Scientists to collaborate on Google's OpenSocial

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Scientists to collaborate on Google's OpenSocial

Researchers have launched a new social network to support long-distance collaboration between scientists.

Built on Google’s OpenSocial platform, the newly launched Laboratree Research Management System joins tools such as Facebook and IBM’s SameTime in the online social networking and collaboration arena.

Unlike consumer or commercially available tools, however, Laboratree has a heavy focus on academic research and includes features such as scientific applications, data and document managing and project messaging.

According to its developers at the Indiana University School of Medicine, Laboratree aims to facilitate day-to-day research activities in a way that eliminates barriers to entry by using the familiar structure of social networking.

“My thinking is that we should actually try to do things with a social network -- that is, we should consider the social network the model by which we do things,” said Sean Mooney, who is an assistant professor of medical and molecular genetics at the university.

“We didn’t use an existing network because we created very sophisticated group and project features not offered by other sites,” he told iTnews. “Our focus is on providing scientists with tools specifically useful for researchers.”

Laboratree has been ten months in the making, and is said to have grown from a desire for tools to solve organisation, collaboration, messaging, and document control issues in Mooney’s own lab.

The system is completely Web-based and runs on Linux-based webservers. It allows scientists to maintain their own unique profile, create groups for their labs, manage individual projects, and invite users to collaborate as ‘colleagues’.

In addition to pre-installed features, the system supports embedded applications built on the OpenSocial platform.

“We believe that the culture of science tends toward more openness,” Mooney told iTnews.

“For example, many publicly funded researchers are required to share their data after they publish, and many scientific journals have adopted open access models.”

“We see the same for OpenSocial,” he said. “If an application developer develops an tool for Laboratree, other scientists are welcome to embed it somewhere else -- Orkut for example.”

Response to Laboratree within the scientific community has been ‘very enthusiastic’ so far, Mooney said. At the time of launch, the site had around 500 users, and visitors from 32 countries.

Looking forward, Mooney expects Laboratree’s user base to grow among the global scientific community.

“The stereotype of the lab bound scientist who does not interact with others is a bit of a misnomer,” he told iTnews.

“Today, science is heavily collaborative, and big science is only enabled by many experts working on various aspects of that big problem.”

“We are solving a problem most scientists share,” he said. “As we grow, it will be interesting to see where our user base is strongest.”
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