Online scientific collaboration: the sequel

In 2000 I was commissioned to write a report called Internet Groupware for Scientific Collaboration. That was before modern social media, before blogs even really got going. But was already well-established, and wikis and calendar services and Dave Winer’s proto-blog, Manila, and many kinds of discussion forums were relevant to my theme. On the standards front, RSS, MathML, and SVG were emerging. One of my premonitions, that lightweight and loosely-coupled web services would matter, turned out to be accurate. Another, the notion of a universal canvas for creating and editing words, pictures, data, and computation, remains part of the unevenly distributed future, though projects like IPython Notebook and Federated Wiki rekindle my hope that we’ll get there.

Now I’m writing an update to that report. There’s unfinished business to reconsider, but also much new activity. Scientific collaboration happens in social media and on blogs, obviously. It happens in scientific social media. It happens in and around open access journals. It happens on GitHub where you can find open software and open data projects in many scientific disciplines. It happens on Reddit, on StackExchange-based Q&A sites, on citizen science websites, and in other places I don’t even know about.

I want to interview researchers engaged in various aspects of online scientific collaboration. I’m well connected to some of the tribes I need to reach, but need to cast a wider net. I want to hear, from practitioners in natural sciences, social sciences, and digital humanities, about ways you and your colleagues, in disciplines near and far, do, and/or don’t, collaborate online, both in specific contexts (OA journals, academic social networks) and wider contexts (blogs, mainstream social media). How does your activity in those settings advance your work (or not)? How does it help connect your work to society at large.(or not)?

If you’re somebody who ought to be involved in this project, please do get in touch here or here. And if you know someone who ought to be involved, please pass this along.


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8 thoughts on “Online scientific collaboration: the sequel

  1. Great that you are updating your report from 2000 – very cool to read through and see how many ideas have persisted (or not!).

    I have a handful of ideas/project to point out that may be of interest from my biased biomedical/neuro perspective =)

    1. Stackoverflow-style scientific interaction via and – provides a way of asking questions and up/down voting or accepting answers, which I see as a way to improve the poor-google-ability of mailing list archives
    2. Collaborative editing via google docs,, etc. has been amazing for projects I work on for crowd-sourcing meeting minutes, etc.
    3. And github is a stellar way to work on anything technical, and combined with [2], I’ve found to be a great way of developing data sharing standards in neuroimaging:

    I see these approaches as being fundamental in open science, and I’m sure the social network aspect of this fits in, perhaps a great example of that is with Frontiers and the Loop network:

  2. Hi Jon,

    Sorry I missed your Mozilla Open Science call. I’m deep in the Open Science / Open Data / Digital Humanities practice. I run Open Context ( and am now doing a complete renovation rebuilt (see:, with lots of interesting development in the API side of things (GeoJSON + JSON-LD for data + search services).

    One issue not to miss is that science + other areas of research are heavily bureaucratic and monitored by rigid performance metrics. These areas are insanely competitive. I’ve a chapter in this book that explores how all of these institutional issues harm creativity / innovation in research communication and collaboration:

    It’s a longer more developed argument based on this blog post:

    PS. My home is also in the SF Bay Area. Be fun to get coffee sometime.

    1. Hi Eric,

      I’ve explored OpenContext a bit, thanks for getting in touch, it’s nice to meet you.

      Your post says: “intensified competition for ever-shrinking public funding…” Indeed, that theme emerged strongly in interviews I conducted. I don’t know whether or how we’ll recreate the conditions of the mid-20th century that led to so much progress and prosperity, but if we don’t, you’re right, it’s penguins on a melting ice floe and openness can only help them so much.

      1. Hi Jon,

        Yep, it’s important to inform policy makers about the human, innovation, and creativity costs of cut throat competition in research, so I’m glad that you are capturing some of these issues in your interviews.

        FWIW: I’m testing a new version of Open Context and APIs here:

        It supports content negotiation so you can request either “application/json” or “application/ld+json” data, or just put a “.json” in the url:


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