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.
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?
No. We are currently discussing options to incorporate as a non-profit organization.
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 has generously been donated by the MIT BioMicro Center. OpenWetWare is backed up daily, and we are continuing to improve the redundancy and backup capabilities. We are moving to a professionally managed hardware soon. So as far as relying on an academic initiative goes, this is a fairly good bet.
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.
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 may be able to implement a system with more edit/view options for individual pages. After talks with some of the people over at Mediawiki, they have begun writing code to make edit/view access more dynamic and programmable by individual users. In time, perhaps we can incorporate some of these improvements as they are made available. This will offer some semblance of security (and would not get indexed by google for example), but is not as safe as say having a site behind a firewall. Anyway, there are a variety of options, but in the end you have to balance increased security with decreased ease of access and manipulability. For the time being, we will keep OpenWetWare at the current access level.
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 >15 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.
For now, we have no way of implementing this, so the problem has been solved for us. In our lab however, a number of people have created private wiki's that they regulate access to. However, this is not a solution that is scalable. Their wiki's aren't managed/backed-up/supported other than by themselves.
We hear through the grape-vines that such editability/accessibility options are being built into the next revision of the MediaWiki software. If these capabilities become available, we will definitely consider adding different levels of accessibility.
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.
How do I start editing?
See the getting started page.
How do I learn more about editing?
Are there any rules?
Check out the etiquette page for guidelines on creating and editing pages.
How do I make the wiki pages for my lab/group look like a static website?
Check out OpenWetWare:Dewikify for instructions on generating static websites from OpenWetWare wiki pages. See Synthetic Biology and http://syntheticbiology.org for a comparison of a wiki page with its static counterpart.
I have an existing MediaWiki site with lots of content. Can I import it into OpenWetWare?
Yes, if you decide that the benefits of sharing the content on OpenWetWare is worth moving your site completely on to OpenWetWare, we will be happy to help you move the wiki. You will be able to import your current wiki in its entirety (including the history of all pages) into OpenWetWare by adding a unique prefix to all pages to ensure that your page names do not conflict with any OpenWetWare pages. Contact Austin Che to plan the technical details of the import.