Friday, May 07, 2010

The Scientist Article on Electronic Lab Notebooks

Amber Dance has written an article in The Scientist (2010-05-01) Digital Upgrade: How to choose your lab’s next electronic lab notebook. This is basically a quick overview of different Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELNs) that should be helpful for people researching what is currently available in that space.

There was some coverage of Open Notebook Science and Steve Koch and I were quoted. Ironically my contribution appeared in the "Cons" section :)


  • The format is unconstrained—you can set up any categories, and as many users and pages, as you want—and fast to set up.
  • Open notebooking attracts collaborators. Koch counts three collaborations that wouldn’t have happened if he weren’t on OpenWetWare. And his students build professional networks well before they author a paper.


  • Wikis were not designed with scientific data in mind. For example, it’s hard to make a table, Koch says.
  • Open notebook science “does limit where you can send your work,” says Jean-Claude Bradley, a chemist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, who also uses an open wiki notebook. His lab sticks to journals that accept preprints.
  • Posting online voids international patent rights, although US patents are still possible.
In my opinion, one of the biggest "Pros" wasn't listed in that section: the free cost. (That was mentioned elsewhere though) When you see the costs of some of these other commercial systems, that has to be a factor for many people trying to make a decision.

If privacy is an issue wikis can certainly be made private, although I'm not sure if that is possible on OpenWetWare. It can be done for $5/month on Wikispaces, the wiki we use for lab notebooks - although then it wouldn't be Open Notebook Science.

Concerning Steve's Con of wikis being difficult to use to store data, that is true. However combining the use of a wiki with Google Spreadsheets has completely resolved that issue for us. With our ability to automatically export an archive of the notebook (as HTML) and spreadsheets (as XLS) into an integrated archive, the two platforms operate essentially as if they were a single system.

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At 3:22 PM, Anonymous Helen said...


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At 8:16 PM, Blogger Jean-Claude Bradley said...

Thanks Helen! It sounds like a great service


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