Semantic Eco-blogging: Spotter 1.0 Released

September 14th, 2007

The SPIRE team has been experimenting with semantic eco-blogging at the Fieldmarking site. Our motivation is the increasing popularity of eco-blogs, amongst both amateur nature lovers and working biologists. Subject matter varies, but entries typically include date, location, observed taxa, and description of behavior. These observations have the potential to be an important part of the ecological record, especially in domains (such as invasive species science) where amateur reporting plays an important role, and in the study of environmental response to climate change.

To this end, we developed Spotter, a Firefox extension that enables the easy creation of RDF data by citizen scientists. Spotter is not tied to a particular blogging platform, and can be used both to add semantic markup to one’s own blog posts, and to annotate posts or images on other websites, such as Flickr.

Spotter 1.0 is described and available for download here. This version, designed and tested by David Wang, Cyndy Sims Parr, Andrey Parafiynyk, and myself, offers substantial improvements in user interaction over an earlier prototype.

Of course generating RDF is just the beginning. Once RDF is generated, we’re able to apply all the machinery of the semantic web, including SPIRE tools such as Swoogle (our Semantic Web search engine), Tripleshop (our distributed dataset constructor), and ETHAN (our evolutionary trees and natural history ontology.) We are then able to issue queries like:

    What was the northernmost spotting of the Emerald Ash Borer last year?
    Show all sightings of invasive plants in California.

For example, when we issued the query

    Show all observations of species that are classified as being of concern by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service

against the 1200 observations from the recent blogger bioblitz, we got back 47 records.

So … Please joint the growing global human sensor-net! Give Spotter a try and don’t hesitate to share your thoughts.