Until recently, Mark Hahnel was a PhD student in stem cell biology. Frustrated by seeing how much of his own research output didn’t make it to publications, he endeavored to do something about it by developing a scientific file sharing platform called FigShare. Recently, Mark and FigShare were taken under the wing of Digital Science, a Nature Publishing Group spinoff, and a sleek new FigShare was relaunched in January 2012 with many more features and an ambitious scope.
FigShare allows researchers to publish all of their research outputs in seconds in an easily citable, sharable and discoverable manner. All file formats can be published, including videos and datasets that are often demoted to the supplemental materials section in current publishing models. By opening up the peer review process, researchers can easily publish null results, avoiding the file drawer effect and helping to make scientific research more efficient.
Users do not have to pay for access to the content: public data is made available under the terms of a CC0 waiver and other content under CC-BY. And FigShare is currently providing unlimited public space and 1GB of private storage space for free.
This is a promising solution for getting negative and otherwise unpublished results out into the world (figures, tables, data, etc.) in a way that is discoverable and citable. Importantly, much of this content would not be appropriate for Dryad, since it is not associated with (and not documented by) an authoritative publication.
There are clearly some challenges to the FigShare model. A big one, shared with many other Open Science experiments that disseminate prior to peer review, is ensuring that there is adequate documentation for users to assess fitness for reuse. Another challenge that Dryad is greatly concerned about is guaranteeing that the content will still be usable, and there will be the means to host it, ten or twenty years down the road. These are reflections of larger unanswered questions about how the research community can best take advantage of the web for scholarly communication, and how to optimize filtering, curating or preserving such communications. To answer these questions, the world of open data needs many more more innovative projects like FigShare.
Considering FigShare’s relaunch suggests a few strengths of the Dryad model:
- Dryad works with journals to integrate article and data submission, streamlining the deposit process.
- Dryad curators review files for technical problems before they are released, and ensure that their metadata enables optimal retrieval.
- Dryad’s scope is focused on data files associated with published articles in the biosciences (plus software scripts and other files important to the article.)
- Dryad can make data securely available during peer review, at the request of the journal.
- Dryad is community-led, with priorities and policies shaped by the members of the Dryad Consortium, including scientific societies, publishers, and other stakeholder organizations.
- Dryad can be accessed programmatically through a sitemap or OAI-PMH interface.
- Dryad content is searchable and replicated through the DataONE network, and it handshakes with other repositories to coordinate data submission.
A file sharing platform and a data repository are different animals, to be sure; both have a place in a lively open data ecosystem. We wish success to the Digital Science team, and look forward to both working together, and challenging each other, to better meet the needs of the research community. To see what other options are out there for different disciplines and types of data, DataCite provides an updated list of list of research data repositories.