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The BioBricks Foundation is pleased to announce that we are now managing technical support for OpenWetWare. The BBF is a nonprofit organization that promotes biotechnology in the public interest. If you like OWW and want to support our efforts to keep it running smoothly, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution of any amount to help pay for hosting, web developer oversight, and other basic needs. You can make a contribution to OpenWetWare here.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please email us at info@biobricks.org.

It’s been a while since my last update. But lest anyone have any doubts about the ongoing direction of OpenWetWare, rest assured, things are moving forward.

Not dead yet….

Server Move Details

This week (June 1 – June 5), OpenWetWare.org will be moving from our current server at Rackspace to a new Rackspace Cloud Server. The server will be around the same class of machine and will be running on Ubuntu Linux rather than the existing RedHat Enterprise Linux release. All backups will be done to Rackspace Cloud Files. All MySQL database backups , and image files will be stored external to the server via Cloud Files. For those of you who are wondering why OWW will be using Ubuntu rather than Red Hat, it’s because Wikimedia uses Ubuntu for all of their MediaWiki servers; using it will keep OWW close to the infrastructure that MediaWiki is tested and developed  on.

The move will be done Tuesday night around 11:00 PM EST. We don’t anticipate problems but the server will briefly go down as the IP address is changed. The new server has been configured and, just after changing the IP address, the most recent snapshot of the MySQL databases from the current server will be loaded to the new one and a final file sync will be executed.

There should be no changes in the way MediaWiki and any extensions are handled. LaTex has been installed on the new server.  All extensions are working or are being tweaked before the move.

There will be no upgrade of OWW’s MediaWiki software release until the move is complete. Hard-won experience dictates that reducing variables is the right way to maximize the probability of a successful major server task.

Since OWW uses many virtual hosts, all of these will be tested briefly to make sure they are all accessible. This can’t be tested completely until the change. No problems are anticipated but if there are problems, this is the most likely place it will be.

Please submit any comments or questions to me. Either reply here or use this link and follow the contact instructions in the OpenWetWare wiki.

Thanks again.

Bill Flanagan

OpenWetWare.org

Hello!  Is this thing on?  The last 12 months have seen significant life changes (seemingly successful) for many of the people within and around the OWW community.  Because OWW is a community (of researchers) we are past due for an update on how we are doing and open discussions of where we might want to be heading.

First, a few of the changes:

  • All of the founding researchers who created and obtained funding in support of OWW managed to  earn their PhDs from MIT.  Many of these folks have successfully launched a new company, Ginkgo BioWorks, in order to help make biology easy to engineer.  Indeed!
  • Lorrie LeJeune, who was our Managing Director was lured away to become a Senior Editor at Nature Education, which is an incredible opportunity for her to impact the lives of many learners.  Good luck Lorrie!
  • The Endy Lab wound down at MIT and has been reborn at Stanford.  Personally, I’ve moved twice, sold one condo, bought one house, helped to design and manage the construction of a new laboratory, and have been assembling a new research team.  Phew.

Second, what’s not changed:

  • Bill Flanagan remains gainfully employed at MIT, working to make OWW better and helping to put out the fires that flare up.  Simply put, Bill is an incredible resource for OWW and we are ridiculously lucky to have somebody at his skill level and with his strategic perspective at the heart of OWW.
  • We currently maintain funding from the US National Science Foundation in support of OWW.  To clarify one point in the recent and fantastic article by Jakob Sukale, the NSF grant expires 30 April 2010.  This grant currently pays for Bill’s salary and our server costs.  We are currently underspending on this grant and I will likely ask for a no-cost extension which, if granted, could extend our existing funding runway to April 2011.

Third, who is OWW?

  • I’ve found it very useful to understand who is actually using OWW.  I’d suspected that some people tend to talk about OWW and openness in research but that fewer folks are actually living the dream, so to speak.  Well, turns out that thanks to Bill, OWW maintains a statistics page here.  There are ~6000 registered OWW users (roughly doubling over the past year).  About 50 different users make edits to OWW pages on any given day.  About 500 unique users make edits each month.  Over 100,000 unique visitors browse OWW each month. This is incredible!
  • From a different perspective, OWW is incredibly small.  We also represent a broader experiment in changing the process of research that is very much in a fragile intermediate stage of its development.  Michael Nielsen did a good job of capturing some of the issues in his recent article, “Doing Science in the Open.”  Stated differently and from a personal perspective, I would currently be hard pressed to make a successful argument that supporting and using OWW has made the research in my own laboratory significantly better, as judged by our traditionally published results.  On the one hand, we had a great experience using OWW as a platform for developing a shared reference standard for measuring promoter activity in vivo. On the other hand, using OWW as it exists today has led to increased frustration with the slow inanities to be found within the conventional research publication process, while simultaneously and naively reducing the pressure to publish more formally and enabling others outside the (v. small) OWW community to “borrow” results without giving credit.  Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising. All said, I’m more invested in OWW than ever before, and am convinced that we are figuring out a new way to do research.  We just have a lot of work to do in order to make the transition complete.

So fourth, what’s happening in terms of thinking about where we might go?

  • Lorrie LeJeune and Jason Kelly did a tremendous job exploring the entire process of research, from brainstorming ideas to promulgating results.  Some of these ideas are summarized here.  Many interesting questions and debates arise from considering this framing.  For example, is OWW about the information and knowledge maintained on our servers, or is it about the community of researchers that produces this content?  (personally, I think that the answer is both).  Stated  differently, should OWW support the process of research or should we focus on the capture and promulgation of research results?  (again, I’d vote both).  As a different example, does OWW exist primarily in order to stand as a shining beacon of openness in research, or are we simply trying to make the research process better which, given today’s information and communication technology platforms, tends to select for doing many more things in the open? (more on this third example below).
  • Bill Flanagan and I have been churning through the exciting opportunities that seem to continuously emerge given ongoing advances in information and communication technologies.  Some people refer to OWW as a wiki.  This makes me cringe.  Wikis are great but we likely need to transcend this framing in order to best realize solutions that could be developed in service of our community and our work.  You can find many early examples of this, such as Bill’s pilot efforts to integrate OWW with online document systems (e.g., Google Docs).

So, where should we go?  My own sense is that we should go meta and support the integration of many web-based tools and communities in support of making the research process better.  We will end up doing many more things in the open as a result.  We also need to partner more effectively with existing modes and channels of peer review and recognition.  But this is just my sense, so please chime in with your two cents, either via our Google discussion group, in the comments below, or by editing the appropriate OWW page.  We need to hear from the people who are depending on OWW, or who would use OWW if <blank> happened.  Also, for those of us for whom OWW is an essential part of our research existence, please participate in discussions about how to best guarantee the future funding of our operation.  We have time to work through different models, but need to start doing so now. Our Discussion list is
just a click away
.

Cheers, Drew

My life at OWW has been an endless stream of messages articulating Austin’s far-too-old feature and technology suggestions that I slowly get around to adding. The “flash” (of insight) to “bang” (of getting the idea online) is not great; I would hope the time will diminish eventually. But for now, this is what it is!

The latest is a big one. That would make it a “big bang”. So maybe a better way of saying it would be a “marginal thud” to a “moderate drop”. I’ve started the process of adding support to OWW for Javascript Gadgets. This is a centrally managed method of deploying ‘sanctioned’ Javascript that then can be enabled or disabled by every user. This extension is already in use on various WikiMedia servers; we are long overdue.

What it means is that there are scores of ways people more javascript-savvy than me have created small extensions to MediaWiki that do all sorts of useful things. The ‘quick-nav’ item on the sidebar, written by Austin, as an example, could be included in this general category. I created an extension to enable it for everyone since it is so useful to anyone who has ever forgotten the last 15 pages he/she visited.

I’ll provide a full list of these extensions when I’ve completed the import of them.

Once we have access to all of them, I would imagine that a set of much more research- and life science-specific entries would be useful. Since the Venn diagram representing “biologists”, “OWW users and viewers”, and “Javascript hackers” may be initially limited to Austin, it may be a while before we have many OWW-specific extensions available.

Personally, I think we should all do our best to start keeping him company.

If there’s something you have to do over- and over- again in OWW to do your work, consider using the discussion area I’ll add in order to get the ideas flowing.

Expect the first set of Gadgets, with instructions, to be available this week.

If anyone wants to volunteer to help out with testing Gadgets prior to our including them in the central library, please let me know. We’re not limiting inclusion of Gadgets because we want to suppress open science, by the way. It’s just that in programming, anything that can fail, will. I just don’t want an infinite number of new lab notebook pages to be created just because someone wanted to automate his or her own task and didn’t test!

Here’s a link for more information on MediaWiki Gadgets:

wikimedia.org: Gadgets

By the way. Don’t confuse Gadgets with Widgets. We may add Widgets as well. Unlike Gadgets, once enabled, Widgets can be added by anyone to any of their pages. Where Gadgets are more related to creating content and using OWW, Widgets will be useful for extending OWW to interact with external data.

Thanks.
Bill

PS: Thanks again, AC.

Earlier today fellow OWW blogger Cameron Neylon gave a talk at the Institutional Web Managers Workshop in Aberdeen and did so, not only for those present at the venue, but also to anyone with internet access.

Cameron set out to stream the talk via webcast, have updates via FriendFeed and also microblogging via Twitter.

The presentation was viewed by quite a few folks and many participated on FriendFeed. Cameron even stated that he noticed 20 new followers on his twitter account!

Giving talks can be stressful as is, so this requires some congratulating for the effort. Great work Cameron!

As many of you may have noticed, we’ve been adding a few new features to OWW’s side bar over the last few days. Among them you’ll find the quick nav, the feedback box and invite box.

Let me go over some of these new features so that you can take full advantage of them. Keep in mind that some of these features are only available for OWW community members. If you are not yet an OWW member, feel free to join us.

Quick NavThe Quick Nav
The quick nav is a cool dropdown select menu that displays your last 15 or so moves around OWW. This comes in handy when you are bouncing between pages. Just click and you’re there.

Bookmarking linksBookmarking tools
We’ve added a few little icons that link to bookmarking tools like Connotea, CiteULike and del.icio.us. This will allow you to quickly save the revision of the page you’re currently looking at with all the relevant content required by these bookmarking services.

Feedback is goodThe Feedback box
As a way to further interact with our visitors and community, we’ve set up a quick feedback box that allows anyone to let us know their opinion regarding a specific question we happen to display within that box. It’s just a matter of typing in your short comment and click! It’s that simple.

 

Invite a researcherInvite a friend
We are always interested in having new and interesting people join OpenWetWare. Therefore, we’ve set up a quick invite box that allows current OWW community members to invite their friends/colleagues to join.

We are cooking up the next batch of cool features… Do you have any ideas or suggestions for features you’d like to see developed/implemented on OWW? Let us know!

OWW Lab NotebookTomorrow, July 10th at noon EDT, we’ll be having another one of our open town hall meetings at OWW. Anyone is invited to take part in the meeting, either via conference call or online chat. Details to get connected can be found here.

This month’s meeting will be focused around Lab Notebooks. We’ll be discussing what has already been done at OpenWetWare and what features should be added (or removed!), among other things…

If you happen to be interested in this topic, feel free to join in on the conversation and share your thoughts. If you can’t make it to the meeting, you can either leave your comments on this blog post or on the wiki, here.

Jonathan over at Working the bench has just recently posted about how impressed he is by OpenWetWare and the available protocols:

It takes a little digging, but the website is really sweet simply because it gives you the feel that, for any given protocol, you are looking at something that works. It’s been tested, validated, and in many cases even commented on and modified by any number of additional people.

Jonathan makes a good point here where he mentions that you are looking at something that has been tested, validated and in many times worked on collaboratively by a group of OWW members.

What Jonathan doesn’t mention is that although OWW is a great resource for protocols, there are other great features like the materials section, indexed reference sources and above all, a large community of researchers from all over the world.

Every year since 2004, groups of students have been getting together to compete in what is now known as iGEM, the International Genetically Engineered Machines competition.

Many of the groups set up camp on OpenWetWare to work collaboratively on their projects. Doing so allows others to follow their work from the early brainstorming process to the daily grind of lab work via lab notebooks.

Past and present projects can be found on the OWW iGEM page or at the official iGEM website.

Piotr Przanowski from the University of Warsaw’s 2008 team has produced a brilliant illustration that summarizes the iGEM spirit:

And… graduates with his PhD in Biological Engineering from MIT. Jason was joined by other OWW stallwarts including Dr. Reshma Shetty, Dr. Barry Canton, Dr. Ty Thomson, and Dr. Samantha Sutton as they completed their degrees.

Dr. Jason Kelly

Congratulations to all of them.

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