Mushroom Observer. As a result the group of projects involved in the workshop, including Mushroom Observer, are participating in a competition called Badges for Lifelong Learning. We have already successfully passed the first stage of the competition and are working on our application for the second stage.
While many of these projects promise exciting developments for MO over the next year and some may even include financial support for the development of new Mushroom Observer features, the on-going support for the site relies on donations from you our users. Please help support this active internet community of people who enjoy sharing and learning more about the mushrooms around us.
Thanks for all your contributions to the Mushroom Observer,