Figshare: a carrot for sharing

Helping researchers share their research more quickly.

figshareFigshare, a tool designed to enable researchers to release all of their research outputs quickly, and in an easily citable, sharable and discoverable manner, has just launched a significantly upgraded site today. Originally launched in March 2011, Figshare has since received support from Nature’s sister company, Digital Science. The tool provides an interesting way to quickly publish all file formats, including videos and datasets that are often demoted to the supplemental materials section in current publishing models. Files that aren’t ready for publication can be stored privately for free in the cloud.

Figshare uses creative commons licensing (CC0 for the datasets; CC-BY for everything else) so others can re-use the data whilst allowing authors to maintain their ownership. Like F1000 Posters, the value for science is in the discoverability of scientific content that has been otherwise largely hidden. The movement towards efficient, open, collaborative science has been relatively slow, as with all cultural changes, and requires both ‘carrots and sticks’. UK Science Minister David Willets recently stated:

“Our starting point is a commitment by the coalition to transparency and open access to publicly funded data”

and there are now sustained and increasing efforts from governments worldwide to encourage researchers to share their research data. As Mark Hahnel, creator of figshare points out:

“figshare has focused on providing immediate ‘carrots’ for researchers, demonstrating how they can improve their career prospects through open science. By taking advantage of traditional measures of impact (i.e. the number of citations), as well as new measurements such as altmetrics, researchers get a greater level of information about the impact and reach of their research. By getting some real-time measurements of the impact of their research, they don’t necessarily have to wait for other researchers to cite it using traditional methods.”

Researchers can further increase the reach of their outputs via various social media platforms through ‘share buttons’ throughout the site. There is much talk about how social media has the potential to benefit research through real-time discussion of the science you did today, not last year when you first submitted your paper. Although it is well known that the uptake of online commenting on papers on publisher’s sites has been rather slow, it appears that researchers may be more inclined to use social media platforms and blog and tweet about novel research away from the publisher’s site, as shown by the volume of such links within the upcoming tool, as well as recent research done by Jason Priem and colleagues.

The idea of breaking research publications into their smallest unit is also appealing as it enables search engines, such as Google, to index the title of each individual research object, making the work more discoverable. Browse and filter options, and lists of most-shared and most-viewed work in each research field are then intended to give some idea of which work, within that field, may be having the biggest impact in real-time.

Figshare provides each researcher with 1GB of free private storage space, and the option to purchase further space is apparently coming soon. This space can be used to manage your research data, and then make it available to the public when you choose with a click of a button. Until then, your research objects are backed up in the cloud, and accessible from anywhere. Researchers are encouraged to add descriptions, tags (e.g. grant numbers) and links to their uploads, be it private or public, to ease navigation through large amounts of research data.

As an increasing number of groups and organisations push to encourage researchers to release and share their data, it will be interesting to see how well this tool, together with other new approaches (including our own upcoming plans; more very shortly…), can help to change the existing culture and working practices in a way that can only be a positive for research as a whole.

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