Ars Botanica

The Ars Botanica system is designed to facilitate botanical research, whether it is small personal propagation or large-scale resource management. Keeping in mind the flexibility needed to address a wide variety of factors, many of which may be unforeseeable at the time the system is designed, was paramount in the development of way the system operates. Because it is a web-based system, it offers researchers the ability to collaborate from all over the world, sharing as much or as little of their research as they choose, even to the level of isolated viewing privileges for specific individuals. Ultimately, with the inclusion of forums for public and private discussion, an active community of individuals will begin to emerge which will represent some of the most technically advanced researchers anywhere. Many new functions of recording and analysis will be available to this audience, which are unique to the medium - allowing whole new levels of research. With this site crucial research will be able to be easier done in areas such as crops for phytoremediation and waste reclamation as well as unclassified new plants that are discovered, whose traits are completely unknown.

Ars Botanica was created to allow individuals, or larger research bodies, to keep track of as many factors of their growing environment as they wish. Users can create an account that will act as a central point for all the information they'll accumulate. An inventory system allows users to records information about what strains are being managed and grown. Details of strain information, source, the initial form the stain was receive in, quantity, price and other information will all be centralized in the users inventory. The strains themselves will have their own levels of detail, recording known information including color, growth cycle, harvesting information, and parents. This information is essential to understanding the plants as they develop and, after several generations, genealogical information will be able to plotted and viewed online to better facilitate research.

Actively growing plants are organized by 'crops,' and crops will contain a variety of data, including sector information. Sectors are physical areas where plants grow (including zone information) - whether it is outdoor areas of ground, or indoor arrangements. For convenience or detail, crops can be managed either as a whole sector, or by each individual plant that is planted. In the latter case, crops serve as organizational units for 'specimens', which are each growing plant. Each of these specimens will track information about the strain that is growing, what manner of vessel it has been cultivated in (or the ground). Notes can be recorded for any given date and time, detailing the plant's condition as it matures.

The time-stamped notes are part of a larger area of the site that will center on the recording changes in the environment and in the plant. Which factors are monitored and recorded is completely customizable by the user, allowing for the tracking of any quantifiable parameter, such as photoperiod, air temperature, water pH, plant height, etc. These factors can further be grouped by any category the user may desire, such as 'air composites', 'soil micronutrients', or 'physical attributes'. Scanned images of specimens, or whole crops, can be uploaded and attached to any of these notes as well, giving a more visual representation of the plants' state, which would also allow others to see research findings from anywhere in the world. All of these bits of data will be accessible via a calendar-based system, which will have customizable views based upon specific crops, specimens, particular factors, or other criteria. As users become more comfortable with the system they ill have the option of streamlining some of this information into areas of the system that relate specifically to the managements of individual specimens, etc.

An extensive calendar system will keep track of all of this information, allowing such regularly collected information to be tracked in relation to other cycles in nature, such as sun cycles, moon cycles and phases, and other cycles or events which may be specific to certain philosophies or cultures (such as planetary positions, native holidays, etc). The calendar system will be able to be customized to whatever events the user wishes to track, and to these ends certain cycles such as moon phases, etc may be pre-entered and available for viewing along with other preferences.

Since all of this information is online, the ability to collaborate with other researchers has been heavily incorporated. Users will have the ability to specify how much of their online research is available for view to anyone using the site. These viewing permissions will be customizable from general public access to all work, to restricting access to specific crops or specimens to specified users. In this way researches can keep many parts of their research completely private, while sharing limited information to trusted individuals.

Because of this sharing of information, individuals may quickly wish to communicate to others that are doing research in their field of specialty, and to this end forums will be available to those that wish to have a common grounds for dialog. Though some general-purpose forums will be available, public and private forums will also be able to be created by individuals seeking to reach a niche audience, or wishing to share information amongst a select group of colleagues. These forums will operate in a similar manner to other online forums for ease-of-use. Additional features will allow users to specify whole forums for determining which members will be able to view specific parts of those user's research.

All of this is just a first draft (albeit a very real, plausible, and attainable one) for the possibilities of Ars Botanica, and even at that, it's just a technical overview. Details on the interface for this system are still being worked out, but with beta testers using the system and giving feedback, an intuitive interface will be crafted that's both suited to existing conventions as well as taking advantage of features only possible via the medium. Additional functionality that the system has been engineered for (though is not thought to be implemented in the first 'public draft' of the site) include; some features of the forums, which though accounted for in the basic conception of the site will take some ongoing development to make very intuitive to any users of any familiarity with the WWW. Optimally, the permissions for how users can view each other's work would also be expanded to all people to collaborate via the site. Multiple users could share a common inventory (for colleagues working together locally but utilizing different accounts online). Users could even be setup to allow crops in their account to be managed and tended to by other users of the system, allowing for team leaders to oversee the work of other members of a group. An extended grouping system for crops, specimens, strains, etc could also be implemented for individuals or groups that are working with very large varieties or numbers of plants, etc. Details genealogies maps could also be dynamically plotted for the user, saving them time of creating such plots themselves and reducing the human-error in creating them by hand.

Along these lines charts and graphs of data over time could be made. Because of the unlimited variety of factors that the system can be customized to track, the user would be further helped by the ability to create completely customized graphs based upon whatever criteria were desired. Complex statistical functions could be implemented as much as resources would allow. This area alone could stand to be one of the most important functions of the site (along with basic recording and online collaboration). Once the site would be operating more smoothly and receiving regular feedback additional features in these areas could be accommodated.

Other specialized features that may be of interest to certain clients include automated data entry for research being done on large numbers of specimens or crops. Automated data-collecting systems could interact with the site via an application that would run on a local computer. This application would then send large data updates to the site at once, rather than individual users having to regularly hand-enter larger volumes of data. A locally interacting application like this could also be used to enter data locally and send it to the site via very secure encryption to prevent risking data theft in situations where research being done is of a highly sensitive nature.

Interface concepts for the site revolved around working with classical analogies. There will be a large volume of information that will be accessible, and a lucid and well thought-out interface will be paramount in keeping the site both technically functional and cognoscently accessible. A notebook analogy has come up repeatedly because of its familiarity in this field, as well as the almost universal archetype of a book. Many of the basic 'interface' paradigms of a book such as indexes and appendices, page tabs for organization, etc - are intuitively understandable to people of any background. Meshing various important functions of the site in intuitive manners will be better facilitated the less extraneous and unknown interface elements new users have to deal with. The commonplace, non-computer analogies such as a 'notebook' will also be a good lead-in to users which may be very or entirely new to using the internet or computers in general.

Ultimately, this system is designed to allow researchers of any level to better track the growth of plants and view the large amount of data that quickly result from such research. The basic medium it operates in allows for massive amounts of collaboration from individuals from all over the world, and there are enough possibilities to allow for many areas of development - either expanding needs the needs to additional people or customizing the existing system to those that are already using it.

New Alexandria - Stephanie Simmons
zak@newalexandria.org
arsbotanicapa@hotmail.com

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