A birthday, of sorts

Glancing through the archives at Nodalpoint, I note that the first entry is dated 2000-01-25. This may or may not be accurate (the first “real” post dates from August 1 2000) but as we approach the eighth anniversary of this venerable website, I thought a few words were in order. I trust that Greg will forgive my own interpretation of Nodalpoint history.

Nodalpoint was first devised way back at the turn of the century by Greg Tyrelle and Dan Gupta, then students at the University of New South Wales. Their idea was to build a Slashdot-style site, providing a news portal to stories from the darker, whackier end of molecular biology: life extension, human cloning, your basic William Gibson future (and hence, the name of the site). The original site used Slash code for its CMS; you can even see an early incarnation at the Internet Archive. A few new arrivals at UNSW (myself, Chris Cotsapas and Matt Hope) joined up and the site sat quietly on the web for a few months as we all learned our Linux, web and SQL skills.

Somewhere along the way, we all came to the realisation that bioinformatics was the way to go both professionally and personally and so the site changed focus. Matt, our resident web security paranoiac, Greg suggested a switch to the Drupal CMS (having trialled both PHP-Nuke and MyPHPPortal; more early incarnations) and so the contemporary site was born. People began to sign up. From around the world! A community was born. I believe that there are currently something over 4 000 registrations in the user database – many of whom are probably real people.

You may not even have noticed, but the front page articles on Nodalpoint are actually posts from user blogs. Greg made this decision a few years ago as a way of keeping the content fresh. Of course this was before the rise and rise of the wiki – something that Greg added at Nodal in 2005 – and before even the rise of the blog. A lot of people cut their teeth by blogging at Nodalpoint before migrating to WordPress, Blogger, their own hosted blogs or the multitude of other options now available.

We’ve seen a lot of changes over the years in Linux, open-source software and the Web. Perhaps the key one is that people now have far more choice in where to base their online activities, many of which are easily aggregated and integrated using web 2.0 technologies. Nodalpoint is somewhat quieter these days as a result but for a while, it was one of the major bioinformatics news portals on the web; something of which we are all quietly proud I think. We learned a lot about online communities too. If you build it they will come, but they need something to do when they arrive.

Though quieter now, Nodal is far from inactive. I encourage you to keep posting there and in particular, to make use of the wiki. It’s open to anyone with a Nodal account and provides a great space for collaborative ideas and projects.

Happy (sort of) birthday Nodalpoint.

7 thoughts on “A birthday, of sorts

  1. Pedro Beltrao

    I am one of those that first tried blogging at Nodalpoint before creating my own. Nodalpoint, Slashdot and kuro5hin had a lot of influence on my way of thinking about the potential of online communities. It is a pity we never managed to have a meeting that would suit a large number of users :)

  2. Andrew Perry

    It’s a shame I missed the early years when there was more from the “darker, whackier end of molecular biology” … I wouldn’t have any qualms bringing a little of that back to nodalpoint. I guess those articles could attract too many kooky activist types though … wouldn’t want rabid anti-this or that discussion to override the solid bioinformatics ….

    Yeh, I should really blog over on nodalpoint more.

  3. Greg

    Thanks for putting this together Neil. I have a few minor corrections to add. The first post you mention is in fact the Slashcode default post, the honor for first real post goes to Dan on the 1st of August, I posted second on the 8th, here we go.

    I originally intended to run Slashcode on the lab’s SGI O2 (bought for molecular modeling), that was until it was stolen along with a few other computers. I then brought my home computer, at the time running RedHat, into the lab to run our mail server and webserver. I then used this setup for nodalpoint. Upon encountering Matt, I switched to Debian, and he suggested PHPNuke over Slashcode. The switch to Drupal was my idea, mainly in frustration over the impossible to understand spaghetti code that was (and probably still is) PHPNuke.

  4. Duncan Hull

    Hi Neil, thanks for the history. Where to next for nodalpoint I wonder? Since many scientists now have their own blogs, I wonder if nodalpoint should do more in the style of Planet RDF syndication of user blogs?

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