UPDATE: With private donations, we think we are sitting at about 17k-18k in committed funds. Can you help us bring home the project at 20,000?
Wild Me is a social media app that pulls data from real scientific studies on wildlife and brings it into our lives. Individual animals like whale sharks, manta rays, polar bears, etc., all get their own bio page that allows you to follow their travels as well as observe social interactions with family and friends. Incredible pictures, maps, and news updates from scientists will keep animal lovers up-to-date on all the latest information about each animal.
Can you bring wildlife into your social network?
Science Can Look a Lot Like Facebook
In the process of studying wildlife, biologists often give individual animals a tag, a name, or a number that distinguishes them uniquely.
As an example, here is the whale shark (one of the biggest fish in the ocean!) tagged "A-001" and nicknamed "Stumpy":
In essence, we now recognize them as individuals. Their behavior is no longer viewed as a group, but rather we begin to see the differences among individual animals, just as we so keenly view the diversity among ourselves.When scientists go one step further and observe the family and social relationships among these identified animals, such as observing the playful behavior in a traveling pod of dolphins, they begin to understand their social networks. And the resulting data (photos, places, behaviors) begins to look a lot like a mini-Facebook for animals.
Can you “friend” a shark? Or a bear?
“Don’t name your farm animals.” is wisdom that warns livestock owners against forming emotional bonds with animals destined for sale. But in an age of shrinking wild lands and the declining abundance of many wild animal species, perhaps the new adage should be “Name your wildlife.”
We now seek to start a grand social and technology experiment. Can we become more aware of the wildlife around us by using social media-enabled software to "friend" or "follow" a whale? Can we directly merge our online social identities with scientifically observed individual animals in our environment? Can we see a map of where it has been, explore its social relationships, and learn more about its habits? Where has the whale been? Where is she going? Who is she traveling with? Does she currently have offspring?
With Wild Me, you don't need a PhD to learn about wildlife.
The goal of “Wild Me” is to bring awareness of the complexity, health, and importance of wildlife populations directly to the vast network of people engaged in social media, many of whom have no direct contact with wild animal populations despite sharing the same environment.
The Wild Me project is powered by our open source Wildbook platform that is used by scientists around the world. With their permission and enthusiasm, we are sharing their scientific research in a fun and friendly way in an effort to increase awareness of the complexity, health, and vibrancy of wildlife near where we live and around the world. While any animal population from any participating research project can be explored through Wild Me, we will emphasize social associations with nearby wildlife, encouraging humans to be more directly aware of their place in a vibrant web of life.
A humpback whale off of Massachusetts.
“Wild Me” is reflexively named. We seek to build a social media bridge that allows humans to view themselves as existing in a shared - not competitive - context with wildlife. “Wild Me” refers to both the human actor in social media as well as a corresponding individual animal in the wild.
"In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth."
― Henry Beston, The Outermost House
Why should you support Wild Me?
Wild Me is a unique mix of software, science, and conservation. Our project engages the general public by merging wildlife and human social networks, using real world scientific research as a data feed for examining animal populations in a new light...as explorable networks of individuals with social and genetic relationships much like our own. This represents unparalleled access to wildlife data, and it can be experienced through the already familiar means of social media.
Wild Me has the potential to be a great educational tool without directly ‘teaching.’ Letting kids ‘friend’ and explore the life of a real whale shark, for example, allows them to learn a great deal about that animal over the course of its life while also building an awareness and deep caring for the animal. We want users of Wild Me to see the importance and value of these animals as individuals to the environment that we all interact within. Understanding can create more positive attitudes (and ultimately policies) toward wild animal populations, especially those that are threatened or endangered.
As celebrated biologist E.O. Wilson wrote: "to celebrate the individual makes it easier to save the species."
Work to be Done
We need $20,000 in Indiegogo funding to build our prototype (see below) into an engaging social media experience that blends human and animal identity and social structure to promote conservation. Here are some of the things we know we need to do.
- Provide engaging storytelling from scientists and citizen scientists who have reported or studied these individual animals. Wildlife research is not just about the animals themselves. It is also about how understanding them changes us. Storytelling is a fantastic education and outreach mechanism, and we want to deliver it through Wild Me. As an example, we are really inspired by the classroom work of "Killer Whale Tales" (http://killerwhaletales.org/).
- Content, content, content. Once we "go live" with a full featured Wild Me app, we are going to need more and more wildlife data to prevent Wild Me from becoming stale. This requires us to continuously reach out to scientists for different species and to engage them with our open source platform Wildbook.
- Show researcher profiles. We have the ability in our Wildbook base platform to show all of the researchers that have studied an individual animal (example: BZ-010). Showing the people and personalities behind the research can help inspire the next generation of researchers.
- "Gamify" the experience for education. We need to make our prototype more engaging for students and adults, creating a learning opportunity that is fun and inspirational.
- Improve social media integration. We need to push for a more seamless blending of human and animal identity in social media. From posting new sightings to your Facebook wall to tweeting out new wildlife reports, we need to build our bridge further and further into social media.
- Localization. We need to make the basic Wild Me interface accessible to non-English audiences.
And like our Wildbook software platform on Github.com, this will indeed be an open source project for anyone to reuse and benefit from. In addition, your contributions to the Wild Me project through our non-profit 501(c)(3) organization are tax deductible to the extent of the law in the United States.
Can you help us? Please be a contributor!
Proof of Concept
Because Wild Me develops and maintains the open-source Wildbook framework, we are uniquely positioned to succeed with social media integration. We have the software, data, and technical expertise required to translate wildlife science into an exploration experience for the public. In fact, we already have a very basic working prototype demonstrating the integration of three wildlife research projects using Wildbook:
Facebook login required.
Get to Know Us
Wild Me (registered as ECOCEAN USA) and the Cascadia Research Collective are both 501(c)(3) non-profits with successful track records of bringing citizen scientists and biologists together to undertake collaborative wildlife population studies. The Wild Me project is led by Jason Holmberg (Information Architect) with support from Zaven Arzoumanian and John Calambokidis (Biologist), all of whom have a decade or more of experience building collaborative wildlife studies.
Many population studies require scientists to identify individual animals and analyze their patterns of appearance over time and distance (a technique called Mark-recapture). Some great examples of public and scientific collaborations in wildlife population monitoring include:
Wildbook for Whale Sharks - Wild Me’s exciting blend of biology, software, and NASA spin-off technology to study the world’s largest fish, the whale shark!
MantaMatcher - Wild Me’s new library and community for the global-scale study of manta rays!
Splash Catalog - A collaborative humpback whale catalog administered by the Cascadia Research Collective using Wild Me’s open source Wildbook framework.
What can we do if we exceed our goal?
Our $20,000 goal gets us off the ground toward a really engaging Wild Me experience, but the project will need to keep growing and growing to be successful. Here are some exciting things we can do if we exceed our goals.
$25,000 - Cheetahs and Wild Dogs
At this level, we can bring African cheetahs and wild dogs into Wildbook and Wild Me, collaborating with Kelly Marnewick of the Endangered Wildlife Trust to bring in new and historical data for these populations and foster citizen science.
Add Wild Dogs and Cheetahs to Wild Me!
$30,000 - Blue Whales!
Working with Wild Me co-founder John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research Collective, we can convert historical data for blue whales into Wildbook and Wild Me and establish a new citizen science program online.
Blue Whales - a mother and calf under study.
$35,000 - White Sharks!!!
Working with Chris Perkins and Sharklady Adventures, we could establish a Citizen Science program that helps to monitor the number of individuals and residence times of great white sharks around Dyer Island and Shark Bay as they move along the South African coastline.
$40,000 - Twitter Integration
Facebook is only one of the social media platforms we want Wild Me to be available through. We want to be able to tweet out resightings of the animals in Wild Me and allow the public to follow them. Help us expand Wild Me to a bigger audience!
$50,000 - Google+ Integration
Help us build Google+ circles for wildlife, creating communities around each and every animal under study in Wild Me!
$55,000 - Gray Whales
Working with Wild Me co-founder John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research Collective, we can convert historical data for gray whales into Wildbook and Wild Me and establish a new citizen science program online for this species.
Help us bring new species into Wild Me and build new and engaging interfaces to promote education and conservation!