What motivated you to become a member of WikiProject Gastropods?
JoJan: I started WikiProject Gastropods in May 2004 at the request of an admin, after I had made some changes to a gastropod article. Little did I know about gastropods, but in those early days of Wikipedia everybody was very enthusiastic. And so was I. Soon I realized the enormous scope of the task I had undertaken with about 60,000 to 80,000 known species in the class Gastropoda. I had to learn all the facts about these little creatures in the shortest possible time, and this at the age of 60 ! But the taxonomy was the hardest nut to crack. Most sources I consulted used different taxonomies, some of which were very old. This was a real shambles. Since I was at that time the only participant in this project, I sought cooperation from malacologists all over the world by making an appeal for cooperation in a scientific journal. The few responses I received turned out negative when they were told that their contribution would come under GFDL. Then finally I was able to find the most recent taxonomy and I started to write articles about gastropods and also related biographies of naturalists and malacologists. Gradually, a few years later, new participants started to join the project, a few of which became very active. Since then, and mainly thanks to their input, this project has been growing fast. This is a very international project, since the participants are distributed all over the world, some are native speakers, others (such as I) are not.
Invertzoo: I have been interested in mollusks since I was a toddler in Great Britain, when I fell in love with seashells and the shells of some of the more attractive land snails, specifically dune snails in North Devon, where my grandmother lived. I myself was fortunate enough to live in Kent, 5 miles from Charles Darwin's house, Downe House, which my family visited several times a year. I guess it was not surprising that I become a biologist, or at any rate a naturalist. Although all mollusks are very interesting, gastropods are by far the biggest class of mollusks and the most diverse.
As well as living in the sea, gastropods also live on land and in freshwater. They are almost everywhere actually! Their asymmetrical anatomy is fascinating. The shelled ones (the snails) also have amazing spirally-coiled shells, and the shell-less ones (the slugs) are equally interesting, in fact one group of sea slugs, some of the nudibranchs, in particular the chromodorids, have been claimed to be the most beautifully colored organisms on earth, even more so than butterflies.
On Wikipedia, many of us enjoy writing about what we love, and this is what I love. It seems to me that when you have loved a certain kind of creature for many decades, you end up knowing a great deal about them and enjoy writing about them.
Daniel Cavallari: I, as a biologist in training, was curious about how to edit articles in Wikipedia, and made a few attempts at a certain day last year. I was invited soon after to be part of the project by one of its members, who was very polite by the way. At times I had made small contributions to some gastropod articles, and even tried to create one article alone, mainly on a watch and learn basis. I’ve always loved the mollusks, they are my favorite subject in biology, the shells in particular. In fact, one could say that the mollusks led me to study biology! I ended up seeing the project as a delightful way to exercise my knowledge, and also discover new things and better understand the biology of many species unknown to me (mainly, terrestrial snails). In my humble opinion, being in an university and having access to academic journals and papers is a privilege, and to write free-access articles using this information is very satisfying to me.
The project is home to one A-class article (Chittenango ovate amber snail) and six good articles ranging from Byne's disease to love darts. Were you involved with any of these articles and which article are you most proud of being involved with? Overall, what have been some of the project's greatest achievements?
JoJan: I wasn't involved in these articles, They were in able hands and there was no need for me to intervene.
The article I'm most proud of is Radula, the anatomical structure by which mollusks feed. I wrote this in June 2004 (when I was still the only participant in this project) adding very technical stuff to a short article. This was necessary, as the radula is one of the main determining features of a gastropod. User: Debivort made, at my request, a magnificent drawing of the different types of radulae. I remember he had great difficulty understanding the technical differences between the different types but his detailed drawing explains this problem so much better than words.
As one of the greatest achievements of this project I could name a few basic articles such as Gastropoda and the ones named above, but the aim should be to make them featured articles. Only lack of time and manpower prevent us from doing so. But perhaps the greatest achievement, in my opinion, is the application of the latest taxonomy of the gastropods, partly based on cladistic research, in all our articles. By doing this, wikipedia is one of the few websites about gastropods with an up-to-date taxonomy.
Invertzoo: Yes, I was involved to some extent with all seven of those articles. The least I did on most of them was to fix up and smooth out the prose, because a lot of the writing was by non-native speakers of English, of which our project has several. Out of those seven, the article I had the most to do with, and the one I am most proud of, is love dart, which at the time it came out as a DYK had the second largest response ever. Three of us put it together completely from scratch in just 5 days, and I have to say, that was a real tour de force! If we could have put it out for Valentine's Day, I am certain the DYK numbers would have been totally through the roof!
I think the greatest achievement has been for our Project to have grown over the last 2 years or so from a scattered collection of almost random articles to a well-organized structure, with a standardized way of composing an article. We now have at least a stub for every family and every taxon above the level of family, and at least a stub for almost every genus that is mentioned in any article. That means a reader can navigate all the way up and down through the tree of lifetaxonomy structure without interruption. That's very important.
Daniel Cavallari: I've been involved with some of these articles. I made only some minor contributions to Kerry slug, but worked hard on Byne's disease (which I created, and wrote with a great deal of help by another project member) and Eustrombus gigas. As a matter of fact, I am mostly proud of the latter two articles, and seeing them listed as good articles feels wonderful, specially the one about the queen conch, which is a well known, economically important and possibly endangered species. Drawing the average reader's attention to such important subjects is one of my main objectives as a wikipedian.
As I have not been part of the project for too long, I believe I can't make long-term observations. I could only notice that the project has evolved considerably in recent times, and people are really getting excited about everything.
There are no unassessed articles within your project. How did you accomplish this and do you have any advice to other projects with large backlogs of unassessed articles?
Invertzoo: Well, really, it's true that getting a huge number of unassessed articles assessed is grunt work. Basically two of us just ploughed through it all alphabetically over the months. Actually we are still finishing up rating the importance of all of the articles, and other routine clean-up. This kind of work does take time, and most people do not want to do it. It does not seem glamorous! But if you do want "your" project to be in reasonable shape, someone just has to decide to go ahead and do the clean up. I think you have to motivate yourself out of pride, wanting your project to be really pulled-together, and then just bite the bullet and go ahead and work until it is all done, no matter how long it takes. I suppose you have to shift your emphasis, to think of the encyclopedia as a whole, and not just focus on the narrow range of tasks that you most enjoy doing.
Daniel Cavallari: It was no easy task, but a necessary one. Someone has to do the job, little by little if needed, but the outcome certainly ought to compensate all the effort.
The articles on snails, pearls, and gastropoda each receive over 2,000 views daily, however two of the three articles are only at C-class status. What are some of the biggest challenges to improving popular articles like these?
JoJan: At this time we are in the process of adding a lot of species and genera articles using a bot (already close to the 11,000 mark). Checking the facts takes a lot of work and leaves little if no time for doing other work. Only the cooperation of many new participants can contribute to the quality of existing articles.
Invertzoo: Well there are various factors. The article Pearl is primarily outside our scope because most pearl-producing creatures are bivalves, not gastropods, but we felt we should include it in our Project because there is as yet no "WikiProject Bivalves" or "WikiProject Mollusks" so for the time being, we can try to keep an eye on the biology part of the Pearl article. As for the other two popular articles snail and Gastropoda (which has a B assessment), they are both gigantic overview articles, and I think everyone who has worked on really big overview articles would agree that those are the hardest articles to pull together well, especially because gastropods are so very diverse that it is quite hard to generalize about them. Also it is simply a matter of people in the Project being so busy doing other things that they forget to try to work on those two big articles. We will go ahead and remind people, thanks for bringing that up!
Daniel Cavallari: Since I am not a native speaker, it is difficult for me to find reliable references in English when the subject is too broad or general. This happens mainly because the literature available to me about this kind of subject is usually written in my native language (Portuguese). I believe it is not convenient to use such references in this case, because it could bring verifiability problems in the future. Anyway, I think the subject deserves a little more attention from us, and I intend to redirect my focus in the future.
Writing articles on the taxonomy and anatomy of living creatures can become fairly technical. What can the average editor contribute to gastropod articles, even if they don't have specialized knowledge in the field?
JoJan: Indeed this stuff can be very technical. Reading a malacological journal sometimes equals to reading the technical report of an examination by a radiologist to your family doctor. Nevertheless anyone with some intellectual baggage can contribute. It only takes some research, a clear mind and the ability to digest the facts into a new article (or by adding to or improving an existing article), Others are ardent photographers and may be able to upload their photos of gastropods to the Commons and add them to existing articles (or write that article themselves).
Invertzoo: Judging by what I have seen over the last almost 3 years, I think the average editor seems to enjoy adding a short article about one species of snail or slug or a seashell, something they have perhaps come across in the news or in their everyday life. We very much welcome anything like that. People mustn't feel that they are obliged to delve into the taxonomy or the anatomy. If anyone wants to make a new stub article but needs help with the taxonomy or anything else they can ask at our Project talk page; we will be more than happy to help them!
And yes, there are close to 100,000 species of snails and slugs, and we need images for most of them. Even just shell images are good, but images of live animals (especially in their natural habitat) are even more valuable. With very few exceptions, no matter where you live you can find snails and slugs to photograph and we will be happy to have the images.
Daniel Cavallari: I believe that the average editor can contribute in several ways, i. e. drawing attention to a particular source of information, assisting with the writing and prose, with problems related to the manual of style, and many other things in fact. It does not take an expert to contribute positively to an article, in my opinion!
Anything else you'd like to add?
JoJan: The ever changing knowledge and information about gastropods is distributed among thousands and thousands papers in scientific journals (most of which are behind a paywall) and in a number of websites, most of which are pleasing to eye with photos but with little information (except a few). Our long term aim is to provide general and technical information about every family, genus and species in this project and keeping abreast of every new development in this field. This is an enormous project, almost a "mission impossible." It will take several decades to bring it to adulthood. Only the influx of many more participants can force the pace.
And as a final note, it is encouraging having received an email from one of the most eminent malacologists in the world, stating that he finds our work "very interesting."
Invertzoo: I feel very strongly that Project Gastropods is right now poised on the brink of emerging into people's awareness worldwide as a very useful resource, both for amateurs who are interested in finding out more about malacology, and also to some extent for professionals, at least in areas that are outside their particular area of expertise. If we can keep up our quality standards as we expand, and if we can flesh out our huge number of stubs to include more images and more text, I think we will go from strength to strength. I am very optimistic about the future.
Thank you to the contributors at WikiProject Gastropods for an interesting interview and some fascinating images. Regular readers of the Report should fix up their cars for next week's road trip! In the meantime, enjoy the 24-hour drive-through at the archives.