Ever since launching in 1996, the Alzforum Web site has been interactive, posting researchers' comments on published papers and research news. The site has published thousands of peer commentaries and mini-reviews by leading scientists in the field, and has established itself as the "go to" Web site for anyone who wished to be up to date on Alzheimer research. Members can post commentaries on any journal article or news story, and can participate in live discussion forums. Researchers frequently reference Alzforum in scientific papers and conduct weekly "Alzforum" sessions in their labs to discuss current findings. The AlzGene database, designed and curated by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and developed and hosted by Alzforum, is a workhorse of the global genetic community, and has generated a primary research publication in Nature Genetics. Alzforum has built numerous other data resources for the research community.
This spring, Alzforum will re-develop its site using the Scientific Collaboration Framework (SCF), a project based on open-source Drupal technology that is designed for building scientific Web communities. SCF was piloted by the Harvard Stem Cell Institute to build a Web publication called StemBook (www.stembook.org). Alzforum will develop some new software modules in Drupal and contribute them back to the SCF, where they will be freely available for other research organizations that are building their own Web communities. (SCF software is available at http://www.sciencecollaboration.org).
SCF is well-suited for publishing articles, comments, forums and blogs, and for managing member communities with fine degrees of editorial control. "We want it to be very easy for anyone to participate, but it's also essential for our editors to vet all postings in order to maintain civil and productive discourse," says Alzforum's co-founder and Executive Editor June Kinoshita.
A feature of SCF that Alzforum's editors are excited about is a semantic tagging module that locates scientific terms within an article, such as names of genes, organisms, and biological processes, and proposes them as tags that describe key concepts in the article. The tags enable the user to search other content with matching or related tags, so that an article about a gene can be automatically linked to a description of the gene, to articles about the gene, and even to the profiles of scientists who study that gene.
"The possibilities this opens up for scientists to navigate a knowledge network of articles, databases, and people is amazing," says Kinoshita. "And all of the Web communities that share the SCF platform will be interconnected. Alzforum has always been about building a research community without walls. Using the SCF, we will take this idea to a whole other level."
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