Online videos catch on

Web sites and publishers plan video offerings, but will researchers embrace the new medium?

By | August 22, 2007

Ten months after the launch of the first life sciences video journal, scientists are cautiously embracing online video to provide detailed demonstrations of experimental protocols or explanations of results. But so far, Web sites offering such videos get few visitors compared to journals and other online resources. The Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE), the first online video methods journal, launched in October, 2006, and releases an issue each month featuring about 15 videos on a specific topic. SciVee, which will link videos of authors explaining a paper's results, is set to launch on September 1. Established science publishers are considering such content as well. JoVE offers more than 90 videos and receives 300-500 unique visitors each day, compared to tens of thousands of visitors to the Nature Protocols website and 1500-2000 daily visits to PLoS One. Regarding the numbers, Moshe Pritsker, co-creator of JoVE, told The Scientist, "We've never engaged in any systematic public relations. We're at the stage of developing our product, developing this new concept of scientific publishing." The majority of videos on the site describe specialized techniques, he added, but the recent addition of a "Basic Protocols" section may draw a wider audience. Pritsker started JoVE as a postdoc at Harvard and later received financial backing from a private investor to run the site full-time. He declined to disclose the amount and source of the funding, but said it is was enough to get started. Since each video costs only a few hundred dollars to produce, he predicted that advertising revenues will eventually be sufficient to keep the company afloat and free of charge for users. "We believe that our company will be successful if it is useful to scientists," he said. But usefulness is not the only critical factor for succes, according to Mark Gerstein, a professor of biomedical informatics at Yale University and author of several papers on the subject of scientific publishing. "I think the logic of trying to express scientific ideas in a non-textual form is compelling, but there's also the reality that there's a tremendous amount of momentum associated with the traditional forms of publishing," Gerstein told The Scientist. "The question is, will the logic be compelling enough to overcome that activation barrier?" Most scientists reach first for established sources of information, such as Science and Nature, rather than untested sources such as JoVE, simply because they have limited time, said Gerstein. If JoVE and other sites are to overcome that momentum, ironing out kinks for users might help. For example, while JoVE has a team of editors and consulting researchers that reviews each video, the scrutiny is less extensive than peer review, and some details can be overlooked. In one case, Eric Matson, a postdoc in the lab of Jared Leadbetter at the California Institute of Technology, whose video protocol described the extraction of DNA from termite gut microbes, forgot to note the concentration of a salt solution required in the experiment. Matson amended his error after a viewer pointed it out in an online comment, but under the current setup, researchers who post their protocols can see viewers' comments only if they regularly check the website. "It would be good to have some sort of mechanism in place where those questions could be sent to your Email as though you were the corresponding author of the video," he said. Siddharth Singh, a graduate student at Devi Ahilya University in Indore, India, was so impressed with JoVE that he started a similar website, LabAction, in March. LabAction provides a forum for users to upload their own videos, which either describe methods or provide tutorials on a general topic such as PCR. Fifteen videos are posted so far, and the site gets about 100-200 visitors per day. According to Singh, several users have noted that the site doesn't easily allow viewers to browse through videos by category or posters to write descriptions to accompany their videos, features which are available at JoVE. Although Singh said he plans to address these concerns, he does not intend to take a proactive role in commissioning videos, preferring the simpler YouTube-style approach. Online methods videos have also caught the attention of Nature. The publication's Web site already posts weekly videos produced by an outside contractor aimed at explaining featured papers to non-specialists, and the Nature Protocols Web site hosts a limited number of author-made videos explaining protocols to other scientists. The company is in the early stages of planning a shift towards more video production, similar to its expansion into audio podcasts over the past two years, said Timo Hannay, publishing director of Nature.com. Nature hopes to make video production "part of our core competency as a company," he said, which includes training journalists and editors in video production and establishing in-house recording and editing capabilities. At SciVee, which was created in partnership with the NSF, the Public Library of Science and the San Diego Supercomputing Center, a proprietary new technology synchronizes the text of a paper to a video of the author explaining its key findings. SciVee also provides ten minute video summaries, in which the author describes findings in greater detail than an abstract. According to its creator, Philip Bourne of the University of California, San Diego, and founding Editor-in-Chief of PLoS Computational Biology, the goal of SciVee is to help researchers quickly digest new scientific literature. Initially, SciVee will link just to papers published by PLoS, but if the site becomes a useful resource for scientists, Bourne would like to make arrangements with other publishers to include all papers in PubMed. However, if copyright agreements prove prohibitive, then the presentations will not be synchronized to the full text of the paper, and simply link to the abstract instead. How these Web sites will affect the process of science remains to be seen. "The tricky issue is that the technology has evolved, with the Internet and the ability to visualize things, but, obviously, the article format that people focus on is still fairly traditional," Gerstein said. But whether or not efforts such as JoVE and SciVee flourish into successful business ventures, said Stewart Wills, online editor of Science, video content "certainly seems like a direction that scientific publishers need to be aware of and thinking about." What role do you think online videos can play in your work? Tell us here. Matthew Busse mail@the-scientist.com Links within this article: R. Gallagher, "Shouldn't you be online?" The Scientist, June 1, 2007. http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/53218/ Journal of Visualized Experiments http://www.jove.com B. Maher, "Ready for your closeup?" The Scientist, December 4, 2006. http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/37167 SciVee http://www.scivee.org Mark Gerstein http://bioinfo.mbb.yale.edu/about/ Jared Leadbetter http://www.its.caltech.edu/~jaredl/ LabAction http://www.labaction.com Timo Hannay http://tagsonomy.com/index.php/introduction-timo-hannay
Philip Bourne http://www.sdsc.edu/~bourne/

Comments

August 22, 2007

FYI - JoVE now has a notification system by which authors are alerted if someone comments on their article. \n\nHere's an example:\nhttp://www.jove.com/Details.htm?ID=224&VID=214

August 22, 2007

I actually learned a key procedure for my thesis work from a video. A well done video protocol is infinitely better than any written set of directions. Try explaining how to dissect the hippocampus in words.

August 22, 2007

it seems to me that the (many) fraudulent scientists that have made it through the traditional peer review process would have had a much harder time if they and their work would have been exposed in one of these new video journals as visualization leaves much less room for speculation and interpretation. Seeing is believing!
Avatar of: siere

siere

Posts: 1

September 8, 2007

Hello,\nYou should also check this site. It is similar but with different idea. www.dnatube.com \nWith Regards,\nsiere

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