August 1, 2008 (Vol. 28, No. 14)
Strong Points: Comprehensive approach
Weak Points: Implementation incomplete
Speaking of taxonomically organized data, the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) is a Canadian site that may be the mother of all such offerings. It provides visitors with access to taxonomic information via both a search engine and hierarchical listings. Its vastness is noteworthy.
I guess when you’re covering a subject as broad as that of life itself, it should be. At some levels, ITIS is uninspiring (species-specific information, for example). In others, it employs clever tools. For example, rather than trying to run down pictures of the hundreds of thousands of species it catalogs, ITIS simply dumps the desired info into Google Images and lets the user choose which image to examine. This has disadvantages too. For example, as in any Google Images search, there are many clearly irrelevant hits returned. Worse, there is no accuracy check for any of the hits, so if they are inaccurate, the user is given bad information. I’d like to see more information on the organisms listed in the database, and I’d like to see its reach extended a bit (many unverified records). Overall though, this is a good start.