28 February 2011

The First Week of PhyloPic

I announced PhyloPic last week and the response has been great. I launched with ~95 images and we are already up to 170! (Possibly more by the time you read this.) Some of the lineages are becoming pretty complete. Some of the better ones:
For the last one, I made a special collage:

Evolution of the Human

(Click on it and check out the Flickr page to find an extremely high-resolution version.)

Of course, other areas of the Tree of Life are not quite so fleshed out. For example, if you look up a plant you'll usually get this. (Or even less if you didn't happen to pick a tracheophyte.) So there is plenty of illustrating left to do.

There is also plenty of programming left to do. You can see a list of major remaining tasks on PhyloPic's BitBucket page. Here are a few, with links to their pages:
If any of these interest you, I encourage you to vote for them by clicking the "Bump!" button:

And if you have any ideas, you can also suggest features.

At least one blog has created its own PhyloPic feature. Traumador at Art Evolved put together an excellent tutorial on creating silhouettes using Photoshop. (They also posted about PhyloPic here.) Blogger David Tana of Superoceras also awarded PhyloPic his Interweb Science of the Week award.

In summary, the project's going very well and I'm pretty excited about it. I can't wait to see what the rest of the year holds for PhyloPic!

21 February 2011

Introducing PhyloPic: An Open Database of Reusable Silhouettes

Ever had this problem? "Boy, I could sure use a silhouette of [some kind of organism] for this diagram I'm working on. But I can't find anything on the web! Well, except for a few images which are copyrighted...."

What if there were a website with an open database of reusable images, available under Creative Commons licenses? What if you could do phylogenetic searches, so that, even if there weren't a silhouette for the taxon in question, you could at least find something close? What if you could build images like this...

...without having to look all over the web for figures?

Well, now you can! I've launched a new site called:

It's currently in public alpha, which means it's not quite done. So, I have some caveats:

  • I'm pulling most taxonomic data from uBio. It's great because it's really comprehensive. But it's also a huge mess because it stores multiple classifications, many of which are outdated and disagree with each other. (This isn't uBio's fault, as its goal is to store all these classifications, not to offer one nice, neat classification.) So you may (will) find some errata in the phylogenetic system. I'm working on cleaning it up, but there are a lot of taxonomic names out there....
  • It's still early on, so there are only about a hundred images in the database. It will grow over time, but don't be surprised if the closest image it has for your favorite invertebrate is some kind of indiscriminate worm.
  • There are some known bugs (and I don't mean Hemiptera). The Issues Page is open to all, though, so you can read the known issues and report new ones. (Please do!)
It's a work in progress, but I think it has enormous potential. And I think it's reached a state where it's ready for public use and feedback. So have a look, see what you think, and let me know! (And, if you're artistically inclined, please consider submitting some silhouettes of your own.)