Collaboration Platform Authorea Helps Ebola Virus Researchers, Others
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academics started to use it in such disciplines as computational biology, medicine, and genomics. Furthermore, some users started to reveal to others what projects they were working on, rather than keep their efforts hidden.
“A lot of people were creating public content, instead of closing their collaborations and doing their work in private,” Pepe says.
The co-founders met some 10 years ago in Switzerland when Pepe was working as a researcher at CERN, the particle physics lab, after finishing his masters in astrophysics and computer science. At the time, Jenkins was finishing his doctorate at the University of Geneva. Pepe eventually relocated to the U.S. for his doctoral and postdoctoral research, at UCLA and Harvard, respectively, before making his way to New York where he reconnected with Jenkins.
One night while talking research over some pizza, Jenkins and Pepe both dished about the time wasted and hassle of exchanging drafts back and forth on collaborative research papers. Wanting a more robust tool for researchers and scholars to work together, that conversation became the root for Authorea.
“We see research articles and scholarly content of the future becoming much more data driven and interactive,” Pepe says. As a researcher in astrophysics, his day-to-day work meant crunching large datasets. The process of putting out documents after doing research, however, brought a bit of frustration. “Towards the end of my research projects, I was annoyed that all my data, source code, and work that I had done would essentially disappear when the paper gets published.”
Being able to include content—for example, maps showing the occurrence of tornadoes across the U.S. over several decades—from the originating sources can make a document more dynamic, Pepe says.
Jenkins says there are some technical challenges ahead for Authorea, such as trying to scale up. “Imagine if we had 10 million users; at that point we’re going to need a distributed file system,” he says.
Making sure that researchers’ data remains secure and accessible required something more than general cloud-based services, so Authorea uses Tarsnap, a heavy-duty online backup service. “We can’t just back up data in the open and put it on, say, Amazon S3; if the data wasn’t that sensitive we could use something like that,” Jenkins says. Local installs of Authorea are also available for institutions that require such services.
Pepe says Authorea’s next steps will include developing the platform for content beyond scientific research—for example, by college students—to expand the user base. Institutions outside of academics, such as government entities, consulting firms, banks, and pharmaceutical companies, have taken interest in using Authorea as well. “At the end of the day, all those institutions create research documents,” Pepe says. “They need a way to track changes to those documents.”