Bear with me – this is going to become a bioinformatics post in a few paragraphs.
I’m a slow adopter when it comes to social networking sites. There an an awful lot of them and not enough hours in the day. I don’t go near a site unless someone that I know and trust tells me it’s a good thing. Once there, I only stay if I find it useful and/or enjoyable. So what makes a useful social networking site?
It helps me find new information using my existing information
A couple of examples. I enjoy posting my photos to Flickr, but not so as I can look at them. I have them on my machine already. Flickr is great because it uses information about me (my photos) to find other photos of interest to me, in a wide variety of user-friendly ways: groups, tags, geographical location and so on.
Another example – Facebook. The key feature of Facebook is its applications (and API, should you wish to develop your own). Now, I could list my CD collection on my profile, but why? Not as a reference for me – I can look at them on the shelf. Not for your interest either, although you may conceivably say “hey, cool CDs!” No, the only reason to include music in my profile is so as I can discover new music in similar collections to mine. Incidentally, a lot of the CD/music apps on Facebook are a bit rubbish in this regard. Music fans, do yourself a favour by creating a last.fm account, install the last.fm app and let things scrobble away. Whilst I’m babbling about apps, Euan’s Bookshare is a great example of how a Facebook app should work (i.e. it connects people with books and people with people). Read about his initial experiences of the API.
So I got thinking – wouldn’t it be cool if bioinformatics web servers worked this way? Imagine going to the NCBI, EBI or wherever and seeing something like:
People who like Escherichia coli also like:
You might also be interested in these proteins (MW 40 000 – 50 000, pI 4 – 5):
402149140; protein of unknown function UPF0118
402179280; putative exported protein
402185600; secretion protein HlyD
These people also searched for GO accession GO:0050421 (nitrite reductase (cytochrome) activity):
Neil Saunders | tickle neil | see neil’s publications | request neil’s data |
How would this work? Like other networks, it would have to be fed with information from users. Dare we imagine a “last.fm for bioinformatics” app, scrobbling our hard drives for fasta files, R scripts and other biological data?