What’s the killer app for the scientific web?
A short history of the web
The first application that opened up the net to the common person was email. It was simple in concept and nearly universal in applicability. Email is just a letter that takes no time to post and doesn’t require a stamp or a physical address. Following that, the Web browser is really what brought the Web as we know it today to the common person. No longer did you have to wait for information to come to you over the radio, TV, or in printed media, you could now go looking for what you personally were interested in, or if there wasn’t anything out there, publish it yourself for other people to find. However, the people who were the early adopters here were still mostly technical. Maintaining a website required an expensive internet connection, maintaining large amounts of complicated code, and lots of time FTPing files around. The only people for whom the effort was worthwhile were computer scientists and physicists who needed to share huge datasets that required large computing resources to process them. Even as late as the mid-90s, the web remained largely by nerds for nerds.
How it’s different, and easier, now
In the past couple years, there have been extremely rapid and important changes occurring in the way people communicate and share information. Most scientists, spending most of their time at the bench doing experiments, or the desktop writing grants, have missed these changes. The truly amazing thing is that the basic infrastructure has been laid, the heavy lifting has been done, but the space hasn’t become crowded yet. The purpose of this next series of posts is to discuss these changes, what they mean for the average scientist(and I know that’s none of you), and how and why to use the new technology to advance your career.
There will be 5 posts in this series:
- Introduction to the scientific web.
- Scientific Blogging
- Social Networking.
I’ll discuss some “use cases” to help you decide which tools might be a good match for your particular situation.
A blog is the root of your identity on the web. It’s the personal component of your web presence – your face to the web. I’ll show you what to do so that when someone searches for “an expert in [your field]”, it’s your blog that they find.
The Wiki is the repository of what the business types call “institutional intelligence”, or all the little things that someone knows that never quite make it into formal publications or SOPs, and are generally lost when the person leaves. Persistence and aggregation are what makes wikis work, and a wiki-based protocol collection is an awesome tool.
No, I’m not talking about wasting time on Myspace or Facebook. What Web 2.0 is really about is reducing information overload, something every scientist can identify with. I’ll show you which tools really do help reduce the effort required to keep up with the literature.
Now that you know how important, and how easy, it is, I’ll recommend some of my favorite services, and share with you some tips I’ve learned to make the whole process, or whatever part of it appeals to you, more efficient and effective.
First, let’s discuss some common labs tasks so that you can see which scenario most closely matches your own. Once you find a scenario that’s worth spending time on improving, I will show you just how little effort is actually required to make the change.
Ask yourself if you’ve ever been in one of the following situations:
- You have students who are bright and do good work, but they’re a little shy to speak in lab meetings or have difficulty explaining their work to an audience.
- Your long-time lab assistant left to pursue other opportunities and her replacement is left wondering how she managed to consistently turn out such clean blots.
- You really like being at the bench, but you have some deadlines approaching and want to keep things moving along while you’re chained to your desk.
- You travel extensively, but want to remain aware of and involved with the daily goings-on in the lab.
- You manage a large lab or collaboration, not all of whom communicate well with one another, and you’d like to keep everyone updated on what the other groups are doing.
- You host a weekly journal club and the members would like an easy way to find great papers to present and keep everyone updated on schedule changes and which papers will be discussed.
If any of the above sound remotely familiar, stay tuned, because I’ll show you the easiest way to address these issues, requiring nothing more than what you needed to read this post in the first place!
Check out the three stories about scientists using the web at Bioinformatics Zen.
About Mr. Gunn
Science, Scholarly Communication, and Mendeley