Collaborative filters online

by Alexey Bersenev on January 26, 2009 · 7 comments

in web tools

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It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.

Clay Shirky

Collaborative filters are aimed to sort the information stream from the popular (mass-media) and search engines (Google, PubMed) to professional user-trusted content with the possibility of discussion and collaboration. Of course, the Web could be the best place to pursue (realize) this concept. Jay Anderson – CEO of “Digg” was talking about it on Web 2.0 Expo 2008.

I should tell you that I was really thrilled by this idea. When you open PubMed or just simply type your query into Google you realize how hard it is to pick good papers or trusted content from your search results. One way to get more of what we want is to take advantage of filtering information – connect with like-minded people.

Recently there was a lot of discussion about the “information overload vs filters failure“, innitiated by David Crotty. In scientific world we have many reasons to disagree with Clay Shirky and complain about real information overload. But my opinion, and some “online folks” agree, is that in the biomedical field we have enough good filters to sort information out, we just need to know about them and how to use them. I’d say even more – first of all we have to make scientists come online and use web tools!

So I think, we have one good solution to take advantage of information overload – create collaborative filters in science.

I think that one of possible schemes of information filtering could be:
social networking (Facebook) –> scientific/medical networking (Nature Network, Epernicus…) –> professional networking (LinkedIn) –> collaborative filters.
Another scheme of transition: personal filters (scientific bookmarks on connotea, RSS of your quiry from PubMed, RSS of scientific journal) –> collaborative filters.

So the filters that I’m talking about here are not only about filtering information and sharing links and ideas, they’re also for collaboration online which could be productive in reality. For example: finding a real collaborator for your project, troubleshooting methods or protocols with colleagues, solving controversies in the field through discussion with experts. Or simple ranking of scientific articles – a worthy read or a waste of time? It’s like my friends advise about movies – “don’t even watch it, i did and wasted 3 hours of my time!”

Online collaboration can give you an idea about future directions and planning your current experiments – the way you should go based on colleagues’ experience and results, which you can not find in the papers or press-releases. Seems like conferences can give you the same feedback and directions. But can you imagine that you can have a possibility to discuss about professional matters in real time, every day and everything is recorded in different formats and stored somewhere online. I think it’s really exciting and can make you more productive and smarter.

I should tell you that I was targeting “regenerative medicine“, “stem cell“, “cell therapyfilters precisely, because it’s my field – my professional interest. The first thing I did was to search the existing filters. This didn’t bring me satisfaction, because I didn’t find any of them where community conversation happened. So I started to create it. First of all I created a group “Stem Cell Research in progress” on Facebook more than a year ago and it didn’t work out. I was trying more things on Google groups and on LinkedIn.

So let’s look to some tools that I’ve tried in order to do this transition from personal to collaborative filters:
1. blogs
If you can attract a professional audience by professional analytical content, you can keep in touch with your readers by commenting, email list and contact forms. (example: Hematopoiesis)
2. groups withing Social networking: example my group “Stem Cell Research in progress” on Facebook
3. groups withing professional networking (examples: “Cell Therapy Industry”, “ISSCR”, “Stem Cell Research”, groups on LinkedIn)
4. wiki and Knol (example: Cell Therapy Knol)
5. rooms in aggregators (example: Regmed room on FriendFeed)

Personally I think that today FriendFeed is one of the best collaborative filters. At least it works for me. Unfortunately, today in my specific room (regmed) there is not enough critical mass to make discussions as productive as I wanted.

The problem is I can’t do it alone! Please come and collaborate!

So what should we use among all of web tools to collaborate? My advice – try many of them and pick maybe 1-3 which works the best for you. Believe me it’s a big thing right now. If you’re not into it – you risk drowning in information pollution.

I’d like to discuss here what collaborative filters and tools work better for you? What is your experience? What do you think we can change in existing collaborative filters or create a new ones? How should it work in the future?

picture credit: Paul Kedrosky (Mathew Ingram blog)

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

JWS January 26, 2009 at 10:10 pm

Here are some of my points:

– In science, the reputation of journals could already act as a ‘filter’.
– A good example of ‘collaborative filters’ in biomedical research is F1000 Biology/Medicine: The papers are filtered and commented by experts – people will trust experts more than amateurs.
– How would one utilize information that is not appeared in a mainstream journal like Nature? i.e. hidden gems…
– Too many tools now to combine for scientific collaborative filters – some kind of guidance for users is required.


Joanna January 27, 2009 at 1:01 am

I don’t think the collaborative filtration will really take off until there is a centralized and trusted place where people know 1) the filtered content is exhaustive and 2) that the people filtering it are experts (authorities and such, not just your friends). Right now, people might use something like that when they already have trusted people to bring to a discussion, but newcomers have to be given some sort of quality assuranc


Alex January 27, 2009 at 1:35 am

to JWS and Joanna –
thanks for comments.
Yes i think we have enough filters to start collaborate online through them. Yes it is important that filtering and ranking should be done by experts in the field (they could be your friends in real life). And some existent filters that indicated by JWS – Faculty1000 Biology/Medicine based on ranking of publications by faculty members.
If collaborator is not known by publications, but working in the field and spend enough time online, he should build his own authority online – it’s could be blogging or just commenting in professional forums or groups.


Vlad February 16, 2009 at 10:04 am

Hi Alex,

I like you attempt to rationalise the need of online collaborative tools. I think the tools that you have listed are more for a social networking rather then for promoting science. I also think that a scientist usually just needs a good search engine like Medline or The Web of Science, and does not need any recommendations concerning what is better to read. On the other hand, a new/aggregated/re-evaluated information could be a good content for a blog. I have just started my own online project recently, and the statistics I have up to now tells me that the most popular page is the list of upcoming events (which is one of the most complete in the field).

I have a question to pop up this discussion: why do you think there are almost no reader comments at the web-sites of peer-reviewed journals, although there are tools for that?


Alex February 17, 2009 at 4:10 am

I think social networking one of the best place to promote science and make it more public. I’d rather go for scientific networking web platforms, which counted about 10-15 now, but as I told you I was looking for my niche preciously and I found that all of networking sites have nearly zero people from my field.

Yes, maybe some scientists don’t need recommendations what to read but they definitely need to discuss and collaborate
so, 3 components of collaborative filter to me:
1. filtered trusted content
2. discussion
3. collaboration

to answer your question – some of my thoughts here –
What makes scientists not comment online?

also, I think some scientists started to comment when they see this available option on Nature or PLoS (I did), but after they didn’t get more discussion and silence – they giving up.
Some scientists with a criticism of whatever paper probably won’t comment on Nature or PLoS because it’s not anonymous, you have to expose your name – your authority in the community.
And viсe versa – anonymous commenting frequently could be ignored by community, because people want to know with who they are discuss.


Victor February 20, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Hi Alex,

you might be interested in this: William Gunn recently suggested a “human-scored” recommendation engine for research papers, to which I responded on our blog, which then generated another interesting discussion on FriendFeed.



Alex February 21, 2009 at 10:53 pm

to Victor –
thanks, i’ve read this on FF, interesting concept.
Also I’ll follow Mendeley and see how platform will develop to perform as a collaborative filter


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