Monday, June 7, 2010

Gene Wiki Jamboree 1 - post mortem

Last week I had the honor of leading a Gene Wiki Jamboree at the annual meeting of the FaceBase Consortium (an association of researchers focused on understanding the genetics craniofacial development). The FaceBase group is creating a centralized resource for sharing their data and their knowledge with the hope of generally cross-fertilizing ideas and specifically enabling analyses that span the domains and datatypes of the very diverse members in the group. As part of this effort they want to compile and share their knowledge about genes that are relevant to craniofacial development. Rather than, or perhaps in addition to, the creation of their own wiki they are hoping to do this in the context of the Gene Wiki - hence my appearance at their meeting.

In general, the goal of a 'jamboree' in the context of biology is to bring a group of people together to rapidly assemble their knowledge on some specific subject. To my knowledge, the first usage of the term in that fashion was the Drosophila Genome Annotation Jamboree at Celera in 1999 (please let me know if there was an earlier use). In that case, more than 40 scientists gathered together for 2 weeks to define the boundaries of the fly genes and to classify their function. Not being a company like Celera nor having a whole, brand new genome to work on, the size of our group and our time allotment was much smaller. In total we only had about 8 people and 90 minutes...

Given those constraints, this jamboree was really more of a tutorial. It took about 45 minutes to get everyone in the room set up with an account and through their first 'edit this page' experience. So in the end, not a lot of content was generated. But, everyone did succeed in making an edit, seemed happy with their experience, and were clearly much more likely to edit something in the future than they were before the jamboree. So.. I think it was a success given the situation.

A couple notes on the process:

  1. We set up a friendfeed group so that people could ask questions remotely and could track what others were doing (we added RSS feeds for the contributors edits). This was not used at all. None of the participants was a previous friendfeed user and they were also completely new to the Wikipedia experience. It seemed that the attention load of learning the Wiki way was more than enough to occupy them. Also, everyone was on laptops which limited the screen space for a flow-interface like friendfeed. I still like the idea of the ff-group as a live view on the progress and thoughts of the community, but for an in-person jamboree we will have to think of a different approach to achieve that kind of collective awareness. Perhaps a separate projector with the flow view..
  2. Principle Investigators with their own very busy agendas really aren't the best participants in a jamboree. To be more effective, we need people with more time to focus on the task (graduate students please..)
  3. We need more time! Doing a good job editing the text of a scientific review article isn't the easiest thing to do, more time would really help. This is especially the case when working in an editing environment where, if you are adding references, the text you are typing starts looking like this:
VEGFR-2 appears to mediate almost all of the known cellular responses to VEGF {{cite journal | author = Holmes K, Roberts OL, Thomas AM, Cross MJ. | title = Vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-2: structure, function, intracellular signalling and therapeutic inhibition. | journal = Cell Signal. | volume = 19 | issue = 10 | pages = 2003–2012 | year = 2007 | month = Oct | pmid = 17658244}}.

  1. Watch out for edit conflicts. When some one is editing their very first page, the last thing that you want to happen is for some one else to be editing it at the same time. While it could be construed as a useful lesson, its really more than is needed for edit #1. This is something that anyone leading a tutorial like this should consciously avoid since its easy to accidentally create situations where it is likely - for example, by going to a sandbox page or other and having everyone edit it at the same time or even just posting a list of pages to edit (most people will start on the top).
  2. Finally, it is vital to have some kind of central coordinating page where links to help resources and to-do lists can be assembled. I probably didn't give this enough thought on this run, but will be sure to make this a priority in my preparations if I get the chance to lead another Jamboree.


Andrew said...

Great recap. Overall I think it was a success. Though I agree there is always room for improvement. A few things I jotted down during the jamboree that might be useful for next time:

1. The first demo edit could be plain text addition only (instead of including a section header). Just to maximize simplicity.

2. Emphasize the browser-find function early to help newbies see through the horrific markup.

3. Although cutting and pasting pre-canned text from a file is more efficient, I think there might be value in seeing it done "by hand", exactly how they'd be doing it.

4. We should ask people to bookmark key "home pages" or distribute electronic handouts with hyperlinks so that newbies don't get lost.

Overall, well done!