The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded a $12.2 million grant to Cornell and six other institutions to develop a social networking site that will connect biomedical researchers across the country. Think Facebook, but rather than updating your profile with your “Halloween 2009!” photo album and relationship status, you would post research interests, current projects and your latest journal publications.
The new network, called VIVOweb, will be an expansion of a system developed at Cornell in 2003 by Jon Corson-Rikert, head of information technology at Mann Library, and implemented by a team of programmers, interface designers and librarians with support from the Office of the Provost. VIVO was originally built as a tool for faculty and students in different departments to find each other and collaborate on research in the life sciences. According to Corson-Rikert, “Scientists are often not aware of other work going on if it’s not in their specific area of training. This will enable people to expand their networks and find others who share similar research interests”. The network then spread to every other discipline of study within the university, and has been implemented at other institutions in the United States, China and Australia.
VIVOweb will initially include six other universities, including the University of Florida, Indiana University Bloomington, Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, Ponce School of Medicine, Washington University of St. Louis and Scripps Research Institute. Cornell’s work will be lead by Dean Krafft, the library’s chief technology strategist, Corson-Rikert and Medha Devare, librarian for bioinformatics and life sciences. Their focus is on the extension of the current VIVO system to multiple institutions and meeting the needs of the researchers who will be using the network. The University of Florida is developing technology to keep VIVOweb profiles up-to-date, and Indiana University Bloomington is working on the site’s social networking capabilities.
The public can gain access to the network through open search engines, but some information will only be available to researchers with profiles on VIVOweb. The network will use the Semantic Web approach to make data more readily available. In addition to human-readable web pages, the Semantic Web will allow linking underlying data such as related publications and research projects to individual profile pages for sharing and integration across multiple websites. This results in a seamless transition of information, facilitating the discovery of new scientific networks.
According to Krafft, “These seven universities are the pilots, but in the end, VIVOweb will be open to any other institution”. This project could be the beginning of a new age of research and discovery for scientific communities worldwide.