We’ve moved home!

Last week we moved from our previous home at TinyMighty, to a new web server at BioWikiFarm. You shouldn’t really see any big changes upfront, so it may all seem like rather unexciting technical news, but it represents a hugely important step for PracticalPlants: we are now hosted by an organisation dedicated to the long term support of a collection of wikis in the fields of biology. In their words…

biowikifarm.net is a shared technical platform supporting a number of mediawiki installations used by a diverse array of projects in biology, and especially biodiversity research. The primary purpose of the shared platform is to be able to maintain the published data over a long time period and to work more efficiently and distribute administrative and maintenance work among several partners.

For us, that means we’re free from the most pressing commercial pressure of hosting fees for the foreseeable future, which means we’re free to continue working to build and improve Practical Plants into a resource for the global community without having to worry about how to find the money to keep the website online. Crucially, the BioWikiFarm has a long-term hosting guarantee and is supported by funds from various EU institutions; the database we’re building together has secure backing for the foreseeable future.

There have been a few small bugs and technical hiccups which should (hopefully) be fixed now, but if you see anything wrong don’t hesitate to drop a note to help@practicalplants.org to let me know.

I’ve also been busy recently working on a few new features here and there such as improvements to the management of sub-species/varieties/cultivars; various bugfixes; and most importantly in the coming weeks I’ll be putting the finishing touches to the technical challenge of porting all articles over to a Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license, to make us compatible with Wikipedia, and drop the overly restrictive Non-Commercial license, but I’ll give some more details of that in another blog post…

An introduction to Practical Plants

The Practical Plants logoHello!

Practical Plants opened it’s doors at the start of August, 2012. This is our first blog post, so allow me to make an introduction… Practical Plants is an open collaboratively edited plant encyclopedia and database. To explain what we mean by open: We are open to contributions from anybody; every article has an ‘edit’ button to allow you to edit the contents of that page. We are also openly licensed; all the data on our wiki is licensed under a Creative Commons license, meaning you are free to modify and redistribute it for non-commercial purposes. Lastly and most importantly we are open in philosophy. We are a democratically organised website run by a community which anyone is welcome to join. The future of our website is in the hands of those who use it.

Every plant has an article covering common subjects like cultivation and propagation but more uniquely we also cover a range of common and uncommon edible, material and medicinal plant uses, design functions (how a plant interacts with it’s environment), inter-plant associations (how a plant interacts with other plants growing nearby), guilds and polycultures, and crop harvest and storage.

We are just two young fellows in the first early years of building a forest-garden farm in Galicia, Spain.  Practical Plants was born out of our own desire to have a good quality database that brought together a lot of the information about the plants we use in our own forest garden.  We felt that something like this ought to be a wiki, open to everyone to help build.  We also saw that a lot of companies were setting up online plant encyclopedias, using people to help build their database up, but then building a license wall around that data, effectively claiming it as their own.  We feel strongly that the data we build here is important information for our global future, that it’s a common resource for us all to use and own.  When we didn’t find anything that was near good enough for what we wanted, we decided to build it.  Six months later we’ve released Practical Plants.  We’ve put a lot of time into this, without any income for it; we’ve done it because we thought the community needed it, and now we need the community.  Come and help us build something really great.   We launch with over 7,000 plants already in the database thanks to the amazing work of Plants for a Future. They have spent decades compiling a database of plants, with a strong emphasis on perennials which grow happily in the UK.  We’ve also had some data donations from good people that we’re integrating into the database: compiling a few different sources to make a great starting point, but there is so much more we can do.  Come along to our forums on the ‘Community’ page and say hello.