I have been experimenting with several web based organization tools mostly to keep my research activities running smoothly. The service I use most often is Backpackit. On Backpackit, I have a separate page for each of my research projects. Ever project page has a series of notes describing daily experiments and all associated files and documents are neatly organized at the bottom.
I also share these pages with collaborators and research technicians. All of who periodically update and annotate the content and rely on it to keep their own information in-sync. The ultimate aim apart from using them an organizational tool is to publish all of this. In Backpackit, these pages which are presently shared by only a few researchers can be made fully public and viewable to one and all. At that point I am sure they will be indexed by search engines and thus my data will be freed from the confines of my paper and binder lab notebook.
The service costs $5 and also guarantees me absolute peace of mind. Having had three machine crashes the last few months I never once winced knowing that my notebook and its contents are safe at Backpackit. Another big plus is that I have access to it from every OS I use using a very nice firefox plugin .
All of this brings me to an article I read about the end of venture capital . The article talks about an IT company not very different from the lab I work in. Its a small company run by a dozen odd people which used off-site services to streamline and “virtualize” its operations. Consequently they had yahoo handle their email and site hosting and Jotspot handle their backoffice for just $15 a month( talk about value for a small business). All of this left the company with time and resources to concentrate on their main product. Importantly they did it all without spending a dollar in venture capital.
Now replace the company with any typical NIH funded lab and replace venture capital with university overhead or NIH funds themselves and I really think the article has a lesson for any research lab. Just like outsourcing sequencing reactions or antibody making services, I think there is tremendous value in moving lab data archival and indexing off-site leaving me to concentrate on the research.
Having all my electronic data off-site does tie me down to the network but soon I have to worry a lot less about backups or viruses in my campus network. Added to all that , if I use a service like backpackit I can make all lab-bench data public when I publish a paper with the push of a button.
Now there is something to be said for that and moving ELNs off-site.
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* The Business|Bytes|Genes|Molecules has a post on SAAS and utility computing. I could not agree more : there is tremendous value in virtualizing for everone ranging from small biotech to an even smaller me everyday average Joe researcher and its amazing how much all of this truly moves us closer to the SUN adage the network is the computer or an even more cliched one “The Browser is the OS”
* John Udell a has a nice screencast about jotspot here