Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pinterest, the new place for social/scientific collaboration and discovery.

A bunch of years ago a colleague of mine (some might know him as Marvin) and I had an idea that we wanted to create a repository of figures, images, and charts on our web site that we could point people to in order to show them what good cell cycle data looks like (for example) or to share a figure demonstrating what properly compensated and transformed data looks like.  The thing that held us back were the technicalities of easily organizing and displaying these images.  Over the years I've started and stopped various methods attempting to do this.  Static web pages, a flickr pool, and shared volumes on a server, to name a few.  But they were too cumbersome to use and therefore quickly faded as the mundane tasks of everyday life regained its stranglehold on my ambitions.
Dormant UCFlow Flickr Pool last updated in early 2009

It took a bit of convincing, but I finally jumped on Pinterest.  If you've read any of the recent reports regarding the "average" Pinterest user, you could probably understand my hesitation.  I mean, Techcrunch reported that the fan base of Pinterest on FB is 97% female, and the Pinterest about page describes its own ideal use case as, “People use pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and organize their favorite recipes.” ...Not really the place you might find a science/technology guy.  But it didn't take long for me to figure out how I could leverage the power of both the organizational structure of Pinterest (called pinboards), as well as the ease with which you can add images/figures to to the pinboards (that is, pin things to a board).  Like many other social media type sites, you can follow people who pin interesting things.  Most of the time, you can easily track back to the original source of the pinned image, but other times it leads to a dead end.  This is a common complaint of the fledgling site.  Some people have voiced concern over copyright and giving the original content provider his/her just credit.  Hopefully some of these things will be ironed out as the platform develops.  An encouraging perspective on these copyright issues was recently outlined by world renowned photographer, Trey Ratcliff.

So, you can probably guess where I'm going here.  Why not use Pinterest as sort of a repository of flow cytometry related images.  Similar things have been done before, and probably with much more elegance, but I guarantee they have dedicated web professionals putting things together.  Take, for example, a newer site that serves a similar purpose for microscopy imagery called The Cell: An Image Library.  It's a very professionally done site with lots of great content, but it likely requires a lot of upkeep and resources.    Can a similar site of flow cytometry related images be created with minimal effort?  We shall see.

The other thing to consider is this idea of peer reviewed images.  'The Cell' markets itself as a peer-reviewed repository of annotated images.  I'm not interested in forming a review board, but since Pinterest allows multiple people to add to the same pinboard, you could envision a situation where people are adding things to a board, liking them, commenting on them, and using that as sort of the review process.

So if you're already a user of Pinterest, why not follow ucflow @ http://pinterest.com/ucflow/  and if you're interested in contributing to these pinboards, let me know.  If you haven't had a chance to check out Pinterest, you should.  Right now it's invite-only, but I can send you an invite if you'd like to seriously check it out.   To the left, you can catch a glimpse at a few of the boards I've already set up.  One board for hardware examples, one for figures of applications, and another generic board of flow stuff.  It's a start, and could easily be branched into much more detail.  For example, the applications board might get unruly and may need to be split up into application categories, such as Apoptosis Assays, etc...  The only question is, will Pinterest succeed where other platforms have failed?  Only time will tell.