Tuesday, October 05, 2010

PLoS Biodiversity Hub launches


The PLoS Biodiversity Hub has launched today. There's a PLoS blog post explaining the background to the project, as well as a summary on the Hub itself:

The vision behind the creation of PLoS Hubs is to show how open-access literature can be reused and reorganized, filtered, and assessed to enable the exchange of research, opinion, and data between community members.

PLoS Hubs: Biodiversity provides two main functions to connect researchers with relevant content. First, open-access articles on the broad theme of biodiversity are selected and imported into the Hub. In time, the content will also be enhanced so that the articles are connected with data, and we will provide features to make the articles easier for people to use. These two functions - aggregation and adding value - build on the concept of open access, which removes all the barriers to access and reuse of journal article content.

Readers of iPhylo may recall my account of one of the meetings involved in setting up this hub, in which I began to despair about the lack of readiness of biodiversity informatics to provide much of the information needed for projects such as hubs. Despite this (or perhaps, because of it), I've become a member of the steering committee for the Biodiversity Hub. There's clearly a lot of interest in repurposing the content found in scientific articles, and I think we're going to see an increasing number of similar projects from the major players in science publishing, Open Access or otherwise. One of the challenges is going to be moving beyond the obvious things (such as making taxon names clickable) to enable new kinds of ways of reading, navigating, and querying the literature, and exploring ways to track the use that is made of the information in these articles. Biodiversity studies are ideally placed to explore this as the subject is data rich and much of that data, such as specimens and DNA sequences, persist over time and hence get reused (data citation gets very boring if the data is used just once). We also have obvious ways to enrich navigation, such as spatially and taxonomically.

For now the PLoS Biodiversity Hub is very pretty, but it's more a statement of intent than a real demonstration of what can be done. Let's hope our field gets its act together and seizes the opportunity that initiatives like the Hub represents. Publishers are desperate to differentiate themselves from their competitors by providing added value as part of the publication process, and they provide a real use case for all the data that the biodiversity projects have been accumulating over the last couple of decades.