Who are you?
OpenWetWare is a group of researchers that are interested in increasing the amount of organization, dissemination, and communication in biological research (or just want an easy way to keep a lab webpage up-to-date). Everyone that has access to OpenWetWare can edit all pages in the site. Thus the evolution of all the pages are due to everyone involved. If you want to know who has done what, check out the history file associated with every page. If you have questions, please contact us
Can I/we join?
Yes!!! The more people that are contributing, the more useful the site becomes. Please check out the How to join page.
Why would I (or my lab) want to join?
Check out the Why join? page for a list of reasons why OpenWetWare may be of use to you and your lab.
Do you ever plan on going commercial?
Probably not. OpenWetWare will always remain a free and open site dedicated to encouraging and celebrating open scientific information. It is possible that in the future that partnerships with organizations and/or commercial entities to ensure the long-term sustainability of the site will be considered. For now, and while we still have funding, the answer is no.
Is OWW backed-up? / How can I be assured this site will be here tomorrow?
Currently there are several labs to whom wiki functionality is vital, thus the wiki minimally will remain as long as these labs are in existence. Hardware and support is contracted to Rackspace, an industry leader of managed hosting. Rackspace provides server monitoring provides several redundancies for hardware, network access, and power. OpenWetWare is backed up daily, and we are continuing to improve the redundancy and backup capabilities. As far as trusting others with your information goes, we are probably a safe bet. Also, if you are really worried, we would love others to host mirrors of the entire site, or the daily dumps. Please contact us if you are interested.
Why the dual license?
Long story short, we like Creative Commons for its machine and human readability. We like GNU's FDL because Wikipedia and others use it. We would like the two groups to settle their trivial differences, so that we can all move on with our lives.
How did this site get started?
The site was started by graduate students in the Endy and Knight labs at MIT on April 20, 2005 (called Endipedia). The site was officially opened to researchers worldwide, and renamed OpenWetWare, on June 22, 2005.
Are you people just a bunch of scientific hippies? Why are you doing this?
See the "who are you?" question above. In general, we are not all hippies. We are doing this to construct a resource for ourselves. It is ultimately a selfish pursuit. Peruse some of the pages and you will notice that different labs/groups/individuals use OpenWetWare in different ways. Like many other things in life, OpenWetWare is what you make of it.
Sound like a cool idea, but I have nothing to contribute!
Sure you do. One of the motivations for OpenWetWare is to lower the barriers of entry into biological research. Many of the researchers on OpenWetWare are relative newcomers to biological research and are struggling to cope with the steep learning curve in biology. We're trying to accumulate enough information on OpenWetWare such that a person with little lab experience could, for example, go to the DNA Ligation page, read it and be able to carry out a successful DNA ligation reaction. Thus, some of the most useful contributions to the site are from people doing a technique for the first time. They are more likely to document the little things that can easily trip up someone new to a procedure. So newcomers to biological research are strongly encouraged to edit OpenWetWare with whatever information they learn along the way. Or if you have a question, ask it in the research help forum.
How do you differ from Wikipedia?
Wikipedia is an encyclopedia intended to present facts on various topics with a neutral point-of-view. In contrast, OpenWetWare's mission is simply to promote the sharing of information, know-how, and wisdom among researchers and groups who are working in biology and biological engineering. Thus, protocols, how-to's, tutorials, courses, lab portals, and resource lists are all inappropriate for Wikipedia but are entirely appropriate for OpenWetWare. The types of general, encyclopedic information characteristic of Wikipedia may also be appropriate for OpenWetWare on certain pages (like consensus protocols). Use your judgment.
Anyone can contribute to Wikipedia and its content is usually geared to the general audience. In contrast, content on OpenWetWare is contributed by and intended for researchers in biology and biological engineering. We define researchers quite broadly and consider educators and students as part of the research community. We also take a reasonably liberal view of what constitutes biology and biological engineering in terms of content appropriate for the site. (If someone in the community would find it useful, then you can include it.)
Note that material cannot be directly transferred from Wikipedia to OpenWetWare because of a licensing conflict. However, content from OpenWetWare can be copied to Wikipedia. See OpenWetWare:Copyrights and Wikipedia:Copyrights for more information.
Why have I been denied an OWW account?
Please see our accounts policy.
What's the deal with access?
Currently we have the site as world-readable and member editable, and there are essentially no options to make pages be otherwise. We decided upon the current level of access based upon our key goals of open access and collaboration. We also understand that there are times where information cannot be posted for the world/other students/et al., to read. The Endy lab handles this by certain members having private wiki's on their own computers where they organize their thoughts and information. Other groups have internal secure wiki's to which only lab members have access. However, we feel that there is a lot of information that people will benefit from sharing on OpenWetWare.
In the future, we are considering plans to provide an easy to use OpenWetWare distribution. Individuals can install this distribution and use it as their private wiki. If the information is no longer sensitive, there will be easy mechanisms to "publish" the data on OpenWetWare.
I don't want someone else editing my site. Can you change who can edit what?
We hope for OpenWetWare to achieve as large and active a user base as possible while maintaining a collaborative environment. The collaboration is critical, otherwise OWW is of no use to the community other than a glorified web hosting service (which will soon be obsolete anyways). With this in mind, we find ourselves frequently evaluating options which would increase the "comfort level" for some potential users of OWW, but decrease the overall ease and extent of user contribution and especially collaboration. This is particularly the case when evaluating access levels for editing.
For example, a researcher in a different lab on our floor recently posted a general notice on our group meeting page about an issue occuring in a shared space. Now the page outlining the topics for a lab's group meeting would very likely fall into the category of "lab-only editing", however someone from outside the laboratory made, in their good judgement, an announcement in the relevant section of our group meeting schedule page. (Our group meetings are driven from the wiki where people post announcements or whether they want to talk that week. At the start of the meeting, our PI will go to the wiki and use it to direct the schedule of what we talk about).
While this may be a particularly mundane example, it illustrates the most important points. First, It is often hard to decide ahead of time, what particular groups of people should have edit access to a particular document. In this instance, the announcement placed by a researcher outside the lab was in the best interest of everybody. What we have generally found is that the scientists and researchers that join are usually the best adjudicators of whether they should be editing another's site or not. Second, we currently have >50 labs and a fair number of individuals that currently contribute to the site. We have not had a single complaint of someone incorrectly/unknowingly/maliciously making bad edits to a particular page that is private or "belongs to a user". This may be a testament to the norms of behavior that were established for the site (see our etiquette page; for instance pages beginning with "UserName:" are pages that we ask others not to edit), but probably is also due to the intelligence of the users, and the fact that any changes are tracked and attributable to one identifiable person (by virtue of login/password requirement on editing).
One side note that has also assuaged some concerns: It is quite easy to point to a particular history page (history files have a static address), so if users want a document that in not editable, they can save it and always refer to that particular history file instead of the evolving document.
So in summary, we understand the concern of allowing non-lab members to edit a lab's protocols, however we feel that by putting an access barrier at the level of the code itself we would be creating a barrier to contribution in order to solve a problem that thus far does not exist. If and when we have a problem, we will re-evaluate.
I don't want someone else seeing my site. Can you change who can view what?
This is an issue we are not completely certain on how to deal with. It is very possible that by allowing subsets of OWW users to collaborate on pages that are not viewable by the general community, collaborative opportunities could be increased. The problem is that such accessibility constraints lead to people automatically labeling more things private, and once again, OWW would become just a web hosting service for individuals and their labs.
We hope to address this issue in the future by providing users with an OpenWetWare distribution. Individuals can host their own private pages, and when the time comes that the data is no longer sensitive, have easy mechansims to bring it back into the open by easily putting it on OpenWetWare. Until we find the resources to do this though, we will have to wait.
Why can't anonymous users edit OpenWetWare?
We are interested in keeping the barriers to contribution to OWW as low as possible. So we provide pretty much any student or researcher in biological science and engineering with an account as long as they provide us with some basic information. This allows everyone to know exactly who made each contribution to a page. In addition, several OWW users feel some sort of accountability on OWW is a good idea. From a practical point of view, requiring login to edit easily frees us from dealing with vandals, spammers and the like which we don't have the resources to necessarily cope with right now.