Social Computing for Scientists: Building collaborative e-Laboratories



Web 2.0 notions of social media, social networking and crowd management and curation of content are increasingly applied to scientific research. Wikis like GeneWiki and WikiPathways aim at gathering the community around specific data. Social networks like SciSpace and LabRoots aim to bring together researchers. Related initiatives like Open Science and Science Online promote the notion of wider and earlier collaboration and data sharing.

Over the past five years we have been using social networking and community collaboration techniques to build collaborative “e-Laboratories” for sharing data, models, methods and workflows. We particularly focus on the “long tail” scientist: that is postdocs and students scattered in research labs and universities.

myExperiment ( is a community repository and virtual research environment that supports the sharing and reuse of scientific workflows and other kinds of experiment plans and methods. It has over 4500 registered users and over 1000 deposited workflows from 19 different workflow systems. BioCatalogue ( is a crowd-curated registry of web services for the life sciences with over 1700 service entries. SEEK (  is a private community collaboration and asset sharing platform for Systems Biology models, data and protocols serving 120 research institutions throughout Europe. MethodBox ( is a collaboration environment for sharing variable sets and statistical methods for analysis across social science survey data.

In this talk I will discuss our experiences, lessons learnt and open questions. How do we incentivise scientists to share with people who could be their rivals? Do they share? When and Why? Do they curate each others content? Do they reuse and under what conditions? Is reuse of complex methods possible? How do the original authors get credit? What special mechanisms do we need to incorporate to protect the intellectual capital of our scientists and support their contributions? What kind of information do people share, if any? Does this Web 2.0 thing work for science? How do we work with scientists and developers to build social computing sites that work?


Carole Goble is a full professor in the School of Computer Science at the University of Manchester. She has a mission-leading in the Semantic Web, e-Science, and the Semantic Grid. She applies technical advances in knowledge technologies and workflow systems to solve information management problems for life scientists and other scientific disciplines. Her work makes heavy use of semantic technologies, distributed computing, and social computing. Her software has been adopted by astronomers, chemists, musicians, and digital libraries working on data preservation pipelines.

Carole is the director of the myGrid e-Science consortium ( myGrid focuses on automated workflow-based scientific pipelines and e-laboratories for research and researchers. Her deployed and in use scientific software include: the Taverna workflow system ( used in over 340 organisations world-wide; the myExperiment social community for sharing workflows with 3400+ users worldwide ( ; the BioCatalogue, a socially curated catalogue of bio-web services (; SysMO-SEEK, a data/models collaboration and sharing platform for a very large, multi-institute pan-European Systems biology programme (; and MethodBox, an eLaboratory for sharing and social networking statistical methods and social survey data ( Carole is a partner in the Open Middleware Infrastructure Institute UK ( and the recently founded Software Sustainability Institute ( She has accumulated a lot of experience with getting software specialists and scientists to work together and ensuring that the software gets adoption by its intended users.

Carole has over 200 publications in semantics and e-Science, giving keynotes in the major conferences in Grid Computing, Web, Semantics, Digital Libraries and Bioinformatics. In 2008 she was awarded the inaugural Microsoft Jim Gray award for outstanding contributions to e-Science and in 2010 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering for her contributions to e-Science.