With the publication of the 2007 Nucleic Acids Research Web Server issue, we have a chance to reflect on how the web has transformed the way we conduct scientific research. The internet helps us to communicate, to rapidly access and exchange data, to connect ideas, and to bridge expertise across disciplines. As with any endeavor, it is important that scientists keep pace. In computational biology, we have the development of new tools and algorithms for scientific research that harness the power of the web for accessibility, data sharing and exchange of ideas. With collaborative technologies such as blogs, application programming interfaces (APIs), wikis and Really Simple Syndication (RSS), the pace of progress is accelerating and scientists increasingly need to rely on trusted directories, portals and useful search engines to keep up with the latest science. The Bioinformatics Links Directory is one such directory that includes a compilation of molecular biology servers, bioinformatics tools and online resources for life sciences research.
The Bioinformatics Links Directory, http://bioinformatics.ca/links_directory
, is a listing of specialized servers and general purpose resources that aims to help scientists navigate the rapidly changing landscape of online research tools. Researchers can find relevant servers using the straight forward keyword search or by navigating to the biological categories, where tools that do similar tasks are grouped together. Each entry in the Bioinformatics Links Directory is highlighted by providing a short description for each link, listing relevant PubMed citations, and identifying links as servers from the Nucleic Acids Research
Web Server Issue. This directory is designed to make it easy to connect information together. Any researcher can assemble a comprehensive listing of resources by downloading and importing the RSS feeds, a format used to publish frequently updated content (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSS
). For example, a researcher can import the RSS feed for a search of the Bioinformatics Links Directory for ‘transcription factor binding site’ and publish it on her wiki alongside the feeds from the ‘RNA, Structure Prediction, Visualization, and Design’ and the ‘Protein, Interactions, Pathways and Enzymes’ subcategories as a resource for the whole research laboratory interested in transcriptional regulatory mechanisms.
The 2007 update of the Bioinformatics Links Directory includes the 130 servers published in this Web Server issue of Nucleic Acids Research
. Over the past 5 years, the Web Server issues have published a rich collection of over 680 different internet resources (1
). The 2007 update brings the total number of servers listed in the Bioinformatics Links Directory close to 1200 links (). A complete listing of servers from the 2007 Web Server issue can be accessed online at http://bioinformatics.ca/links_directory/narweb2007
. The complete update of the Bioinformatics Links Directory, which includes the Web Server list and summaries, is also available online at the Nucleic Acids Research
. Together with the long standing Database issue (3
), these special issues at Nucleic Acids Research
represent a valuable directory of resources for the global life sciences research community.
Summary of the number of web servers listed in each subcategory of the Bioinformatics Links Directory
In addition to the updated content, the 2007 update of the Bioinformatics Links Directory includes new features that embrace accessibility and open data exchange. For example, the Bioinformatics Links Directory has become a LinkOut provider for the NCBI (4
). With this data exchange, it is now easier for researchers to jump directly from searches in PubMed to Web Server listings in the Bioinformatics Links Directory. Since the last update, we have also implemented a new CSS based design to improve the look and feel of the Bioinformatics Links Directory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Css
). This new design makes it easier to browse the categories of the directory and is fully compliant with current web standards (http://webstandards.org/learn/faq/
). RSS feeds are now available for any page that you can navigate to in the Bioinformatics Links Directory. The Bioinformatics Links Directory is an example of a community resource driven by researchers who invest considerable efforts ensuring that their research is freely accessible and in the public domain. Suggestions for additions, revisions or corrections to the Bioinformatics Links Directory are strongly encouraged. Please use the suggested URL link found at http://bioinformatics.ca/links_directory/add.php
or email your suggestions directly to links/at/bioinformatics.ca
Many scientists are now recognizing the value of harnessing the power of the web for conducting world-class research. To this end, many of the new features that we have incorporated into the 2007 update of the Bioinformatics Links Directory were driven by Web 2.0 concepts (O’Reilly, T. 2005. What is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the next generation of software. http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html
). Scientists already embrace many of these Web 2.0 concepts, such as the value of very large data sets and open exchange of software, ideas and publications. There are also a number of research servers that provide APIs for programmatic access to their resources (5
). However, there are some Web 2.0 concepts that could help to increase the value of the online resources coming from scientific groups. For example, an improved focus on users and usability of servers is needed. In addition, very few of the Web Servers listed here are compliant with current web standards, such as XHTML accessibility and CSS-based design (http://webstandards.org/learn/faq/
). Increased use of emerging web technologies such as RSS feeds, APIs and wikis that encourage easy data exchange, aggregation, and participation would also be an advantage. The research groups who design, develop and host servers for the scientific community who also stay at the forefront of web technologies will be at a distinct advantage. These concepts will bring users to your tools, and make your servers accessible to non-experts. Recognizing your community of users as a valuable resource will help aid the development of your server and push the boundaries of your own research. This two way interaction mediated through the web represents a new collaborative atmosphere in which we should all want to conduct science.