Palaeos found?

I got this email from Alan Kazlev, one of the main fellows working on the Palaeos website (a very useful paleontological resource), which I had previously reported as going offline. Plans are afoot to bring it back, and the answer seems to be to wikify it and build it anew, with a more distributed set of contributors. How Web 2.0! I’ve included the full email below the fold if you’d like more details.

Hi everyone

For those who don’t know me, I was the co-author of Palaeos, until I got
caught up in other projects that consumed all my time.   Toby
White of course continued to work on the site (often far more
knowledgeably and competently than I), until April.  Obviously, this
involved the investment of considerable free time.  Quite simply
maintaining the site involves too much work for one person if you have
other things to do as well.

The reason for the belatedness of this current email is that I only the
other day discovered that the site was down. Man, was that
depressing!  One tends to think that servers would have backups, so
if they delete anything on the site they could restore it.  Anyway,
the last few days I was thinking of how to get the site back up.  I
don’t have an up to date backup; well i have a backup of some parts but
am missing entire new sections like the Eukarya. I could get it through
painstaking going through the cache on the Wayback Machine (Internet
Archive), but that mostly captures text; rarely the graphics files. 

Then through a google blog search I came upon the Pharyngula
and other
comments in the blogosphere regretting the loss of Palaeos.  And I
would like to thank everyone for your comments and appreciation, and
expressions of support!

On the basis of your comments, I decided to launch this initiative to
restore Palaeos.  And not just restore it, but make it even
better.   How?  By making it a fully collaborative,
community project.

I think I have included here the email of all interested parties, except
Stanton (Palaeos wiki), and Jeff, whose emails i couldn’t find, so maybe
this could be forwarded on to them.

Jeff says he has recently archived the site.  That is great, it
solves the problem of having to go through the internet archives. 
Toby’s material is all public domain, and anything i have written is free
for noncommercial use, so there is no problem restoring it

To begin with, we have the option of whether to restore the old site, or
continue with the new wiki initiative

  • Restore it as a website – this would be basically the same as the old
    Palaeos, but with everyone contributing (I can provide the ftp
    details).  That means you need to edit in html, or at least with a
    WYSIWYG / GUI web editor that doesn’t screw up the code too much. 
    Even so, i found it very difficult using my text editor to edit the
    Vertebrate pages Toby had written.  There is also – with many
    contributors – the danger of overwriting some-one else’s edits. 
    Toby and I solved this by posting a list of edited pages in a special
    directory, which had to be checked first before making any edits. 
    With two or three people this is okay; with a larger community it can be
    pretty fiddly!  And the more people contributing the worse it would

  • Palaeos wiki.  This would be greatly preferable, imho, because
    wiki uses a standard markup format which is very easy to learn (and they
    also have buttons on the edit screen if you don’t want to do it
    manually), updates instantly, keeps a record of all previous edits (in
    case reverts are needed), and of course can be used by any number of
    people simultaneously.

Actually the media wiki format would be great for this; i  am pretty
impressed with how wikis work and have become a real fan of wikipedia (as
well as contributing there a number of palaeo entries there; often in the
manner of "Palaeos lite").

Especially if Palaeos is to indeed be a community / collective endeavour,
by all of us who have a passion and love of science and deep time and the
evolution of life on Earth, then a wiki would certainly be the easiest

But I would love to hear everyone else’s views on this

Anyway I had a look at the new Palaeos wiki

This is an encouraging beginning but imho it needs a proper domain
name.  Also after a strong start nothing’s been added to the site in
several weeks.  Again it is the problem of the whole project being
too big for only a couple of people.  So we keep coming back to the
importance of a community project.

So, here are my suggestions:

  • Palaeos domain name.  Note the spelling;
    "Palaeos", not "Paleos".  Keeping the domain
    name serves continuity; it is the same project with the same content
    (only bigger and better!). It is good because it helps with google
    searches as well, you can track who is referencing the site).  If we
    can’t use the current then we can use, and i can
    put up a redirect page from the current server. 
  • Wiki format. I’m most familiar with using Media Wiki, used by
    Wikipedia, but do any of you have other preferences  (i guess the
    different wikipedia formats have different advantages and disadvantages;
    here is wikipedia page on this, which is a bit too technical for me ). 
  • Cladograms in Wiki – two versions on this page, a taxonomic and
    a phylogenetic
      So this format
    can be easily adapted
  • Use of Wiki templates and categories: The use of
    templates is both handy for navigation and breaks the blandness of
    text.  Templates have been used with good effect on Wikipedia. 
    Two examples – geological time (coloured template boxes) and taxonomy-
    (note that because of
    limitations of page width, this box is misleading because some ages are
    underneath others; a vertical box would be better)  Regarding the
    latter, if you look at the pages on phylogeny on Wikipedia – e.g.
    (one of the more detailed of
    my "Palaeos lite" pages), there are those little
    "taxoboxes" in the upper right corner.  This is probably
    also a good format for a Palaeos wiki, and some can be copied over as is
    (along with the necessary templates), and perhaps some additional info
    like stratigraphic range (by age) and geographical distribution could be
    added..  Categories can supplement templates regarding
    navigation; on wikipedia they are at the bottom of the page, and
    essentially serve as indexes
  • License – On the old Palaeos the text ranges from Public Domain
    (Toby’s material) to full copyright, depending on the author.  I
    suggest for the new Palaeos we decide on a standard license (either GNU
    Free Documentation License or Creative Commons), although still keeping
    exceptions for those pages with different licenses according to the
    author’s preference.  Also when using copyrighted pictures, there
    will be a note specifying that this image is copyright and has been used
    with the owner’s permission. 
  • Graphics – a Palaeos wiki would be bland without graphics. 
    I have found that the owners of various graphic images are happy to allow
    use of their material provided we give acknowledgments, a link back,
    copyright notice, etc.
  • Editing – We don’t want to waste our time having to constantly
    revert vandalism; so only registered editors should be able to make
    modifications.  I would also suggest for wiki editors a two tier
    approach; senior editors who have admin privileges (so can ban vandals
    etc) and would also decide on policy for the site and content, and anyone
    else who wants to contribute.  I found this two-tier approach worked
    very well in the collaborative SF project Orion’s Arm
    which I set up in 2000 with the help of a
    few friends and associates,  which became an institution the way
    that Palaeos did, and which is still going strong.  It would be the
    responsibility of senior contributors to decide which content should be
    kept and which deleted ,to ensure the high quality of the material. 
    One of the weaknesses of wikipedia is that well meaning but uneducated
    contributors make edits that are pretty bad, even erroneous.  In
    deciding on content, senior editors set policy by showing what material
    is acceptable, and what isn’t.
  • Status of current Paleos Wiki.  Some good work has already
    been done here and it should be kept and built upon.  Can this wiki
    be given it’s own domain name (e.g.  Perhaps it should
    be transferred to a new server (i would rather stay away from the current
    Palaeos server after what happened) .  I feel we do need decent and
    reliable webhosting because the traffic will be pretty high once the site
    is re-established and the new location known. 
  • Main page – the initial page should be eye-catching, without too
    much text.  Use of graphics and a list of contents to important
    pages will greatly add to the appeal.

Okay, that’s about all I can think of for now.  Remember, this thing
will only work if enough people get involved and participate.  So
let’s make it happen!



  1. Lago says

    Thanks PZ for helping this along. I fear Palaeos would have died completely without such help..