(PRESS REQUESTS? Please contact David Ng at db at interchange dot ubc dot ca)

What is this phylo thing? (Some interesting but relatively specific FAQs here)

Well, it’s an online initiative aimed at creating a Pokemon card type resource but with real creatures on display in full “artistic” wonder. Not only that – but we plan to have the scientific community weigh in to determine the content on such cards, as well as folks who love gaming to try and design interesting ways to use the cards. Then to top it all off, members of the teacher community will participate to see whether these cards have educational merit. Best of all, the hope is that this will all occur in a non-commercial-open-access-open-source-because-basically-this-is-good-for-you-your-children-and-your-planet sort of way.

Why are we doing this?

Well, it was conservationist Andrew Balmford‘s letter (Why Conservationists Should Heed Pokemon, Science. 2002 Mar 29;295(5564):2367.), published in Science, that provided the proverbial kick in the pants. Essentially, he did this eye opening study to show that children as young as eight had the remarkable ability to identify and characterize upwards of 120 different Pokemon characters. However, when the same rubric was applied using photos of “real” flora and fauna (animals and plants that lived in the children’s back yards) the results were simply horrendous.

“Our findings carry two messages for conservationists. First, young children clearly have tremendous capacity for learning about creatures (whether natural or man-made), being able to at age 8 to identify nearly 80% of a sample drawn from 150 synthetic “species.” Second, it appears that conservationists are doing less well than the creators of Pokemon at inspiring interest in their subjects: During their primary school years, children apparently learn far more about Pokemon than about their native wildlife and enter secondary school being able to name less than 50% of common wildlife types. Evidence from elsewhere links loss of knowledge about the natural world to growing isolation from it. People care about what they know. With the world’s urban population rising by 160,000 people daily, conservationists need to reestablish children’s links with nature if they are to win over the hearts and minds of the next generation.”

In effect, Andrew asked, “Can we do whatever Pokemon does so well, but with the reality of biodiversity and ecology providing the content?” With this brilliant seed of an idea, the folks behind the Science Creative Quarterly have been wondering whether the ideals of this thing called “WEB 2.0” can work towards Andrew’s suggestion. And with his blessing, we are now ready to pursue his idea full heartedly, optimistic that the good old internet, its social networking ability, and its often wonderfully active and engaged citizens will deliver something amazing.

How does it work?

This website will basically act as a hub, where first and foremost, people can get a hold of the cards and play with them. However, just as important, it will be a place to exhibit potential leads that are interesting and have appeared to have gain some momentum. These ideas have, and will likely, occur at our forum (do sign up!), but may be picked up when we periodically scan the web for keywords like “phylomon” or “phylo project

Essentially, Phylo has been working because people care about the idea and are curious about the issue of biodiversity. In other words, all content produced in this project “happens” because individuals and their communities contribute their part. This could be through submission of imagery, weighing in on how the games are played, fact checking the science, providing branding help, writing code to make the website better, and/or bringing in their expertise to expand the scope and media capabilities of the project. It could also be through just the simple act of telling their friends about the project.

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What are the copyright details?
What program is running this website?
Will you ever produce high quality collectible cards?
Should the artwork be a certain style? Should it be realistic or cartoony?
Does using the cards actually translate to learning about biodiversity?
This project seems to be perfect for inclusion into other social media tools. Any other programming related add-ons in the future?

What are the copyright details?
Basically, all images used are defined under “Creative Commons Licensed Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic specifically for Phylo trading card game use”, except where noted. The reason why we did this is that the cards are set up to visually present one such license, and this particular license is most inclusive of artists who would rather retain full copyright above and beyond use for this project, and to those who have kindly offered their images with “Share Alike” options.

The game rules themselves generally fall under an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Creative Commons License. This way, others can use these game rules and also adapt accordingly.

The WordPress template also follows an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Creative Commons License. Please attribute the UBC Office of Learning Technologies and the Phylo Project with appropriate linkage.

What program is running this website?
The latest version of WordPress is powering this website. At the early stages of this project, there was much discussion over the use of which open source platform. In the end, we decided to use WordPress as it has a very large, strong, and friendly community, lots of existing plug-ins and widgets, and is relatively easy to use. We really do hope the template that was designed specifically for this website gets some usage elsewhere. We think it’s a great theme for general card production! Anyway, our WordPress template is available as zipped file here and you can see the readme.txt by clicking here. As the theme has an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Creative Commons License, please do share your tweaks, improvements at the forum.

Will you ever produce high quality collectible cards?
This question has come up a lot – particularly as it relates to the idea of “rare cards.” Because the project is open source and open access, both the elements of rarity and cards made from high quality materials is tricky. However, we are entertaining a number of different possibilities. First, several people have suggested rarity by either (i) adding function to the website so that there is limited access to cards by time, password, etc; or (ii) incorporating the act of real outdoor wildlife spotting into the game (in other words, if a child has actually “seen” an organism and say has taken a photo of it, the card becomes worth more in the game – here the concept of rarity is translated directly to the rarity of the organism). Second, from a production value standpoint, we note that with a good printer and some high quality card stock, the cards do indeed look pretty slick.

However, an idea that is especially exciting to us is the possibility of the Phylo project collaborating with environmental NGOs, non-profits, museums, aquariums, and the like. For example, an NGO could aim to produce its own “card set.” This card set could be printed with high quality materials, in a standard way, with a standard “phylo” card back. The front of the cards would contain content available from the Phylo website, except that the NGO would have flexibility in designing the front so that it looks special to the set. Furthermore, the NGO could sell these card sets via their own mechanisms, but do so where there is explicit agreement that all profits obtained would be used only for fundraising specific environmental initiatives. Note that in order to do this, the NGO would still need to contact each and every artist for their permission for this new use of their image.

What’s interesting with this idea, is that it provides a mechanism to provide high quality cards, a mechanism to embed physical card rarity as determined by how many sets are produced, and (get this!) all the while establishing relationships with groups who would probably be most mutually interested in the phylo project. Imagine going to different natural museums across the world and one of things you’re looking out for, is whether the museum has its own card set! Perhaps most importantly, this also sets up a proper mechanism to begin the commissioning of artwork, so that some artists (the community arguably most gracious with the use of their donated content) can be fairly compensated.

For more info, check out this blog post on one of our pilot high quality decks (p.s. it’s almost ready!) Here is another high quality deck that is ready for downloading, but unfortunately was only set up for free distribution via a science festival (we’re currently working on making it available for purchase as well).

Once this (and other pilots) have had a chance to flesh out and polish themselves a bit, we plan on releasing detailed instructions (complete with contractual templates and vector design files) that describe the process of producing a high quality deck, to be be included in the general Phylomon card culture!

How scientifically literate is the project?
The short answer is that it depends. The cards themselves, although simplified, are relatively easy to keep scientifically literate. However, where most of this discussion has occurred is in the arena of gameplay. Basically, people have been wondering whether it’s o.k. to invent games where the objectives would fall outside the realms of scientific accuracy. For example, rules with straight up battle mechanics, where something like a Whale versus a Tree is entertained. This situation obviously has no context in reality, but the argument is that some people may find it fun and you can still learn a thing or two about both organisms despite the unrealistic setting.

Our official take is that whilst we may prefer games that have realistic learning objectives embedded, we see nothing wrong with having other rules that are simply intriguing and/or fun. In fact, we think that one of the virtues of our content being derived from crowd sourcing, is that we have plenty of room to entertain and exhibit all sorts of ideas.

Should the artwork be a certain style? Should it be realistic or cartoony?
We’re lucky enough to already have many different types of images in our submissions’ pools, and therefore have taken the opportunity to test the images on children from ages 6 to ages 16 (our lab routinely host science field trips as well as conferences). Basically, from this polling, we have determined that students are generally most happy with a variety of different styles of artwork. In fact the only clear specific preferences were that the images had good colours, and that they were also polished as well as indicative of obvious artistic talent. In other words, if you have an image – just submit it since you never know!

Does using the cards actually translate to learning about biodiversity?
Right now, we don’t know. But we do want to find out… Check out the education section of this website to see if you can help.

This project seems to be perfect for inclusion into other social media tools. Any other programming related add-ons in the future?
Well, that all depends on who can help us out. But a Facebook application, iPhone application, a javascript widget for blog sidebars, video game, etc would all be lovely. We’ve even had the odd email or two bounce between the Phylo project and the Noah iPhone app. Anyway, all potential ideas should initially be directed to the forum, or if you have something particularly grand to contribute, you can also contact David Ng at db at interchange dot ubc dot ca.