The ambitious Encyclopedia of Life project published its first web pages on Earth’s biological diversity on 26 February — one species per page.

Born of a 2003 essay by biologist Edward O. Wilson and formally announced in May 2007, the website ( aims to create an extensive, expert-created page for each of Earth’s 1.8 million named species (see Nature 449, 23 2007). Many of the world’s foremost natural-history institutions are participating.

Most of the 1 million pages set up so far are placeholders with minimal information. Around 30,000 of them are fuller, thanks to pre-existing online databases that have agreed to share their data, including the Solanaceae Source website, FishBase and AmphibiaWeb. And 24 ‘exemplar pages’, which are rich in information and multimedia content, show how the pages will eventually look.

The project has no new funding beyond that announced last year: US$2.5 million from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in New York and $50 million from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago, Illinois. More will be needed if the project is to meet its goal of a full page for every species by 2017.

Executive director James Edwards says the project’s biggest challenge is “providing incentives for the scientific community to participate”. He is working on ways to make the pages similar to conventional publications so that academics will be credited for their input. Each page will have its own digital object identifier, and publications that cite the pages will be able to be tracked. Citations of the pages will contribute to the author’s publication record.

Edwards admits that money could be problematic. “Another challenge further down the road will be to implement a financial model that will assure long-term sustainability,” he says.

In the past, critics have noted that because the costs of maintaining and updating vast online databases never end, the projects tend to peter out when the funders lose interest. Sustaining their excitement about the encyclopedia for a full decade will be difficult.

The first batch of pages was officially launched this week at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Monterey, California.

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