Nature Heads for the Cloud

 
 
By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2009-04-14
 
 
 

Nature Publishing Group has long been a staple of science-based publishing, but it only recently decided to make its peer-reviewed information on genetics available online to undergraduates and educators through Scitable, an online site found here.

Scitable pulls information from over 30 different Nature journals, and also includes new peer-reviewed content. The site features a substantial social-networking element, allowing members to form groups, add comments and recommend changes to content, and share information.

But in an online world that's already seen the shutdown of Microsoft Encarta, which had lost the information-reference battle against collaborative online encyclopedias including Wikipedia and Google's Knol, and the Encyclopedia Britannica trying to gain on its middling online market share by introducing a wiki-style collaborative element, how does a site like Scitable potentially succeed?

For Vikram Savkar, the publishing director of Nature Education, the division of Nature Publishing Group that has launched Scitable, the answer lies in focusing on a niche-in this case, genetics-instead of trying to compete on all fronts against Wikipedia and similar sites. Only gradually does he plan to expand into other branches of the life and physical sciences.

At the same time, the site's social-networking and cloud-based collaborative aspects make it quicker to update than most scientific and peer-reviewed resources.

"We can react quickly if there's a need for an upgrade," he said. The collaborative elements of Scitable were considered essential from the beginning of the process, seen as necessary for the site's potential growth. "Britannica didn't pivot fast enough," he added, to face the rise of collaborative-based sites such as Wikipedia.     

Plus, unlike other cloud-based platforms that require five-nines uptime in order to deliver their services, an academic site doesn't need to serve quite that degree of reliability.

Just as with the enterprise, Savkar views smartphones as playing an increasingly vital role in education; his road map for the medium- to long-term sees the development of applications designed to deliver educational content from the cloud onto peoples' devices.

Such steps, he said, could allow Scitable to potentially "scale up to millions of users."


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