Thursday, October 07, 2004

Mushroom radar as a social software

Let's start dumping some ideas..

In a couple of years I've become a regular mushroom hunter. I go to local forests to look for new findings; some interesting new fungi, preferably edible (this cultivation has nothing to do with magic mushrooms or our local favorites, Kärpässieni). It is said that several tons of quality food rot in the forests - and I mean quality: have you ever tasted Black Trumpets, for example? I found hundreds of them a month ago (although I got eaten by mosquito's while picking them up).

Most are unfamiliar or different specimen or know only a few edible ones. At worst, hunting mushrooms is seen as weird activity, conducted only by older generation of weird shamans. Those of you who do not know, the "mushroom" part as we know is only part of the fungi, that mostly lives under the surface, decomposing and rotting living things.

Of course, I always look at technological possibilities. I grew tired of carrying that heavy book of 5000 different specimen with me, merely utilizing it only partly, lacking the time and interest to search deeper into it in the forest. I thought about mobile capabilities.

Simplest would be the same in electronic format. But even better would be a social application of the above. Imagine a Mushroom Radar ( in finnish "Sienitutka"), which asks you a set of questions using intelligent heuristics and fuzzy logic to sort out what specimen the certain unknown mushroom is a part of: does it have a cap? How about gills? Small, medium or large in size? Dark or light in color? Etc.

The set of questions could aim to limit the possible alternatives to certain specimens. Once the set of questions have been asked and you could easily select from answers ranging from 1 to 4 selectable different alternatives (possibly including images), the system could poll a central database with the answers and return a list of possible alternatives with a calculated certainty.

If you have successfully identified the mushroom, you could take an image of it and attach some description of it (surroundings etc) and send it to the central database. Your phone will send the location information, weather and time of year for the system to conduct more analysis on its own.

So what I'm describing is a raw idea of a social software for mushroom hunters, which allows them to gather collaborative data and attach collaborative filtering of the results powered with simple, fast and accurate heuristics. This could in fact applied with anything else from flower lovers to bird watchers.

A system like this could leverage the participation in understanding a very complex topic like identifying a certain mushroom accurately (there are several thousand different specimen here in Finland alone, of which only a couple of packs are toxic). It might draw people who previously were not interested in mushroom hunting to actually try it. Hopefully not more magic mushroom hunters, looking for ways to get their heads filled with liberty caps they don't know much about anyway ;)

All in all I enjoy walking in the forest and now after I have introduced myself in the wonderful world of living things working their way under the surface I have viewed the forest as having more life than ever before. A real experience to look after. It really helps you to forget surrounding world and business while you are desperately trying to find that rare Cauliflower mushroom.


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