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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Open knowledge dissemination (with @IFTTT)

An important part of science is communication. That is why we publish. New insights are useless if they sit on some desk. Instead, reuse counts. This communication is not just about the facts, but also a means to establish research networks. Efficient research requires this: you cannot be an expert in everything or at least not be experienced with everything. That is, for most things you do, there is another researcher that can do it faster. This is probably one of the reasons why many Open Science projects actually work, despite limited funding: they are very efficient.

Readers of my blog know a bit about my research, and know how important data exchange is to me. But similarly, allowing people to know what I do. You can see that in my literature: I strive towards knowledge integration (think UserScripts, think CMLRSS, think Linked Open Drug Data) and efficient methods for data exchange. Just because I need this to get statistically significant patterns. After all, my background is chemometrics primarily. Cheminformatics was my hobby, explaining the mashup.

FriendFeed was a brilliant platform for disseminating research and also for exchange of data. Actually, it is a brilliant platform, but when they sold themselves to FaceBook, it got a lot quieter there. And, as said, communication needs a community, and without listeners it is just not the same. Scientists just moved to different social platforms, and it is no surprise FriendFeed didn't show up in Richard van Noorden's recent analysis. A lot of good things happened on FriendFeed, but one was that it used RSS feeds and users could indicate which information sources they liked to show up there. Try my FriendFeed account. Better even was that listeners could select which of my information sources they do not want to listen to. For example, if you were not interested in Flickr images of Person X, but the others sources were interesting, you just silenced that source. Brilliant!

But this feature of using RSS to aggregate dissemination channels is not repeated by other networks, and If This Then That fills that gap. Unlike FriendFeed it does not aggregate it, but send the items to external social networks (and many other systems), including FaceBook and Twitter. It does a lot more than RSS feeds (e.g. check out the Android app), but that is an important one for me and the point of this blog post.

Actually, they have taking the idea of sending around events to a next level, allowing you to tune how it shows up. An example of that is what you see in the screenshot: I played with how news items from the RSS with changes I made to WikiPathways are shown. After a few iterations, I ended up with this "recipe":


The grey boxes is information from the RSS feed. The first iteration (see bottom tweet in the screenshot) only contained a custom perfix "Wikipathways edit:" followed by the {{EntryTitle}} and {{EntryUrl}}. I realized that would the commit message it would not be fun, and added the {{EntryContent}} (one bot last tweet in screenshot). Then I realized that having "Pathway" twice (once from my prefix, once from the {{EntryTitle}}, was not nice to look at either, and I ended up with the above "Wiki{{EntryTitle}} edit:", as visible in the top tweet in the screenshot. Too bad the RSS feed of WikiPathways doesn't have graphics :(

At this moment I am using a few outlets: I use Twitter to send about anything, like I did with FriendFeed. Sadly, Twitter doesn't have the same power to select which tweets you like to listen to. Not interested in the changes I make to WikiPathways? Sorry, you'll have to live with it. Well, you can also try my FaceBook account, where I route fewer things. But there you can like and comment, but I will not respond.

Anyway, my message is, give IFTTT a try!