Page last updated at 08:48 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Strength in science collaboration


Rory Cellan-Jones talks to the developers of Google's 'next-generation' messenger service on 30 September 2009

Google Wave is proving its worth in the scientific community, as one of the new collaboration tools which scientists are using to work together and conduct research.

"Google Wave offers two specific things," says Cameron Neylon, senior scientist for bio-molecular sciences at the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

"What it looks like is this cross of e-mail and instant-messaging, which is great fun. Where it really wins for science is that actually these documents or 'Waves' can be made automated so we can connect up documents and ideas with each other."

He says the real power of tools like Google Wave lies in automation - where it collects data without any need for extra human effort.

"A particular chemical compound, for instance, could be labelled and linked back to a database," adds Mr Neylon.

"That lets us start to link up all the references to that single chemical compound and connect all of those together. But it can also do all this without necessarily requiring the user to do too much work."

Pairing people and papers

Victor Henning is the co-founder of Mendeley, an online collaboration tool which was created specifically for scientists.

The free software allows scientists and researchers to upload papers which are then trawled for bibliographic data - author, title, issue and so on - and paired up with similar papers already in the database.

Using those tools to more effectively push those objects around to other scientists has got to be a good thing.
Cameron Neylon

Mendeley is supposed to take the work out of managing these [research] papers.," explains Mr Henning.

"You can just drag and drop your collection of PDFs into the software and it'll automatically extract all the bibliographic data - all of the stuff that you'd usually have to type in manually.

"What Mendeley is designed to do is give you recommendations which compliment your existing library."

Biggest thinkers

The software is proving a hit with high-profile scientists working within top institutions including MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Cambridge and the University of Michigan.

Mr Henning says the site has roughly 70,000 users, and is growing at a rate of 40% each month.

He says the site's current features will remain free, but they hope to build up a profitable model too.

"We will be introducing additional premium features later this year, such as more storage space, more sharing features for labs."

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The key to these sites is putting scientists in touch with fellow researchers and academics in a way that was only before possible with word of mouth or extensive, time-consuming networking.

"The power of Web 2.0 tools is they allow people to share a huge range of objects - they might be pictures, text, or just raw data," concludes Mr Neylon.

"Using those tools to more effectively push those objects around to other scientists has got to be a good thing."

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