Five Questions About the Earth Knowledge Portal

By Adena Schutzberg

The world's continuing quest to find the best information for science and decision making has spawned a new type of Internet portal. Earth Knowledge is populated by experts but usable by students, citizens - all those with an interest. Its map-based interface and focus on the Earth make it a site of interest for environmentalists and policy makers, including GIS professionals. We asked Earth Knowledge President Frank A. D'Agnese to explain the offering and its future.

Adena Schutzberg (AS): What is Earth Knowledge (the portal)?

Frank A. D'Agnese (FD):
Earth Knowledge is a customizable, Web-based service that provides business and community leaders, government agencies, non-profits, and the public with knowledge integration tools to help them make important everyday decisions that affect the Earth and its environment. The Earth Knowledge Portal integrates and categorizes reliable earth and environmental information from news agencies, government research departments, academic institutions and non-governmental organizations.

The Portal is structured as an ongoing community conversation that allows its users to interact online much as they would if they were in the same room. The tools that facilitate these interactions are the same Web 2.0 technologies found in Web-based communities and hosted services (such as social networking, wikis, weblogs, social-bookmarking, podcasts and RSS web feeds). Because the issues being addressed are geographically focused, the portal fuses these relatively new Internet technologies with the more traditional two- and three-dimensional GISs and ï¿1⁄2neo-geographyï¿1⁄2 platforms like Google Maps and Google Earth.

AS: Who contributes content? How are they selected / encouraged to share their content?

There are two types of contributors (or members).

General members are Earth Knowledge Portal subscribers who either provide content used solely by members of their private user group or provide public content that is made available to all users.

Earth Knowledge Network members are individuals who are invited by the website administrators and moderators to be regular contributors to the site. These individuals are typically members of the scientific community who are experts in one of the key issues addressed on the site, including biodiversity, water, land and climate. The site administrators have a long history of working in the earth and environmental science fields and are continually growing the Network. A form will be added soon allowing interested parties the opportunity to apply to become an Earth Knowledge Network member. Of course, Network members are provided free access to data, information and collaboration tools available on the site.

The Earth Knowledge company homepage with the map widget. A mini version of the map widget will be available very soon for download to users' individual startpages and streams posts occurring on the Earth Knowledge Portal. (Click for larger image)

AS: You have a range of membership levels from free ones that allow viewing, to fee-based ones for sharing content and using enhanced tools and data. Can you describe the types of users you expect to use the service?

The site is directed at satisfying the data, information and knowledge needs of three general types of users:

Knowledge Providers (scientists, engineers, analysts and other members of the technical community) are users who can utilize the data, information and online tools to conduct their investigations, to collaborate with colleagues and to communicate their findings to the other users.

Decision Makers (business and communities leaders, resource managers, agency leaders, etc.) are users who can use the online tools to get integrated information that is understandable and accessible for their needs. A business or community which is concerned about how it impacts the environment or how the environment impacts it can subscribe to the Earth Knowledge Portal to get data, news and information customized for its specific needs or concerns.

General Public (consumers, students, community members and other informed individuals) are users who can benefit from the integrated knowledge base to help them better understand how they interact with the Earth and its environment through their everyday activities and choices.

The Earth Knowledge Portal "homepage." (Click for larger image)

AS: There seems to be a regional bent (U.S. Southwest) at this point, and a focus on ground water. How do you expect to grow geographically and topically?

At the moment, the Earth Knowledge Portal may have a bit more content related to water issues in the southwestern United States than content on other issues in other parts of the U.S. and the world. Content on the site is a reflection of current user interests. Earth Knowledge, Inc. has many consulting related projects in the southwestern United States and many of these projects involve water sustainability in this arid and semi-arid region of the world. Our content management staff is constantly searching the Internet for news, data and commentary that is relevant to the issues we cover on the site. Over time there will certainly be a richness of knowledge covering the breadth of earth and environmental issues.

The site focuses on the four core topics, including biodiversity, water, land and climate. Of course, these environmental topics are multi-dimensional and Earth Knowledge integrates content that relates to these topics in various aspects of sustainability, including economic and social issues along with issues stemming from the natural world.

Earth Knowledge is currently designing and developing focused projects that will address key issues that are currently relevant to our online users. Over time we will be launching these focus projects that will have data, news, information and commentary already integrated to help online users get the most out of the diverse and vast knowledge that exists about the Earth and is already on the Internet.

A geo-tagging feature is available to users with a Standard subscription or higher. (Click for larger image)

AS: How do you envision the portal being used in the next few years?

The Earth Knowledge Portal has been very well received by many different communities of users. Over the next six to nine months, in addition to launching several of our focus projects, we intend to also launch our Earth Knowledge Map Tool which will be Google Maps-based and will also contain many relevant layers of data to aid our users in their conversations.

Over the next 18 months, our users can expect more customization capabilities and plug-ins that are being designed to cater to the special needs of different user communities, including business and community leaders, municipalities and local governments, non-governmental organizations, academic and research institutions and the general public.

The best way to keep track of the upcoming site capabilities is to register as a Basic User. This also places you on our mailing list so we can notify you when the next feature is added.
All (including Basic) users have access to their own personalized RSS-based news aggregator. When a user signs up they are offered a starter pack of earth and environmentally relevant RSS feeds from which to choose. Of course, users can add their own RSS Feeds. (Click for larger image)

Published Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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