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Macmillan do interesting stuff

10 December 2010 2 Comments

In short succession a series of new initiatives have come out of Macmillan. From Nature Publishing Group a new protocol exchange, providing a space to share, collect, and refer to research protocols. The ones I’ve looked at so far are connected to published papers, in a similar manner to the way Nature Protocols works largely as a repository for detailed methods from papers in the Nature Stable. The setup focuses around lab groups and currently most of these are private. I’ve already complained about the fact that the licence for the protocols is a non-commercial Creative Commons variant so I won’t labour that point here.

For me Protocol Exchange is interesting because it represents a further exploration of the types of objects that can be published. NPG has a history of pushing the envelope on this, particularly within their online services. The Nature brand is a powerful way of making these new forms of publication credible and that on its own makes Protocol Exchange interesting. I’ll be interested to look more closely into the longer term business model for the exchange but in its current form it is free to use to store protocols and easily allows you to open them up for people to see. This will be worth watching, both for the uptake of the service itself and what is suggests about the longer term strategy for NPG’s online offering.

Also within NPG and the Nature Network service the new Workbench, a kind of iGoogle for research is very interesting. I’ll have a look at this in a later post alongside the SciVerse offering from Elsevier.

Outside of NPG but within the larger Macmillan group this week also saw the launch of Digital-Science a new business unit that is probably best expressed as Timo Hannay being let loose to really push the envelope in building online services for researchers within a commercial setting. Timo has for a long time articulated a coherent vision of what online services for researchers ranging from personal research management to publication channels, search and discovery, could look like. Watching him make that a reality will be very interesting to watch.

Thus far Digital-Science has bought in a series of existing properties, SureChem, BioData, and Symplectic, none of which I am terribly familiar with. There are other products being considered and developed and very interestingly an open call for business plans and proposals, positioning the organization as a potential incubator for research related start-ups. It is early days but one thing is very clear is that the team that has been put together is extremely impressive. The detail may be currently light but with these people you can expect serious stuff to happen.

Along with organizations like Mekentosj and Mendeley, Citeulike, Zotero, and the work at Elsevier, Amazon, and Microsoft, a question really has to be asked about the ability of the academic research community to deliver tools for ourselves. There is a lot of building going on, mostly in silos, but to be frank the real innovation is happening in the commercial sector. The reasons behind this are well rehearsed and I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing, there are advantages and disadvantages. But in a perfect world the commercial and academic developments in this space would be interoperable and complementary. At the moment it feels like we’re just lagging behind more interesting and exciting commercial developments. As a research community we should be looking very hard at ourselves and asking whether we’re just building the same stuff, to a lower quality, and slower, or whether we are really adding value.

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