Ask any researcher and he/she will tell you that you cannot do much without collaborations. Often, academic collaborations will start after meeting someone at a conference, or perhaps because you know someone down the hall with the right expertise. This type of ad hoc interactions limits the size of the collaborative networks that researchers engage with often rather small. And with less diversity of expertise and opinions, investigators (and especially the younger ones) are more likely to start less ambitious and risky projects.
Citizen science platforms where anyone can join to help with research projects have been gaining traction over the past few years. But the same approach could be also applied to scientific projects opened by researchers for other researchers. This way, ambitious research questions could be formulated by research groups big and small or even directly by research funders and industry and welcome contributions from the international scientific community. Anyone with proper accreditation or references could then contribute to the project and get proper recognition for solving part of the questions.
This year, Simon Bond has released LiveLabSpace, an online platform that could help start tackling this exact problem. LiveLabSpace is a cloud-based platform that helps manage collaborative research projects. Through its friendly graphic interface, project managers can define various research questions and tasks that need to be addressed. Then, every collaborator can upload data, write descriptions and comments about their results and the results of others. Of course, the projects do not necessarily need to be made public. Private projects can make good sense for the large-scale international project that already counts many participants or project with sensitive confidential information.
Other platforms like the Open Science Framework are also attempts at bringing scientists to collaborate on a common virtual space. But what is the difference between these platforms and an electronic lab notebook (ELN)? In my opinion, ELNs and collaborative research platforms are not so different and will eventually merge into unique platforms. At this time, tools such LiveLabSpace put the focus on project management, providing the information you need to track the history of the project, to get an overview of the results, and take appropriate decisions to drive the project forward. At this time, these collaborative platforms do not truly allow to go into the detail of single experiments like ELN can.
I have not met anyone in my academic network using such tools yet. My guess is that user-friendliness is a key issue. It is, however, much more common for users to recreate their own equivalent cloud-based workspace using a combination of tools, such as share cloud storage space (Google Drive, Dropbox…) combined with collaborative writing tools (Word online, Google docs, Overleaf) and communication tools (Skype, Hangout, Slack…). Obviously, these have their limitations and an integrated system dedicated to scientific projects could potentially make a much better option. For instance by standardizing the tools used by the collaborators and making it easy to open projects to external contributors. Let’s see how LiveLabSpace does! You can start now with free public projects without needing to register. And feel free to provide feedback to its creator.