It was at last year's TED Conference that during his 2007 Ted Award acceptance speech, biologist E. O. Wilson announced a "dream" that someone would fund the project (video here). However, it was his 2005 letter to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation which resulted in the $10 million seed grant to start the Encyclopedia of Life.
According to the project's FAQ page, the entire project will take approximately 10 years. Accounting for the project start in 2007, project completion is estimated for 2017.
The project won't rely on a small set of editors. Instead, according to the FAQ:
Unlike conventional encyclopedias, where an editorial team sits down and writes the entries, the Encyclopedia will be developed by bringing together (“mashing up”) content from a wide variety of sources. This material will then be authenticated by scientists, so that users will have authoritative information. As we move forward, Encyclopedia of Life and its board will work with scientists across the globe, securing the involvement of those individuals and institutions that are established experts on each species.This will result in a vetted set of information, unlike Wikipedia, whose founder, Jimmy Wales, has frequently warned users against using it for scholarly papers. It doesn't sound like it will take submissions from John or Jane Q. Public, but it's possible, with the vetting process.
If you try (and I emphasize try) to go to the site, be prepared: I can attest to a) general slowness, b) occasional server errors based on capacity issues. Small wonder, with the amount of interest in this project.
In fact, for some time yesterday, the following message was posted on the site:
"Our official launch date was February 26th. However, due to phenomenal load on our servers, we reverted to our pages served prior to launch. We are working hard to remedy the situation and will resume momentarily."According to the encyclopedia's organizers, the EOL had 11.5 million hits over 5 1/2 hours, (including two hours of down time), according to organizers. The site was too popular to keep the Encyclopedia of Life "alive," I guess?
Right now, that message isn't there, but the errors I indicated do occur. Expect growing pains; it's just opened. Take a look anyway; if you can view it, it's great.