OpenWetWare:FAQ/Access

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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.

Why have I been denied an OWW account?

Please see our accounts policy.

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