Helping research on the web, one prototype at a time

This is the second post in our Year in Review series. Every day this week, one member of the Science Lab will be posting their reflections on lessons learned in 2014, and point to plans for 2015 in their area of expertise as discussed by the team in Portland earlier this month. Today, our lead developer, Abby Cabunoc, writes about her experiences leading our technical prototyping strategy.

This past August, I joined the Mozilla Science Lab as lead developer because I care deeply about using the web to help move science forward. With a history rooted in the open web and open source communities, Mozilla is in a powerful position to facilitate a culture of open research on the web. In this post, I’ll be going over our technical prototyping strategy as we look back at 2014 and plan for the next year.

Why do we need prototypes?

In order to advance science on the web, we need to test ways to support research through open standards and tools. Prototypes can be used to leverage existing systems and technologies in the research environment in an open way. At the Science Lab, we want to empower the scientific community to come together to build tools that make research more efficient and reliable by promoting accessibly, openness and interoperability.

How are we helping build these prototypes?

We approach prototyping in a strategic way that not only provides a useful tool to researchers, but helps strengthen communities and enable them to build their own tools. As part of our technical prototyping strategy, we

  • a) help identify tools and standards needed for research to thrive on the web,
  • b) partner with relevant institutions and communities to leverage existing technologies and facilitate interoperability and
  • c) empower the research community to come together and work on these problems.

What does this look like?

Partnering on prototypes for web-based science tools

In 2014 we established a variety of partnerships within the community. Together with publishers, funders, industry and academia, we worked on solutions advancing science on the web.

  • Code as a Research Object: This collaboration with the code hosting service GitHub and the open data repositories figshare and Zenodo explores how to better integrate code and scientific software into the scholarly workflow. In 2014, several technical prototypes emerged from the collaboration allowing users to easily obtain a DOI for their code making it citable and easier to incorporate into the existing credit system. We also engaged the community to discuss what software metadata standards are needed to allow for discoverability, reuse and citation. In 2015, we will continue to work on a JSON-LD specification to enable discoverability across repositories, expand our discussions with the NIH’s Big Data to Knowledge Program around software citation, and explore tie-ins with university libraries. More on the project here:
  • Open Access Button: Early in 2014, the Mozilla Science Lab worked to extend the Open Access Button to help researchers locate publicly available copies of pay-walled literature by linking institutional repositories, preprint archives, and Open Access publishers. Since then, the Open Access Button team has merged the code crafted by this project into their redesign, expanding their discoverability mechanism. 
  • OpenBadges at MozFest 2014! CC image courtesy of christosbacharakis on Flickr

    OpenBadges at MozFest 2014! CC image courtesy of christosbacharakis on Flickr

    Contributorship Badges: Our next prototyping effort is exploring the use of digital badges for crediting contributors to scholarly papers for their work. As the research environment becomes more digital, we want to test how we can use this medium to help bring transparency and credit for individuals in the publication process. This work is a collaboration with publishers BioMed Central and the Public Library of Science; the biomedical research foundation, The Wellcome Trust; the software and technology firm Digital Science; and the registry of unique researcher identifiers, ORCID. You can read more about that project here:

We are currently evaluating other possible partnerships and prototypes for 2015. Stay tuned for possible updates on data visualisations or review systems! We’re always looking for areas where we can help build tools to facilitate open research, let us know if you have an idea.

Empowering the community to build

In 2014 we worked to create environments and surface projects where the community could come together to work on these projects.

  • Sprints: 
    • Global Sprint: In July, we hosted our first global Mozilla Science Lab sprint. There were 22 participating cities and 52-consecutive hours of collaboration on tools, lesson materials and resources for open science. The community was able to come together and build new lesson materials, tools for teaching and new technologies for open science. A full list of projects can be found here:
    • Mozilla Festival: For this year’s “science and the web” track at MozFest, we included a series of hands-on projects. The track included more than 30 sessions led by more than 65 community members for more than 300 participants. Community members from the IPython Notebook community, GitHub, the School of Data and ROpenSci, as well as sprint projects led by the Met Office, Knight-Mozilla Open News fellows, the New York Public Library and Zooniverse led trainings. For a full list of sessions and a look at the people leading them, visit:
    • Local events: In 2015, we’ll be exploring the idea of hosting local sprints, study groups and meetups. We want to give the community a place where they can meet and build together. Strong relationships and communication, especially between different fields, are essential for successful collaborations. Look out for a local Toronto Science Lab sprint early next year.
  • Website: We are also redesigning our site to improve its use and functionality with particular focus on helping new learners from our education programs increase their open science practice and engagement in our work. We are designing it as a hub for community materials, programs, and tools including integrating GitHub, the Collaborate platform, a version-control based blogging system, and other social functionality.

It’s an amazing time for science and the web! We have the community and resources to make a difference in this space. I hope you’ll join us as we build and explore different ways to help research thrive on the open web.

Cover photo: particleclicker team demoing their game at #mozfest CC image courtesy of yuandra on flickr