My photo

Bill St. Arnaud is a R&E Network and Green IT consultant who works with clients on a variety of subjects such as the next generation research and education and Internet networks. He also works with clients to develop practical solutions to reduce GHG emissions such as free broadband and dynamiccharging of eVehicles (See . View my complete profile

Monday, June 11, 2007

Social Networking tools for researchers and scientists
Newsroom > Web Article
Calit2 Launches Research Intelligence Portal and Web 2.0 Tools to Assist Researchers

San Diego, CA, May 4, 2007 -- Treemapping. Tag clouds. Mashups. Bug boxes. The jargon takes some getting used to, but a new Internet portal deployed by Calit2 offers the latest in Web 2.0-type technologies designed to help the institute's scientists and engineers find new funding opportunities and research partners.

The UC San Diego division of Calit2 today announced the beta release of the Research Intelligence Portal, which promises to "aggregate to inform." The site's tools offer information and insight that go well beyond what faculty members traditionally have relied upon to learn about available grants and collaborators for new research initiatives.

"We wanted to take some of the lessons learned from commercial business intelligence efforts and then apply them to the business of a research university," says project leader Jerry Sheehan, manager of government relations for the UCSD division. "This portal is a living experiment in how data mining, visualization and Web 2.0 technologies can be used to support the research endeavor."

UCSD Vice Chancellor for Research Art Ellis has been using an alpha version of the portal for several months. "For scholars, research intelligence tools will help create partnerships, locate resources, and identify emerging areas of opportunity," says Ellis. "In short, these tools have the potential to create completely new paradigms for conducting research."

The portal relies on best-of-breed technologies culled from open-source software; code developed in Calit2, and commercial programs, notably for the blog and treemapping sections of the site. [For a glossary of Web 2.0 buzzwords, see bottom of article.]

"We are doing real-time business analytics along with content and knowledge management in a participatory way," explains Sheehan. The portal is broken into four main sections:

+ Grant funding (Updated Daily). New and ongoing solicitations from the federal government, with funding opportunities by agency. Weekly maps of new funding are also available.

+ Industrial partners (Updated Daily). Profiles of 72 Calit2 industry partners with up-to-date breaking news (e.g., 18 articles were posted on May 1), and interactive maps that geo-locate where each partner is headquartered. Users can also sign up to get news via email or RSS feed, and can search the portal's backlog of partner data.

+ Research interests (Updated by Users). This section offers a snapshot of Calit2 research, based on keyword data from the websites and grant abstracts of 218 faculty and staff at UC San Diego. The software uses keyword analysis to generate tag clouds -- making it easier for a user to locate a researcher with specific expertise. Likewise, the user can get a glimpse of Calit2's overall research emphasis by choosing to look at 50 or 100 keyword tags at a glance. Separately, a treemap provides an interactive, visual representation of the 311 federal, peer-reviewed research grants awarded in the past four years to Calit2-affiliated faculty. Users can dig down to details on the smallest grant, while also capturing the bigger picture (e.g., NIH edges out NSF as Calit2's top provider of project funding, while the Department of Defense ranks #3).

+ Developer's Blog. This section offers site analytics; a bug box that encourages users to report any problems with the site; and a live-chat section that is usually staffed during business hours (Pacific time). Also on the site: a video primer on subscribing Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds.

"The Research Intelligence portal grew out of my need to see and interact with the universe of research associated with Calit2," says institute director Larry Smarr. "The beauty of these Web 2.0 tools is that, as more members of the Calit2 research community begin to participate in the creation of new content, the value of the portal increases -- not just to individual researchers, but also to the institute as a whole."

Primary funding for development of the portal came from the UCSD Division of Calit2. "It is critical that Calit2 remain on the cutting edge of new Web technologies and trends such as social networking," says division director Ramesh Rao, an electrical and computer engineering professor in UCSD's Jacobs Shool of Engineering. "Calit2 is fundamentally interdisciplinary, and the Research Intelligence portal will help researchers make new connections to their counterparts around campus."

In the beta release, the faculty information is limited to the 218 researchers affiliated with Calit2 on the UCSD campus. Work is underway to extend the coverage of the portal to include all Calit2-affiliated faculty at UC Irvine. Already, Smarr's office has provided supplemental funding to allow developers to beef up corporate data on the site to include Calit2 industry partners of the UC Irvine and UC San Diego divisions alike.

Members of both campuses can benefit from the portal's aggregation of federal funding opportunities and breaking news on the institute's industrial partners.

Calit2's Jerry Sheehan, who leads the project, outlines what the Research Intelligence portal offers researchers and Calit2's industry partners. To watch the video, click on the right arrow. Length: 1:34 According to Sheehan, the site is "tapping the emerging generation of web technologies to enable the collective intelligence of Calit2 researchers to be brought to bear in examining new research opportunities and collaborations."

The Research Strengths component of the portal uses software to analyze each investigator's research interests by culling through publicly available abstracts of grants or other available documents, as well as one web page affiliated with each researcher. All of the text is run through a web application programming interface (API) used by Yahoo! on its searches, as well as the Keyword Extractor and Analyzer (KEA) algorithm, which takes a text or a web page URL as input and spits out keywords. The result: a high degree of accuracy in selecting a weighted series of keywords that reflect each UCSD researcher's interests. With those keywords, the portal can then automatically search through new funding opportunities and feed the pertinent ones to specific researchers via Really Simple Syndication (RSS) or email.

More accurate keywords make for more relevant funding alerts, so the beta version lets Calit2-affiliated researchers edit their profiles, and keywords, and export any of this data to their web pages or other social bookmarking sites. In the next round of tool development, users will also be able to upload their own documents and web pages and get back appropriate keywords for submission. "Even with the best algorithms in the world, the accuracy of extracting key words will always benefit from the active participation of the researcher," says Sheehan. "The foundation of this portal is that it is based on the participatory Web 2.0 model, and as more researchers upload content, the more valuable the entire service will be for that researcher as well as for all users of the site."

The portal uses RSS as a way to deal with data, and blogs as a framework for content management, with an underpinning of open-source databases such as MySQL. There are interactive chat features already integrated into the system, but developers plan to add more such features in future. "The site is like a Swiss army knife," adds Sheehan. "Most users can use it, but a lot of tools may take some explanation, which is one reason for embedding the instructional videos and help features."

The underlying database structure and service-oriented integration of the portal was developed by staff programmer-analyst Arindam Ganguly, a recent UCSD computer science graduate, in collaboration with Calit2's Software & Systems Architecture & Integration (SAINT) lab, led by CSE professor Ingolf Krueger. SAINT program analyst Yonghui Chen worked on the KEA key word extraction, treemapping and some RSS functions, while graduate student To-ju Huang helped automate the process of information gathering, filtering and populating.

UCSD vice chancellor for research Art Ellis says that the Calit2 portal will help the campus position itself as an innovator, especially in front of the funding agencies that account for the bulk of federal support for research. "We live in an age where technologies such as databases and visualization tools are allowing us to track the creation and diffusion of knowledge -- essentially in real time and across the globe," notes Ellis, who joined UC San Diego last September from the National Science Foundation, where he directed the agency's Division of Chemistry. "The development of research intelligence tools is being supported by a variety of federal agencies and campuses that recognize their potential for managing their investment portfolios."

"Our hope is that in the next four months we will get input from beta users so we can see how useful the portal is," says Sheehan. At that point, the developers will decide whether to move into full-scale production. Before then, they will be closely tracking the number of users who register for the system and then take the trouble to modify their key research words.

Sheehan's principal message to Calit2 researchers: "The key is your participation."

Do You Speak Web 2.0?

New Web technologies have triggered an explosion in Internet-related vocabulary. Following are short descriptions based on definitions posted on Wikipedia.

Blog. Short for 'web log' - a website where entries are made and displayed in reverse chronological order, typically providing commentary or news on a particular subject or from a specific perspective.

Bug box. Website feature that encourages users to submit information on bugs or glitches in the site's software or tools.

Mashup. Website or web application that combines content from more than one source.

RSS. Really Simple Syndication (RSS 2.0) is a web feed format used to publish frequently updated digital content.

Social bookmarking. User-stored lists of Internet resources that are available to a network through user-defined keywords (tags). Services such as and Connotea also offer rating, commenting, citations, reviews web annotation and other innovations.

Social networks. Virtual online communities - such as MySpace and Facebook - which grow as newcomers invite their own personal network contacts to join; large organizations are creating private social networks, known as Enterprise Relationship Management.

Tags. A type of metadata involving the association of descriptors with objects; frequently appear as keywords.

Tag cloud. Visual depiction of content tags used on a website, with more frequently used tags depicted in a larger font.

Treemap. Interactive method for displaying information about entities with a hierarchical relationship, in a "space-constrained" environment (e.g., a computer monitor).

Web 2.0. Second-generation, Web-based communities, tools and services that facilitate collaboration and sharing among users.