DataONE:Tips and reflections on OWW

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We've been asked to write down some tips and reflections about our experience, to date, with OpenWetWare. Here they are.

Tips for getting started

Look around

Look around other people's pages to see how others use OWW and what is possible. Some places to start:

Request a login

Read a bit

Edit your user page

Choose a "lab" name, or join one that already exists.

Could be PI last name or a project like "DataONE." You'll want to keep it short, because it will be in every URL!

Set up a lab notebook

We learned that it is easiest if you create a "Lab" notebook rather than a user one:

Establish some standard ways to annotate each other's records

Will you comment on "talk" pages, or inline, or in comment boxes, or ??

Test and publicize your RSS feed

It will be this, where DataONE is substituted with your lab name:


What OWW says about its strengths

Our experience

What we really liked

  • it worked
  • embedding (google docs, Mendeley, gists, FriendFeed, Evernote shares, pubmed ids, etc)
  • notebooks, protocols, etc where a useful framework for thinking about things
  • a "well-known name" in the open notebook field, respected and understood as a hosting choice
  • calendar pages for logging notes and making task lists
  • collaborative ability through comments (though it was under-utilized and non-standardized)
  • archive of text communication (easy reference, kept us accountable, absent members able to view later)

What hasn't worked well for us

  • can't view or update offline
  • can't to some private, some public
  • awkward to post images and files
  • can't save drafts or bundle mini updates
  • OWW tools, syntax not generalizable to other things
  • hard to browse
  • RSS diffs hard to read
    • though it was easier than tracking changes through OWW itself and allowed us to easily keep tabs on other people's discoveries and to tag or star relevant posts in my reader for future reference
  • knowing what to put in user vs lab space was not clear
  • wasn't clear how to separate notebook vs static page content
  • no way to automate posts, use local tools
  • "talk" pages made it hard to see comments and content at the same time
  • didn't attract as much community or mentor input as we originally hoped
  • not a good fit for workflow (Heather A Piwowar 15:08, 18 August 2010 (EDT):well, not a good for mine anyway Sarah Judson 16:23, 16 August 2010 (EDT):nor mine, I often forgot to post)
  • not easy (or possible?) to archive to desktop
    • if someone nows how and we're just oblivious, please let us know. We have files and such to backup!)



So it is still being used, but growth in number of users and notebooks is linear not exponential

  • DataONE accounted for 8% of the activity in July

Short term future

  • Keep an local backup! Or have a contingency plan to ensure productivity can continue if OWW goes down.
    • OpenWetWare did go down, unexpectedly, for 18 hours on Aug 18, 2010. Steps are being taken to make sure this doesn't happen again, but of course it could.

Long term future

I'm guessing the current content will stay available for a long long time: people will make sure this happens. But in terms of ongoing development:

  • worrying
  • very few recent blog posts, community group posts, comments from leadership, funding plans
  • not innovating at this point


  • OpenWetWare has some great strengths, and may be a good fit for many labs and projects. Overall, it worked well for us: certainly better than not keeping an open notebook, or keeping it somewhere that didn't have as much infrastructure.
  • That said, it isn't perfect. Some alternatives include:
    • Wikispaces. Jean-Claude Bradley's team hosts their open notebook there with great success.
    • Github wiki. Heather is exploring this for hosting her own open notes. Has strengths, but may be most appropriate for those who also write source code.
    • Many many other choices. The most important thing is to find one that works well enough for you (without spending too long in limbo!) and then use it!
    • Friendfeed discussion of alternatives:

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