University of Michigan biologist Philip Myers was preparing to teach a new animal diversity course for nonmajors, but he couldn't find a textbook that contained the right mix: detailed information about individual species, lots of photos, and material about ecology and conservation.
So Myers and a few U-M colleagues created a new learning tool called the Animal Diversity Web, a searchable database and multimedia encyclopedia of animal natural history that was launched on the fledgling World Wide Web in 1995.
From modest beginnings, ADW has steadily grown to become one of the world's largest and most widely used natural history websites. During busy months, more than 5 million pages of content are provided to more than half a million users worldwide, said Myers, who added that the popularity and global reach of his brainchild was "totally unexpected."
"I would attribute our success to the fact that we filled a niche, and we filled it early," said Myers, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist and a curator of mammals at the U-M Museum of Zoology. "This was the early days of the World Wide Web. At the time, we were one of the only animal diversity websites out there. And once we began seeing the potential impact that we could have on the field of animal diversity, we ran with it."
And now, thanks to the first top-to-bottom site redesign in more than a decade, ADW has a fresh new look, with more graphics, new navigation tools that provide quicker access to information, and added features such as daily "animal headlines." Check out the revamped ADW, which was redesigned by U-M's Michigan Creative, at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu.
"The original and continuing goal has been to use this for educating students," said Myers, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. "We had no way of knowing, at the start, what the real potential of this project was. I could see that it had a great deal of potential for my personal use here at the University of Michigan, but the fact that somebody in Argentina would be using it in 2012 just never occurred to me."
U-M News Service press release