About this project
As scientists, we are constantly expanding the frontiers of research and knowledge. Yet, we are also constantly re-discovering knowledge that others have not had the time to publish and improving existing methods without the ability to share the improvements with the world. The mission of ZappyLab is to change this with the protocols.io repository.
Imagine you spend 3 months instead of a week to do a simple DNA transformation in a new species. After much frustration and many cups of coffee later, you discover that you need to do it at room temperature instead of the 42-degree water bath. This is a tiny but critical detail in a common technique. Unfortunately, there is no effective way to let others working with this species know about your discovery.
We started ZappyLab to create a free, central, up-to-date, crowdsourced protocol repository.
We just launched the beta version of protocols.io. This is where you will be able to share and discover changes, corrections, and optimizations of published methods. The trick is to make the sharing easy and crowdsourced. That's why we have built a protocol checklist app, inside our mobile Bench Tools suite on iOS and Android.
We are raising the funds to enable the sharing of protocol modifications from the mobile app with a tap of a button, and to implement the visualization of the edits on protocols.io. So if you discover the need for room temperature instead of 42 degrees, you can tap "SHARE" on your phone and this change instantly appears on protocols.io and is automatically broadcasted to everyone who is using this protocol.
And do keep in mind that we are just getting started. We are bursting with useful features that we want to include in Bench Tools (text-to-speech timer that announces "PCR timer completed" instead of buzzing, ability to troubleshoot your protocol by connecting to other researchers using it in the same species, and many, many others). Our protocol checklist will soon be on Google Glass and we are actively exploring hands-free devices and controls so that in the future, you will be able to use Bench Tools while pipetting in your gloves.
- April 2014 - Make published protocols editable on your mobile device or protocols.io
- May 2014 - "SHARE" button to submit the changes. And interface to visualize all comments/changes on step-level at protocols.io.
- June 2014 - Ability to connect for trouble-shooting to other scientists who are using a given protocol.
Risks and challenges
By far, the hardest hurdle is getting the crowd. Without annotations, a protocol on the most beautiful website repository is no more useful than the original static journal publication.
For two years, we have been obsessively focused on user acquisition by creating free utilities for Life Scientists. We have released a panel of terrific tools for research and lab work . We also built a research-blogging platform (www.pubchase.com/essays) that allows scientists to tell the stories behind their published papers. A month ago, we also launched a career forum with a terrific panel of academic and industry mentors (www.pubchase.com/career/ask). Everything that we make is available for free on iOS, Android, and the web, and thousands of scientists are already using our apps and PubChase.
Our enterprise is an experiment in facilitating a new type of collaboration within the Scientific Community. Scientists have to download our Bench Tools app, have to like it, use it, and then tap "share" on the protocols. Like any research project or startup, there's a risk that this might not be successful, but as Max Planck once said, "Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: 'Ye must have faith.' "
With your support and feedback, www.protocols.io will revolutionize the way we do research. We will spend less time re-discovering, and more of the bench work will go towards breakthroughs and acquiring new knowledge.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Some of you are concerned that our apps are free, we don't charge subscription, and so it isn't clear whether there is potential revenue for ZappyLab.
Our answer is simply - "did you pay Google today for your searches?"
You should be concerned about our business savvy if we tried to monetize by charging barely-paid students and postdocs. However, the starving students and other researchers manage to spend about $50 billion each year on chemical reagent purchases. So, if we make re-ordering and finding the reagents easier from your phone, we will be able to charge the vendors - and that's a great business model.
(Imagine pointing your phone at the barcode of a chemical bottle, scanning it, saving it in Bench Tools. A year later, instead of searching for the catalog number for 40 minutes among your paper stack, you will find it in an instant on the phone.)
The short answer is "YES!".
The slightly longer answer is in this spirit:
Imagine yourself in the middle of Manhattan’s Central Park around 1907. You are having a pleasant picnic with a friend who says, “Cars have no future. Just look around – do you see any cars? Nope! Only horses. Why is that? Well, because cars have no grace, no soul, no style. They are heaps of metal with deafening noise. And they cost a fortune compared to a horse. Ford is an idiot.” This is the same friend who would warn today that mobile has no chance of entering the lab.
The full answer is here: blog.pubchase.com/was-henry-ford-an-idiot-will-scientists-use-mobile-in-the-lab/
Very open. All author-contributed content will by CC-BY (just like the essays we get on PubChase www.pubchase.com/essays…). And the entire repository will be freely downloadable, not just individual protocols.
Launching a campaign on Kickstarter may be a great marketing move for some. Not for us. Our demographic is scientists, and unlike gamers, techies, and creative types, few of them are familiar with KS (we may be the first Kickstarter project aimed at life science researchers). That means we are working full time to let people know about this campaign, rather than the campaign brining awareness to ZappyLab.
It is not just important to us. It is critical http://anothersb.blogspot.com/2014/03/hello-startup-sequel-to-goodbye-academia.html.
We have debated extensively whether to launch the beta version with protocols seeded by our scientists. Ultimately, we decided to launch it bare, as seeding would show a bias (most of our consultants are geneticists) and we did not want it to be viewed as a genetics resource. Most importantly, our project is a <b>crowdsourced</b> effort, hence it is appropriate that we populate the repository in a crowdsourced fashion.
Please visit our public "Seeding Protocols.io" spreadsheet and suggest common techniques that you would like to see added to the repository. As we build the annotation sharing and visualization, we will also actively seed the repository over the next few month or two.
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