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On-line keys: more than just paper on the web

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The internet has opened new opportunities for the distribution of systematic information. Advantages such as immediate worldwide distribution, affordable presentation of color illustrations, ease of updating the information, and low cost all suggest that the web is an ideal medium for the publication of taxonomic keys, descriptions, illustrations, and catalogues. Using examples from on-line interactive keys published on the web and the interactive key projects developed at the USDA ARS Systematic Botany and Mycology Laboratory (SBML), this paper presents important points to be considered in developing online interactive keys. These include the use of standard internet protocols, emphasis on images, and easy maintenance by scientists without intervention of IT staff. An additional technical point is that morphological data should be external to the key program. As a result, when data are changed or replaced, the system will automatically be updated. In addition, these data can be used for applications outside of the key. While the potential usefulness of internet keys and other on-line systematic information may be obvious, there are hurdles that must be overcome before there is any significant proliferation of on-line keys. Systematists must embrace the internet as a desirable publishing option, peer review and institutional reward systems must recognize the significance of non-paper publication, and systematists need to incorporate structured procedures for data collection.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Systematic Botany and Mycology Laboratory, Beltsville MD 20705

Publication date: 01 August 2006

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