I believe we all share an innate love for life on Earth. But life on Earth is in trouble. We are in the midst of the sixth great mass extinction of life on this planet. E.O. Wilson, the great biologist, has devised a plan to preserve the biodiversity of our planet. He calls the plan Half Earth. The bottom line is that that we need to dedicate fully half the surface of the Earth to nature. We've conserved 14.813% of the terrestrial surface and about 3% of the ocean.
There's a lot of great work happening, but how can we make it happen faster? I think the best way to help accelerate conservation is to substantially grow the global community of citizen naturalists. Richard Louv pleads the case in his book The Nature Principle: “In every bio-region, one of the most urgent tasks is to rebuild the community of naturalists—so radically depleted in recent years, as young people have spent less time in nature, and higher education has placed less value on such disciplines as zoology. The times are right for the return of the amateur, twenty-first-century, citizen naturalist. To be a citizen naturalist is to take personal action, to both protect and participate in nature."
We all share an innate curiosity about the wonders of our natural world. We can achieve our goal if we can make it easier and more fun to explore, learn and share nature with each other. I propose we start by building a modern, social field guide to life on Earth that is fun and easy to use with powerful species identification, gamification and beautiful design.
But!, some of you doth surely protest, there are many sites and apps where I can connect with fellow nature nerds, share photos, identify species and help with citizen naturalist projects. That’s true. I love many of those sites and apps. I have followed and used them for years. But I see three aspects of these efforts that we can substantially improve. The cumulative effect of these improvements will be a product that is more usable and useful such that we can introduce the art and science of naturalism to many new people. The three aspects are design, gamification and revenue.
Species identification is a hard problem. A big part of the problem is that the user interfaces and experiences of existing identification and photo sharing sites are outdated. The best sites for specific species are fragmented among dozens of different sites. The experiences are inconsistent and confusing. There is certainly opportunity to design and build a better identification experience.
Existing sites in this space have missed a big opportunity in gamification. An app that makes hunting for and discovering the incredible diversity of real life all around us an entertaining game could help inspire a golden age of citizen naturalism. There are opportunities to build a compelling gaming experience across many mediums including traditional screens as well as virtual and augmented reality. Games are a proven way to motivate people. Watch Nature will build gamification into the experience from the beginning to help get people out there exploring, watching, and sharing nature.
The last major problem that existing projects share is lack of revenue. All these sites, apps and communities are provided for free or supported on fixed budgets from non-profits or universities that don't allow resources to grow over time, thus diminishing the ability of the product and community to scale, innovate and push the boundaries of modern user experience, design and development.
Watch Nature will use a freemium model with an annual or monthly membership. We will give members full access to the product as well as online courses and other content that will help members become better wildlife photographers and naturalists. The recurring revenue will provide the solid foundation we'll need to provide a steadily improving product and content. We will also raise revenue by seeking sponsorships from companies and organizations in markets like photography, adventure and travel gear, science, education and conservation. Sponsorships will be displayed as advertising in our products but we will not sell identifying information as a part of our sales program. We will only provide broad demographic information about our audiences as provided by Quanstcast, or the like, about our community as a whole.
I also think it will be important for the project to incorporate as a benefit corporation. This will allow us to use equity to recruit and motivate the people we need to build and maintain the best products and services possible. It will also allow us to place our financial obligation to shareholders on legal par with our education and conservation missions.
I’ve been working on taking the dream out of my head and making it real.
Here's the story so far.
First, I want to be clear that this work is being done in the precious hours I can spare between my work as director of technology for Rewire and time with my family. Work on this project will continue to be on a spare time basis for now.
I started talking about this idea with a good friend five years ago after we both read E.O. Wilson's The Future of Life. I found a couple projects out there working on the basic idea and started using them. Five years later what I have in mind still doesn't exist. I think it can and should.
I've learned a lot in these past five years relevant to making this project work. The technology, camera and mobile technology in particular, is so much better and more affordable now. The timing seems right. So I got started.
First I decided that I should start talking to and learning more from experts in the arts and sciences of watching nature: about biology, about how to document nature in ways that are both aesthetic and scientific, about conservation and about how we talk about these topics in our popular culture. I'm recording these conversations and sharing them as a podcast so others, like you, can learn from these folks too. I started practicing wildlife photography and sharing the photos and my experiences. I'm drafting the app design for a modern field guide built on top of a social network. I'll be sharing the first drafts of the design for your feedback soon.
And that brings us to here. I’m ready to start building our community.
I need to find the perfect 100 founding members of the Watch Nature community to help us design, develop and test our first product: a modern, social field guide to life on Earth.
So, if you are an amateur or professional naturalist, wildlife and nature photographer, conservationist, or biologist, or some awesome combination thereof, and you are interested in testing and providing constructive feedback and guidance for us while we design and build this product, please click here to answer a few questions and get by answering a few questions and clicking submit:
I am open to any and all ideas and critiques of these ideas. Please join the project and share them with us.
Or if you know someone who would be a great fit and may be interested, please share this page with them!
If you are not sure just yet and would like to stay in touch, please be sure to subscribe to the podcast and our newsletter to keep up with our progress. You can also follow us on our social channels.
Imagine, in a beautiful future, a community of millions of dedicated naturalists from around the world working together using beautiful, powerful tools to help understand the infinite complexity of life on Earth. Creating great online education content to raise a new generation of naturalists. Providing a trove of scientifically valuable data to scientists. Building beautiful real time visualizations of species migrations. Producing award-winning nature documentaries and world-class online education content. Turning the global hunt for species into an entertaining game. Making virtual reality nature walks, guided by expert locals through natural spaces all around the world. Imagine a virtuous revenue engine that makes all this possible and allows us to contribute meaningfully to the massive Half Earth conservation goal. It will be a lot of fun!
A sincere thank you for taking the time to read through this and I’m looking forward to getting to know some of you!