Building an API for the Open Tree of Life database
Do you want an app for this?
The developers of the Open Tree of Life would like to know from the phylogenetic community what kind of information they want to extract from its database when the first draft is released later this year. With those preferences, it is possible to develop an API that gives scientists the opportunity to build their own websites or software packages that use the data.
An API (application programming interface) is a digital tool that allows one website or software program to “talk” to another website to dig up certain pieces of data. For instance, a lot of people use Tweetdeck to navigate the ongoing bombardment of messages in the Twittersphere. In that case, Tweetdeck is connecting to Twitter, through its API, to receive and order the messages according to the preferences of the user.
In case of the Open Tree of Life, an API gives researchers advanced access to the data of about two million species, the phylogenies that have been created to illustrate possible relationships between them, and the underlying data and methods of synthesis. “For example, it will be possible to select smaller trees for specific species or find out how many studies there are for a particular node within the database,” says Karen Cranston, the lead investigator of the project.
“What should be ‘Number 1’ on our list to develop?”
To do so, scholars need to access the information they are looking for, while ignoring all other data they are not interested in. They can perform those detailed searches efficiently when such API is readily available. Because scientists have many questions about the evolutionary relationship between millions of species, a whole range of functions needs to be developed for the API. Moreover, the Open Tree of Life team would like to collaborate with other scientists and computer programmers to design and write those protocols.
But before the programming interface gets developed, it is necessary to learn more about the preferences of evolutionary biologists and other scholars with an interest in phylogeny. “What would be most useful for researchers? What should be ‘Number 1’ on our list to develop? It would be very helpful to get some input from other scientists, because then we know what to work on first,” Cranston explains.
“What would be most useful for researchers?”