Use of the BIOSCI Newsgroups

Dave Kristofferson kristoff at GENBANK.BIO.NET
Mon Jul 2 15:47:08 EST 1990


                      Usage of BIOSCI Newsgroups
                      11/1/89 - 7/1/90 inclusive
         ranked in order of number of messages posted per day

BBOARD NAME                Messages Posted      Messages per day
-----------                ----------------     ----------------
BIONAUTS                   125                  2.23 (started 5/7/90)
BIONEWS                    306                  1.26
BIO-SOFTWARE               214                  0.88
EMPLOYMENT                 142                  0.58
BIO-JOURNALS               104                  0.43
METHODS-AND-REAGENTS       101                  0.42
HUMAN-GENOME-PROGRAM       69                   0.40 (started 1/10/90)
GENBANK-BB                 79                   0.33
SCIENCE-RESOURCES          64                   0.26
BIO-MATRIX                 39                   0.16
BIO-CONVERSION             36                   0.15
POPULATION-BIOLOGY         34                   0.14
MOLECULAR-EVOLUTION        29                   0.12
PROTEIN-ANALYSIS           20                   0.08
AGROFORESTRY               15                   0.06
AGEING                     14                   0.06
RESEARCH-NEWS              13                   0.05
EMBL-DATABANK              10                   0.04
BIOTECH                    10                   0.04
GENOMIC-ORGANIZATION        7                   0.03
PIR                         3                   0.01
SWISS-PROT                  1                   0.004

Totals:                  1435                   5.91

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Before considering the new statistics, first a short note about the
development of BIOSCI.  BIOSCI grew out of a merger of three
organizations: SEQNET run by Michael Ashburner and Martin Bishop at
Cambridge in the U.K., the BIONET newsgroups managed by yours truly at
the old BIONET National Computer Resource for Molecular Biology here
at IntelliGenetics, and BIOTECH run by Deba Patnaik at the University
of Maryland.  The retention (solely for technological reasons) of the
"bionet" name in the USENET distribution of the BIOSCI newsgroups
still reflects BIOSCI's origins.  In addition to the groups mentioned
above, extremely important contributions were also made by Mats
Sundvall in Sweden, Rob Harper and Juhani Tenhunen in Finland, Niall
O'Reilly in Ireland, and Royd Whittington in the U.K.  BIOSCI now has
four major distribution sites at the SERC laboratory in the U.K., the
Biomedical Research Center at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, the
University College Dublin in Ireland, and at GenBank/IntelliGenetics
in Mountain View, California.  BIOSCI messages are distributed
literally to all parts of the globe.

Speaking personally, I still am gratified that the above group was
able to set aside potential national differences and implement a
working system across several different networks, software systems,
and hardware platforms.  While these considerations have meant that
some awkwardness remains in the system (e.g., bounced mail problems at
times), the fact persists that the system has worked successfully and
has brought people together far more quickly than would have occurred
if we had waited for the uniform adoption of more sophisticated
technology.

BIOSCI's goal was and still is to facilitate bio-scientific
communication by providing a bridge across the various network
barriers that exist around the world.  The recent BIONEWS readership
survey demonstrated once again how important this still is.  I
discovered that many scientists in one country were not able to reach
me directly due to network snafus, but *were* able to establish
contact by relaying messages through one of the addresses established
at their BIOSCI distribution center.  This same distribution mechanism
allows, for example, scientists in several Pacific Rim countries
(e.g., Japan, Australia, Taiwan, New Zealand, and Korea) to
communicate easily with their counterparts in Europe and the U.S. by
posting a single electronic message.

Although BIOSCI is still in its infancy, the above statistics show
that good progress is being made.  As more biologists become
"network-literate" we expect that the growth in use of this facility
will continue at a dramatic rate.

Here are some statistics from past years.  From 12/86 - 11/87 the
three separate organizations (BIONET, SEQNET, and BIOTECH) posted 551,
51, and 41 messages respectively.  The next year BIOSCI was formed,
and from 12/87 - 11/88 a total of 956 messages were posted to the
newsgroups.  Unfortunately, during the strained times in 1989 during
the shutdown of BIONET and the rush to establish and open the GenBank
On-line Service, I blush to admit that I did not collect BIOSCI usage
statistics before the BIONET computer went down.  Daily usage was up
substantially over 1988 though, but took a significant hit in the last
third of 1989 when BIONET went down and all of its users (> 900 labs)
lost access to the network.  In the 8 month period reported above, it
is nice to see that the momentum has resumed and that we are now up to
1435 total postings which, if annualized, is over twice the 1988 rate.

Among the established groups, BIONEWS (bionet.general) continues to be
the most widely used newsgroup.  In the recent readership survey
(results being processed now) I received 579 responses from all parts
of the globe.  These responses will be filtered for duplicates and
tabulated by country.  Final results will be made public soon after
compilation.  The new group BIONAUTS (which is a database of user
addresses at IRLEARN) is currently atop the list, but this may be due
to the initial flurry of database entries on that new group.

In general the trend remains that the "practical" newsgroups such as
EMPLOYMENT (bionet.jobs) and METHODS-AND-REAGENTS
(bionet.molbio.methds-reagnts), etc., top the list while
(unfortunately) groups dedicated solely to scientific discussion bring
up the middle to lower part.  Note, however, that the scientific
content on the METHODS newsgroup has been improving dramatically over
the last couple of years to the point where it is not uncommon for
people from many labs to discuss the merits of various experimental
protocols.  I am still a bit disappointed, however, that the
discussion of ideas has still not taken off on the other newsgroups
with only a few exceptions.  I continue to believe that one can "talk
science" openly without compromising one's "priority" in publishing
results.

The one surprising finding, however, is that the newsgroups for three
of the four major sequence databanks are so underutilized (note,
however, that EMBL has posted many messages on BIO-SOFTWARE concerning
their file server offerings, so the impression in that instance is
incorrect.).  Can it truly be the case that the protein databases have
nothing to announce to their users?  Have their users nothing to say
or ask about the databases?

It is also a bit sad to see that the BIOTECH bulletin board which was
one of the three groups that merged to form BIOSCI has fallen into
virtual total neglect since the departure of Deba Patnaik from UMDC
some time ago.  At one time BIOTECH was posting almost as many
messages as BIONET-NEWS and SEQNET, but after Deba's departure this
group has essentially died.  We tried to convert it to a BIOSCI forum
for the discussion of biotechnology issues, but so far without
success.

                     Time for some Housecleaning?
                     ----------------------------

The majority of the newsgroups in the list above have obviously
justified their existence.  However it is probably time to do some
housecleaning among the more inactive groups.  Based on the above
results I would like to propose the idea of shutting down all
newsgroups in the list from RESEARCH-NEWS on down except for those
devoted to the databanks.  We might also consider merging the two
protein databanks newsgroups into the PROTEIN-ANALYSIS newsgroup.  I
will await contact from those two organizations before initiating any
further steps on PIR and SWISS-PROT.

RESEARCH-NEWS originated from a BIONET newsgroup which was designed as
a place for users to post their research interests and strike up
collaborations.  Although previously very active, this fell into
disuse after the BIONET Resource was shut down, but BIONAUTS has
replaced its function to some extent.  Thus it does not seem that this
newsgroup is needed any longer.

BIOTECH still seems to be useful as a possible forum for
biotechnology, but practically I can not see this occurring unless
someone steps forward to volunteer as a moderator to get the newsgroup
rolling again.  On USENET this group still resides in the
sci.bio.technology domain instead of with the other bionet.* groups,
so we would also need to resolve this issue if there is still interest
in keeping this group as part of BIOSCI.

The GENOMIC-ORGANIZATION newsgroup was going to get a new lease on
life earlier this year, but the moderators (some prominent people in
the Genome community) were not able to take on the job due to
relocations and other issues.  This group could serve a useful
purpose, but could also be let go in favor of the HUMAN-GENOME-PROGRAM
newsgroup.

We would like to get our readers feedback on these issues.  Feel free
to either reply directly to BIONEWS or to me personally and I will
pass your comments on to the other BIOSCI managers.

My thanks once again to all of you who participated in the BIONEWS
readership survey and who have shown your support by actively using
the newsgroups during BIOSCI's first two and a half years.

                                Sincerely,

                                David Kristofferson, Ph.D.
                                GenBank On-line Service Manager

                                kristoff at genbank.bio.net






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