Editorial | Published:

The web as originally intended

Nature Cell Biology volume 7, page 845 (2005) | Download Citation


When Tim Berners-Lee created the web in the early 1990s at CERN, it was to enhance collaboration among geographically dispersed researchers. However, rather than a passive tool for information retrieval, the first browser was designed to allow one to readily post comments on what others had written. This original aim fell by the wayside and only recently gained momentum with editable web spaces such as blogs and wikis.

As cell biology continues to grow unabated it has matured into a truly globalized enterprise. Already it is next to impossible to keep up with the literature beyond ones most immediate research interests, and conferences remain an essential but inefficient means of prepublication information exchange. What is set to suffer most is exposure to serendipitous information — often it is the entirely unexpected that leads to the most dramatic conceptual advances.

With this in mind, Nature Publishing Group has just released a free online service called Connotea (http://www.connotea.org). This tool belongs to a new class of 'social bookmarking' applications that has already made its mark in the public domain with popular facilities such as Del.icio.us and Flickr. Connotea is tailored to the academic user; it facilitates bookmarking of any reference or URL and allows tagging with keywords. In essence, it is a more flexible form of traditional bookmarking, which should supplant endless alphabetical lists and folder-based archiving: tags provide the 'hooks' to retrieve information and allow for a given item to be assigned to more than one category. Importantly, any web page can be tagged — be it database records, news reports, research articles or lab homepages. At the same time, its ease of use is a distinct advantage over more traditional reference management systems (use the 'save this link' option provided on NCB papers).

While Connotea is useful for self-archiving, its main aim is to enhance communities through resource sharing. Cell biology is one of the more competitive arenas of biology and some may be reluctant to share what they are reading — especially a fortuitously found hidden gem that might lead to the next 'big thing'. However, sharing your reading list is only pseudo-altruistic. The more you use Connotea, the more valuable it becomes: you will benefit from the many others posting their own reading material. However, in an effort to cater both for the community spirited and the self-archiver, all information can be either released in the public domain or kept private at will. Furthermore, you can create limited closed user groups to share information among a close circle or you can open access to a selected group of resources at a given time. One use of the latter facility is to point readers of an article you have written to source material — a sort of enhanced reference list. Finally, you can use this service to share information related to your lab, institute or a conference you are organizing. Connotea can also be usefully combined with RSS feeds, which allows you to keep abreast of changes made by others to specific Connotea tags — or indeed any website or blog.

Go become a web socialite and fulfil Berners-Lee's vision!

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