At the moment I see many edible city/urban forage projects forming as the latest fad for artists, environmentalists and culinary types, but I notice a certain perpetual reinvention of the wheel. Each projects starts from scratch finding its own solutions. There is no technical reason why local data collected in Utrecht (http://plukdestad.nl/ in preperation) or Amsterdam (http://urbanedibles.blogspot.com/) or Bristol (http://duo.irational.org/food_for_free/) can't be dropped on worldwide maps (http://www.foodspotting.com/, http://www.networkedorganisms.com and http://forage.rs/) or why old/dead projects can be imported as an initial dataset for a new project (http://libarynth.org/augmented_foraging). It would be entirely in the spirit of such projects to share data, however all data is locked-up in different formats usable only by the project that generated it. A little active consideration on how to make this data shareable would do us all good. Perhaps, instead of kickstarting the same thing thousand times for a thousand little projects the edible city community could organize itself modularly.
Foraging takes time, knowledge and a detailed understanding of an environment, it can't be done haphazardly. It makes sense for local communities to maintain their own applications limited to a few streets, a neighbourhood or a cryptoforest. In fact territories as large as Utrecht (a medium sized city) are already much too big to exhaustively document all its edible plants. But this is why the search and documentation is open to all you will say but if open source teaches anything it is the fact that a 'community of users' will not form around an empty product. The data must be rich to be meaningful and it must be meaningful for others to contribute, critical mass needs a lot of initial mass.
What I seem to be saying is that the technical part has been solved many times, but that the social part, the creation of a good community, is lagging behind. As is only fitting for a time still maddingly obsessed with the same old post-ice-age neolithical prejudices.
The need to share data we can all agree on. Different projects have different needs and objectives but we can all agree that plant name (latin and vernacular), location (gps coordinates) and time of observation are key, the name of the observer and a description field are useful. Other interesting factoids like taxonomic data, the most likely time to harvest, issues with food safety, recipes, medical uses, but also known problems with pollution and/or ownership in a given area could all be generated from this data from other (local) databases.
Every project might try to solve the same problems (from a technical point of view) but they are all doing it using the same framework: google.maps. The data of the Urban Edibles Amsterdam website, for instance, can be downloaded as an RSS-file(http://maps.google.nl/maps/ms?hl=nl&ie=UTF8&t=h&source=embed&msa=0&output=georss&msid=117889007389820522179.00045cc416710da996793) and this already solves some aspects of the problem, but with some loose ends. What follows is just me thinking aloud: some notes on a quasi-RSS for foraging: FML: Forage Mark-Up Language.
The first part (the channel tag in RSS) tells who is providing the data and also a bounding box, this can tell parsers to ignore or include a file because its locations are outside of what it is looking for:
<name>libarynth cookery department</name> <link>http://libarynth.org/</link> <description>the plants in this list have been checked several times</description> <georss:pointtop>39.55375305703105 118.9813220168456</georss:pointtop> <georss:pointbottom>35.55375305703105</georss:pointbottom> <language>NL</language> <pubDate>Wed, 25 Aug 2010 07:33:42 GMT</pubDate>
The second part is a list of elements like these, each containing for each sighting the basic information concerning a plant/tree that should really be included to be useful.
<item> <plant> <latin></latin> <lan:nl>walnoot</lan:nl> <lan:eng>walnut</lan:eng> </plant> <georss:point>52.326294 4.980637</georss:point> <picture></picture> <observation_date>Tue, 22 Jun 2010</observation_date> <observer>Little Chef</observer> <description:eng>old tree actively foraged by hungry, mandoline carrying, gypsies with bad temper and bad breath</description> </item>
The plant tag collects names for the plant, the botanical name and the vernacular. The georss method is probably easier than the KML way of doing it:
<location> <longitude>39.55375305703105</longitude> <latitude>-118.9813220168456</latitude> </location>
Surely there are better ways to do it. IF AT ALL: should newcomers/outsiders be allowed to plunder the limited resources of a local community? Or publicize the existence of such resources?
-Discussion- [Joey] I think a markup language could indeed aid the data problem. But I would recommend some adjustments: 1. maybe the tag plant could be changed to edible or species. Since there are related data collections which also mark edibles like fish or other non-plant like edibles/medicine 2. I would expand the <picture> tag into a <media> container to support multiple media files (picture, video, perhaps even audio) Maybe even an optional further classification of the type of media, jpg,png,.mp4 ect. this would like like this:
<media> <picture format=“jpg”></picture> <video format=“flash”></video> <audio format=“mp3”></audio> </media> 3. Also I would like to support the community aspect more. While the observer is described, it would like to also have further identification of the observer. Like a personal page of id. (facebook?) or just an url on the original foraging site. This way we can give credits to those who should get the credits. An in the future grand them special moderator or even admin rights according to their accuracy and/or amount of contribution So the observer tag could be like this: <observer>
<name>Little Chef</name> <identification>http://www.boskoi.org/members/101031</identification>
4. Last I would vote for the KML way of describing a location, since I seems to me easier to implement, and relying on spaces in xml is in my experience a possibility for a lot of errors.
Joey: cheers, all fair points. The observer desires to be observered, also for trust-issues, maybe use <url> instead of description? or is that against best practise? For the media-tag though maybe just use: <media>file.whateverextension</media> and let the parser figure out what it is and if to include it and how?
It makes sense to broaden the tag from plant to species, but, on the other hand, only plants stay where they are, and the augmentation annotation model works because it localizes resources with extreme precision. Also, when you open up for all species you may want to inlude another tag to record plant, fish, tree of whatever. an example file would be: <item> <species> <latin></latin> <lan:nl>walnoot</lan:nl> <lan:eng>walnut</lan:eng> </species> <location> <longitude>39.55375305703105</longitude> <latitude>-118.9813220168456</latitude> </location> <media></media> <observation_date>Tue, 22 Jun 2010</observation_date> <observer> <name>Little Chef</name> <identification>http://www.boskoi.org/members/101031</identification> </observer> <description:eng>old tree actively foraged by hungry, mandoline carrying, gypsies with bad temper and bad breath</description> </item>