Do you have folders within folders full of files labeled things like “FINALfinal_draft-1.pdf.docx” or “Paper_v2.3_AKHedits_revisionJan2014.xls”? Tried to learn a version control program but it just didn’t stick? Would you like to have your pictures, methods, data, etc. from a single experiment all in one place? Find yourself sending the wrong attachments to collaborators, or explaining the metadata?
Perhaps you should try an online lab notebook! I’m going to talk today about closed and open online lab notebooks, specifically hosted on WikiSpaces.
I use WikiSpaces, which is a free (paid upgrades available) service that facilitates project management and collaboration. It seems to have been designed with classes and collaborative projects in mind, however, I find it useful just for keeping my own work together!
This is what a page from my WikiSpace looks like:
This particular page I’ve set up like a mini lab report. I have my excel file at the top so I can find it easily, with my Objectives and Methods listed so I can remind myself what I did (and it’s great to have it already written to make writing it up for a paper someday easier!). Adding tables is a little clunky, so I only enter data in that format if it’s simple and easier to reference. The blue text saying “Photographs” is a link to another page where I’ve uploaded photo files from my experimental setup. I can add captions and annotations on this page, like a scrapbook. The buttons at the upper right of the white part of the screen allow me to edit the page, show how many comments my post has (since mine isn’t public this is none), and how many revisions I’ve made to it. The gray toolbar allows me to jump to other pages and files, showing my most recently viewed pages. “home” is my chronological field notebook. I try to immediately transcribe field notes into the online version! It’s great while I’m waiting for the ferry.
One thing that is different about WikiSpaces from a blog like WordPress is that it acts more like a document manager than a series of discrete posts. It can handle lots of file types, and it remembers revisions, like a more hands-on and visual version control.
My electronic lab notebook is awesome because:
- I can access all my data from anywhere with internet.
- It helps me keep a chronological record of my work and keep my most recent versions of files right at the top.
- Within that chronology, I can link directly to pages that compile all my work relating to a single experiment or project, so it’s easy to look up when I did things.
- It’s more visual and intuitive than other version control resources like GitHub.
- I can link together multiple types of information that relate to a single experiment, such as photographs, graphs, tables, excel spreadsheets, and any other type of document (including code) with explanations/thoughts so I don’t forget what anything was.
- I can add my advisor or any other collaborator to the blog so that they can view and edit my resources too, which helps keep everyone updated on progress while I’m doing fieldwork.
- It’s searchable! Unlike a paper lab notebook, it’s easy to find every single day that I mentioned “rain” or “tanks”. Pages can be tagged too.
So what’s an open laboratory notebook?