The Encyclopedia of Life has opened a new Flickr group as a way of bringing images into their site at www.eol.org. They are using machine tags to describe the taxonomic classification of the species in the photo, as in these tags applied to the image above:
taxonomy:trinomial=Eumetopias jubatus otariinae
taxonomy:common=Stellar sea lion
Nice photo, good metadata. But will this information be vetted? How can I trust Flickr user polly.snodgrass' opinion? She may well be the world's foremost expert on Eumetopias, but those credentials aren't anywhere on her profile...little is, in fact, which makes me assume this is a facade account for the EOL'ers trying things out. No worries, I do the same (here for plant images, here for book images). If not, all apologies, Polly. Great photos!
Update 9/29/08: Polly is a real person!
Don't get me wrong, I applaud the integration of Flickr and its enormous, enthusiastic community into EOL - very, very smart move. But the anonymity with which accounts can be created gives me pause. Who will vet these photos, if anyone? I accept that when I go to Flickr and search for a species I might get bogus results - if I find a photo I'm going to do a comparison search on Google Images or try to find a specialist image database to confirm that the image is, in fact, for the species in question. However, I think I want more from EOL. I want to go to EOL and have a reasonable measure of confidence that an image they put on the Stellar Sea Lion page is actually a Stellar Sea Lion.
One other issue is the ability as a Flickr user to add tags to photos that allow it (rather, photos the photographer has allowed to be tagged). For instance, I just tagged that lovely Stellar Sea Lion image with my favorite species, taxonomy:binomial=Zea mays:
In case Polly gets wise to this absolutely, completely wrong tag I applied to her photo, I grabbed a screen shot showing my inappropriate tagging.
If the information in these tags is treated as truth, how long before that sea lion image shows up on the EOL page for Zea mays?
I expect the EOL developers are turning this kind of vetting back onto the community of users, or enthusiasts around a particular species, to notify or comment on factually wrong or inappropriate images (egads...who will be the first to post a raunchy pic tagged taxonomy:binomial=Homo sapiens??). I worry how well that approach will work.
Sure, the pages for Great White Shark or Giraffe will probably have an active community of editors and will be able to easily weed out these "sea lions as corn" kinds of errors. But what about the little critter without a community? Who's going to vet the images and their validity when some prankster uploads a picture of one obscure species and tags it as another? Maybe that won't happen, but this scenario is certainly one that any scholarly repository faces (like EOL and our own Tropicos) when considering incorporating Flickr or Google images to augment their own vetted content. How do you harness the crowd and still keep it authoritative?