IMPORTANT - Future of the BIOSCI/bionet newsgroups

David Kristofferson kristoff at genbank.bio.net
Wed Oct 23 14:38:54 EST 1991


>         I feel that the ability of scientists (among others) to communicate
> rapidly, directly, and INFORMALLY with each other in public electronic forums
> from virtually anywhere in the world is the most exciting thing that's
> happened since the invention of the printing press.  The development and
> refinement of this ability, e.g., via the bionet/BIOSCI news groups, is as
> important, in my view even more important, than the development and 
> refinement of the database(s) being discussed.

Fote,

	Thanks for the above ringing endorsement.  Your concerns about
what will happen to the BIOSCI/bionet newsgroups and about their
connection to GenBank deserve a response especially since many people
may be wondering about that.  I believe that there is no cause for
alarm, but I could be wrong.

	Five years ago when I first went to work at BIONET at
IntelliGenetics it became immediately apparent to me that this
project, at that time only a forum restricted to users on one
computer, was THE most important *long term* thing happening at
BIONET.  I immediately took steps to enhance the visibility and use of
the newsgroups on that system by offering free BIONET accounts to
people who would organize and stimulate discussion.  After we got our
connection to the ARPANET (as it was called at that time) I offered to
send copies of the messages to other sites.  I was approached by
Michael Ashburner of SEQNET fame at Cambridge with the suggestion that
BIONET and SEQNET exchange messages, and this eventually led to the
development of the current BIOSCI system.  Along with my European
colleagues (special mention should go to Rob Harper for all of his
highly recognized efforts on the net), I have done everything in my
power over these years to continue to promote these groups (despite
the occasional "thought police" accusations; unfortunately not
everyone appreciates the various governmental regulations that I must
bear responsibility for upholding, nor do they have to agree with all
of my opinions, of course).  Also there have been a lot of potshots
about useless noise, "rinky dink forums," etc., over the years (even
recently), so the battle is far from won on this point.  Even among
those closely associated with the database effort, the question is
sometimes raised about whether my efforts on this project would be
better spent elsewhere because the total number of issues requiring
"immediate attention" is always vast.

	Let me review briefly how the current arrangement came to
pass.  As many of you know I worked earlier with BIONET.  I came on
board towards the end of that Resource (the final two years).
Although the temptation is always present I am not going to reopen the
wounds over that service's demise.  Suffice it to say that the end of
BIONET jeopardized the availability of a timesharing service, the
FASTP/FASTN e-mail servers, and the BIOSCI/bionet newsgroups.

	The community owes a great debt of gratitude to the efforts of
Jim Cassatt and Jane Peterson (the GenBank project officers at that
time) for coming up with a plan to preserve some of the parts of
BIONET that were useful to GenBank.  The e-mail servers were preserved
and expanded with the addition of an entry retrieval server.  All of
these servers are used free-of-charge hundreds of times per day by
researchers around the world.  The GenBank On-line Service was formed
although we did not have enough funds to continue the kind of low cost
access possible through BIONET and thus usage never reached its former
levels.  Finally, the BIOSCI newsgroups were preserved.

	On BIONET the GENBANK newsgroup was only one out of about 20
groups, so it is obvious that there are many other topics which may
interest biologists.  There is no logically necessary reason why the
newsgroups must be connected with the database effort.  GenBank was
simply an expedient place to ensure continuity of service at the time.
In fact, because I knew that the contract end was coming down the
tracks at high speed, last May I submitted a grant proposal to the
National Science Foundation (since they are the ones responsible for
networking issues; NIH has taken a bit if a back seat here
unfortunately).  I expect to hear back on that proposal in the next
month or so.

	If funded, the grant will allow me to put at least 50% of my
time (i.e., the compensated portion 8-) into enhancing BIOSCI.  The
plans include the following:

1) expanding the newsgroups into more branches of biology and finally
upgrading our distribution system.

2) more journals on BIO-JOURNALS.  Abstracts will be sought out too.
Aggressive pursuit of this goal instead of my current almost total
lack of time to promote this.

3) moderated newsgroups with "household name" scientists.  I'll have
the time to go out and try to track these people down and lobby them
into submission 8-).

4) increasing the awareness of BIOSCI through presentations at
meetings and ads in print journals.  Unfortunately it is still
necessary to use other media to let more scientists know about BIOSCI.
Currently there is no budget for this.

5) work with various Genome efforts to promote newsgroups for project
communications. 

6) better message archiving and retrieval services

7) maintenance of a database of all biological newsgroups, not just
those that are part of BIOSCI itself.


	It seems to me that the above goals are so necessary that
funding *should* be approved.  However, having been through the mill
in the past, nothing is ever a sure thing, and until I get the answer
back, I'll have no idea of the relative sympathy or lack thereof of
those on the review committee towards this project.  BIONET and
GenBank have both been an education in politics (of course, some will
say that I still haven't learned anything 8-).  If by some chance the
answer does come back negative, there will still be sufficient time to
seek other support before the end of the GenBank contract, so I am
highly optimistic that somewhere, some agency will be found that will
continue to fund this work.

	All of you have my word of honor that I will not allow this
effort to die under any circumstances, and that, if the worst case
scenario comes to pass (from my perspective that is, perhaps not from
some of my detractors), I will take appropriate steps to ensure that
the system is passed on to someone/someplace with a proven committment
to electronic communications and not be allowed to fall into neglect.
I am a great believer in contingency planning 8-).

	I will, of course, keep you all posted on events as they
develop.  I've been beaten up on more than one occasion over the last
five years, but I still have a modicum of faith that there is a small
element of justice somewhere.  I'd also like to thank all of you for
your continued support, responses to usage surveys, personal messages
of encouragement, etc.  I really appreciate them (even though for the
past three weeks I've been too buried in database release work to
answer much mail to my "kristoff" address - I'll be getting to that
soon).

				Sincerely,

				David Kristofferson, Ph.D.
				GenBank Manager

				kristoff at genbank.bio.net



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