Open-source software and web 2.0 technology transforming responses to diseases

Added by Branwen Hide on 27 March 2009 16:15

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There have been a number of articles, discussions and events focused on researchers use of web2.0 technology, including our own project The Use and Relevance of Web 2.0 Tools for Researchers which is due to be completed September/October.

Much of this work has focused on groups of e-researchers/open science advocates and though interesting, I have often wondered how that relates to those of who work in facilities with older IT infrastructure and research hardware still running on windows 3.1 platforms (trust me they do still exist).

In Nature news this week, there is a very interesting article looking at the use of open-source software outside of the main disciplines it is normally associated with. Geochat, Mesh4X and Evolve, are three new open-source software tools designed to help health officials, field scientists, police and local villages respond better and faster to disease outbreaks and natural disasters. All the software has been designed to work in areas where internet connections are poor or non existent but where mobile phone connections are often available. The software is also compatible with whatever database and computer system the users already have. Geochat allows people to communicate their position and other important information using text messages, or email and automatically synchronises the information with other team members. Mesh4X swaps data seamlessly between different databases and software, as different government, military and relief agencies use different and often incompatible technology. Finally Evolve aggregates and sorts relevant information from the field, media reports, emails, hotlines as well as other information streams. The aggregated data can then be disseminated to different agencies to aid in the decision making process. The software development and field testing is supported by InSTEDD, who?s mission is to harness the power of technology to improve collaboration for global health and humanitarian action. It will be interesting to see how effective the technology is and if any of the software can be adapted to suit the needs of other researchers wanting to share data, for example Mesh4X. Data is generated in a variety of formats even when using the same technique and studies (including our publication To Share or Not To Share) have shown that this lack of cohesion makes data sharing more difficult. Thus software such as Mesh4X may be useful in enabling researchers to share data in any format.

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