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Web portal on Indian Plants- discussions



Re: Indian plants : 4 posts by 3 authors.
I am writing in connection with the eFlora India and Flowers of India websites that you have been running very succesfully for so many years. I occasionally look at these websites, and I have been in touch with J. M. Garg over the years for butterflies and plants. I have known Srikant Ingalhalikar from my early days in Pune. I recently chatted with Navendu Page and Sarika Baidya as well (all copied here), and I thought I should make contact with a few prominent group members to see whether there is any interest in developing a joint website on Indian plants.

You have developed an impressive community and a large number of images on these two websites. I see that these groups are quite vibrant. However, these websites need better organization, user-friendly structure, and a few other technical things that are critical for developing a good web resource. Have you considered tying up with India Biodiversity Portal or a similar project that can offer you a web platform that will do justice to this community's efforts and to Indian plants? There are also websites on Indian butterflies, reptiles, etc., developed by the Indian Foundation for Butterflies (and now also supported by NCBS) that offer a good platform for taxon-specific websites. I am sure that Prabhakar, who spearheads the India Biodiversity Portal project, will be very happy to serve the plant community through IBP. I can introduce you to Prabhakar (if you do not know him personally already) if you wish. If you want to develop a separate Plants of India website, then our group at NCBS can also help you with the platform that we have built.

Whatever course you choose, I do believe that you need to develop or adopt a better web platform to serve the botanist community in India. I think the butterfly, odonate, reptile, etc., communities have benefitted considerably with the taxon-specific websites. I hope that you will consider taking up the plants of India as a more serious web platform. As a naturalist (I also did BSc Botany), I will like to see a very nice and user-friendly website on flowering plants of India, from which I can learn a lot.

Let me know what you think.

I have a few queries as per your mail, which possibly you can help me understand.
The recurring theme in your mail appears to be better web platform & user-friendly structure.
Would you pl. clarify these vis a vis our site: Efloraofindia giving example of sites having better web platform & user-friendly structure ?

A few quick examples from eFloraIndia: one cannot go from one image to another on a species page, we have to go back and forth between the main species page and individual images. The information associated with individual images also does not appear with the images. There is no image gallery that can show a number of species at a glance in such a way that will help people compare and identify their species quickly. All these things hamper easy navigation. Do you have a database of the species and contributed images that will help people search for species in a given area?

If you want to see how useful navigation among images and species can be, please check out http://www.indianreptiles.org/home and associated websites. Mapping is a critical feature, which you can see on IBP or any of the IFB websites.

I am curious to see what others think, too.
Thanks, ...
I have gone through your stated website on Indian reptiles with around 287 species pages. It is certainly nicely done.

I clarify the following:

The information associated with individual images also does not appear with the images. There is no image gallery that can show a number of species at a glance in such a way that will help people compare and identify their species quickly. ->
I will request you to pl. go through our species, genera & family pages at Loganiaceae (a small family just to give you an example) which show comparative images on all these pages (including from different places & posters & different times as plants look differently at different time of the year as well as vary across habitats).

We have completed 135 families in this way, which show comparative images. We are in the process of completing this for all the families by say 31.3.18. This will have more than 12000 species. I found our functionality almost similar to your with slight differences. Your have species information in different tabs (where one has to go back and forth as you already pointed out), while we have this in a single species' page. We use different colours to highlight different informations on the species page as Description of the species, Details of other flora species on the same page, Uses/ harms, Distribution, Abundance/ Location/ Flowering time & date, Habit & habitat, Etymology & pronunciation, Other interesting information, stories etc., Others, Botanical names, Common names, Main point of discussion below, Discussion about Botanical names.
You will find numerous observations in efi site w.r.t., which are not documented anywhere.

A few quick examples from eFloraIndia: one cannot go from one image to another on a species page, we have to go back and forth between the main species page and individual images - >
Yes for images (which open in different tabs), one has to move back & forth in efi site. But here main window of the species page is not blocked. But image size is restricted in your case to say around 800 by 600 pixels, while we show images as posted by our members. We also images of even upto say maximum of 8 MB on your threads (which anyone can see for greater details) or sometimes as thumbnails. Of course, there are cons & pros of every aspect we build in our site.  

Do you have a database of the species and contributed images that will help people search for species in a given area? - > Yes we are trying to have this. e.g. Pl. see Lindernia. We completed it where there are more than say three species in a genus. But still a lot more have to be done & will surely be a focus area for the future. Is it available at http://www.indianreptiles.org/home ? If so, I could not find it. Pl. advise.

Mapping is a critical feature, which you can see on IBP or any of the IFB websites- I have seen maps at IBP and IFB sites, but I have felt them of not much use if distribution is provided by specifying areas, countries & states for India. I find them clumsy while going through IBP website.  

These are my personal views, but different persons may have different perceptions.
Thanks for the detailed explanation. Some of the links you sent helped me understand the functionality of this website. Let's see whether others on this email thread respond, too.
Thank you ... for introducing this idea and sorry that I could not do it before you as we had initially planned. 
Dear ..., 
Apologies for joining this conversation a little late. I was supposed to initiate this discussion after a long meeting with Krushnamegh where he also gave me a tour of his well established databases such as Butterflies of India and Reptiles of India. 

Let me say at the outset that our eflora  and flowers of india are an outstanding citizen science initiatives  and I have benefited in more than one ways by being part of these two communities. You guys have done an exceptional job running these and I am very happy that these communities are doing so well. 

That said, I also feel that there is still scope for making these better, more user friendly, more streamlines and a more useful resource in terms of not just posting species and getting them identified but also extracting information of a species or group of species for our country. This would increase the utility of the database to not just plant enthusiasts but also the scientific community. I think by following a model that Krushnamegh is proposing we would be able to achieve many of these. Being the moderators for eflora and flowers of India for so many years, I am sure you realize the advantages of this proposed platform. Having seen these websites, I truely believe that the Indian Botanical community would also benefit from a system such as butterflies of India, in addition to already existing communities that you guys have developed.

Just to give a few examples of what I mean - the species that are posted on eflora are often posted with incomplete information on habit, habitat and location which limits the usefulness of the data as well as any identification aid from the expert panel.
I also feel that the identification process can be definitely more streamlined with the help of subject experts and moderators who can critically evaluate every post and filter out the ones that are incomplete and send those back to authors requesting for more information. 
This will make the taxonomic identity more credible as it is verified by experts from the field. I do agree that eflora has already a set of experts but I think their expertise can be harnessed better by a channel where they only have to go through a posts that are relevant to their field of expertise.

In the current form, we often end up with posts of species photographs where different people suggest different names and hence we often fail to conclusively reach the identity of a species. Further, an identity that majority agree upon does not necessarily be the correct identity.
These are just a few areas where the new proposed platform can add value  and complement the existing ones such as eflora. 

If you guys think such a platform has merit then I would definitely like to help build it with help from Krushnamegh since he already has done this for other taxa. 
However, if something like this has to take off we would need your help and support. The way this new platform is designed, I think that it will not take up too much more time that what you already spend running initiatives such as eflora and flowers of india.

I look forward to your thoughts on this.

Thanks ... There is no doubt an urgent need to develope a flagship portal for Indian Plants since it has been a missing link in the ecology of India.

Flowers of India and eflora as such can be called as PBR, the people's biodiversity register. The vast participation here is really commendable. Even expert botanists, ecologists and naturalists have been a part of this sharing platform. Exploring every plant group in each geographical zone is not possible for any expert; so experts too are benefitted by being on these groups. Even an iota from a post is enough for an expert to extract rest of the information on a plant. However this is not the case with the rest. They need a systematic and illustrated information.

I have tried to introduce formats for photographs and descriptions but they were found to be 'scientific' hence got rejected. Hence specific details to help identification of a taxa can not be found in multitude of posts.

The ideal format for a portal on Indian plants in my opinion can not be any different than eflora of China. This means that we can not avoid classification and taxanomy. This may ward off amateurs or the objective of a PBR. The border line between amateur and scientific botany hence can not be defined.

I feel that idea of developing a new portal is good but that needs to be taken up at an institute level. It is afterall a monumental effort.

Thanks for your thoughts on this. ..., we would like to hear from you, too. Please let us know. I have a few responses and thoughts on your emails:

You know that we started with the Butterflies of India website (http://www.ifoundbutterflies.org/) way back in 2010. The website has done very well in these past eight years both in terms of a data-rich and well-curated reference image library on Indian butterflies and as a powerful, feature-rich platform that can scale easily to large datasets, accommodate notes on species species, and map observations, among many other features. Our structures for taxonomic backbones and navigation are very good and flexible. When I look around, I see few natural history websites that can match the strong functionality and flexibility of the platform that we have built. In the next few months, we are incorporating mobile-readiness and building several mobile applications that will help people in the field and make contributing images and other records directly from mobile devices. These new features will be implemented across the board on all websites. By the way, as of this month we now have Butterflies, Moths, Cicadas, Odonata, Reptiles, Amphibians, and Birds of India websites (you can reach all the URLs from any one of the websites, e.g., http://www.ifoundbutterflies.org/). We will be launching three more taxon-specific websites in the next 2-3 months. As you can see, the model of natural history websites that we have developed is popular and this is set to grow both wide and deep.

Although all the websites run on the same code, we give ownership of each website to specific groups who organize their community of experts and contributors. If you want to use this platform, you can of course keep your identity on the website. The Moths of India website, for example, runs mainly as a Titli Trust effort, led by Sanjay Sondhi and other editors chosen by him. For a vast group such as plants, you can also form a team of Chief Editors and Board of Editors (e.g.,
http://www.ifoundbutterflies.org/website-team and http://www.birdsofindia.org/website-team) who can bring in regional and taxonomic specializations and expertise.

One important development is that NCBS has now agreed to generously support these websites and associated activities such as Biodiversity (data) Marathons
(
https://www.facebook.com/BiodivMarathons/). I am in talks with a few other research organizations who have shown strong interest in joining hands. With this institutional backing, we should be able to go big with the plant website, as Srikant suggested.

Are there other major forums on Indian plants that we can reach out who will make this effort stronger?


 



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