I'm taking the modest head start I've got as license to spend some extra time reading up on the problem domain and thinking about the possible projects suggested by Steve Easterbrook and Greg Wilson.
Research alerts with a social component
People set up queries and receive alerts when relevant papers are released. Analysis of queries and/or results to suggest contacts with people researching similar topics.
- It would be nice to keep things loosely coupled so we can have a central place for queries with the ability for people to add new frontends for different places to use it. For example: I have a widget on my blog that informs me and others of what's been recently recommended. It suggests I talk to B who uses the same service through a facebook app and C who uses it through a dedicated website and D who uses a desktop app that automatically harvests papers searched for (like last.fm? - this one would be hard and way off spec, but fun for a future project idea)
- Would want to have 'roles' available - I might not want to restrict my results to people who have the same two sub specialties as I,
- Are we looking at piggybacking on existing search engines? That would make sense, but we'd need to ensure we're respecting fair use.
Electronic lab book
These researchers are using basic wikis to keep research notes. How can we make this more useful? Can we mostly replicate the function of paper lab books so that research processes can be more easily shared?
- I need to see some paper lab books or grill a scientist. Really, I have no idea what would be useful.
- The most basic thing would be a suite of wiki templates. They're probably already using something like this.
- Is it realistic to consider whether they might move to tablet computers + handwriting recognition office software soon, letting them simply use the screen as they've been using paper? I've read that the technology's supposed to get much cheaper soon, and that windows 7 is slated for inbuilt support, so maybe that'll just happen for them as it gets more broadly adopted. "Someone else will probably fix it in the future" isn't a very good plan, though
Construct a graph of social interactions by mining old emails, forums, agendas, and team lists. Make another of code dependencies related to authorship information. Compare the graphs, with an eye to determining whether and which discrepancies are evidence of communication inefficiencies.
This would be an interesting project, but making it reasonably transferrable to analysis of information from other organizations sounds like a beast of a job. One you've got social network graphs from other sources such as the research alerts project, however, they shouldn't be too tough to combine, the trick would be to figure out how significant the differences are and whether you're generating useful comparisons. The data can then be used for a variety of tools. As you can probably tell, I'm a little hazy on this whole process, but reading up. For a much more cogent explanation, see this post by Steve.
Ways to easily add visualizations of data to papers and websites
It looks like there's already a lot of quality work going on in standards for embedding the code that generates the visualization into the research paper itself. I'm not quite sure where we could help but the idea's been floateding around, so I'm leaving it here as a reminder to ask around.
What I'm reading
Engineering the Software for Understanding Climate Change
An overview of working environment of the researchers we'll be trying to help. Focuses on the differences between their processes and ones we're more used to in software development, and on challenges to productivity that could be solved by software engineering tools and practices.
The Django Book
Not excited yet. Must press on.