Open Notebook Advertising: Making Science Pay, Literally.

open notebook advertisingTwo of the most critical components of successful research are: 1) funding to support experiments, and 2) well-kept lab notebooks to document the results.  Over the past decade, technology has facilitated the transition from paper- to web-based notebooks, providing the opportunity to expand access to the lab notebook from your labmates to anyone with an Internet connection.  Unfortunately, the recent economic environment has not provided a similar increase in access to funding and many labs have suffered as a consequence.  But what if the lab notebook itself could help fund research?  On the Internet, a phrase like “expand access to anyone with an Internet connection” sure sounds like advertising opportunity…

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Two worlds collide

While software exists to maintain private electronic notebooks, increased access to free blog and wiki software spawned a new approach to the lab notebook – full access and transparency of all results.  As Jean-Claude Bradley stated when first coining the term Open Notebook Science in 2006, an open notebook “does not necessarily have to look like a paper notebook but it is essential that all of the information available to the researcher to make their conclusions is equally available to the rest of the world.”

Seeing the opportunity to use the lab notebook for more than results, our good friend and open notebook science evangelist Anthony Salvagno recently asked us whether we thought there were any ethical concerns with advertising in an open notebook.  Afterall, advertising may be the most common revenue model on the web and thanks to Google, it can be implemented on a blog, wiki – or notebook – with the click of a button.

As Anthony points out in his notebook today, the approach of running ads in an open notebook is not without potential ethical hazards.  Afterall, is it right to generate personal revenue from a product (notebook) that is continually developed using lab funding? What if the revenue is directed to a universal lab account?  What if that account is fully transparent?  And what about product manufacturers – would you be more hesistant to badmouth a terrible product if you knew it might cost you potential ad revenue?

Anthony has clearly articulated many of the potential issues and we encourage you to visit his notebook for more details.  To understand the sentiments of the broader scientific community on open notebook advertising, we worked with Anthony to develop the poll below – Do you think advertising belongs in open notebooks?

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Does advertising belong in open scientific notebooks?

View Results

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Running the numbers

We’re focused on the larger ethical issue at hand, but we’ve tossed the word “revenue” around freely in this article.  Is it realistic that we could actually turn a profit in a lab notebook?  Here’s how the numbers might shape up based on the following assumptions for banner ads:

  • Amount of money earned from every click on an ad in the notebook: $0.10
  • Percentage of times an ad is clicked every time a page is viewed: 0.10%

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If 1,000 people viewed your notebook every day, you would generate 365,000 page views per year.  Given a click through rate of 0.10%, 365 ads would be clicked per year depositing $36.50 in the bank.

OK, it doesn’t look like we’re replacing an R01 anytime soon, but if a lab of ten people were participating we would be looking at $365/yr.  That’s a few reagents, a small piece of equipment or even a holiday party!  The point is that it’s a start.  With time and optimization, all of the numbers above can be increased.

But first we must answer the question should we even be allowed to start?

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7 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. Anthony Salvagno

    wrote on October 3, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Great article! Thanks for getting this interesting topic out there.

    Perhaps if it can be proved that worthwhile revenue (even $365 a year like you present) can be generated through an open notebook or even just open data then it may help the open science movement. After the early internet grew slowly and then once Google came along and standardized advertising on the web and allowed for easy access to anything, the web exploded. Maybe this is what science needs to enter the 21 century (but BenchFly is doing a great job of getting it there as well)!

  2. alan@benchfly

    wrote on October 3, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    Thanks! I completely agree – if it passes ethical muster – then the revenue potential is at an early stage in it's development and there are a number of exciting ways that it could be expanded.

  3. @FLOSciences

    wrote on October 3, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    Sorry, but I must ask- should you even be using an open notebook? I can't imagine posting my raw notebook online and I know tech transfer folks would not approve in the least. What am I missing?

  4. alan@benchfly

    wrote on October 4, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    I think you've hit upon two of the biggest questions with respect to ONS – 1) does posting your notebook on a blog/wiki format count as "publication"?, and 2) if so, does that affect your ability to publish it in a journal or patent it later on?

    With respect to the first question, if it's a publicly accessible article then my gut says it would count as "publication" and there would be consequences for patents and journal publication, even though the work may not be written up formally in the notebook. Journals will not publish anything that they feel has already been published and it would be interesting to see where the line is drawn. If you put your powerpoint file of a poster online, some journals will even count that as publication, so clearly there's a lot of grey here.

    I'm no patent expert, but I think if the notebook posting counted as "publication", it would also be considered public disclosure, which would start a timer for how long you have to patent the work in this country (1 year) and would cause you to immediately lose the rights to patent it internationally. So your tech transfer folks may be rightly suspicious.

    Perhaps there's room for a hybrid model, where the "really big" experiments are kept private while the routine day-to-day (with no patent/publishing potential) are openly shared. I realize ONS is about 100% transparency, but maybe a hybrid would help convert some of those scientists who are worried about these issues?

    I'm sure the ONS community has debated these very issues many times, so it would be great to hear where things stand.

  5. Anthony Salvagno

    wrote on October 5, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    ONS may be about transparency but it is flexible in terms of what you want to do with it. There are different degrees of open notebook science and it doesn't have to be in real time. Once a project is completed someone could post their notebook to back up the data and that counts too! It's all about getting scientists to do what's comfortable for them.

  6. Jean-Claude Bradley

    wrote on October 15, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Alan
    1) Concerning the effectiveness of ONS as prior art is something that we addressed – and received support from attorneys at Science Commons http://usefulchem.blogspot.com/2010/06/use-of-ons
    2) In my experience Tech Transfer Offices at Universities have limited funds for pursuing the enormous legal costs of writing a patent(s) to cover a technology, help with marketing and paying yearly maintenance fees. The last thing they want is working with an inventor who is not interested in pursuing the IP protection route. Anyway researchers at academic institutions rarely ask permission to publish their work in regular journals from the Tech Transfer office. Keeping an Open Notebook is really no different – it just means sharing sooner than with an article submission.

  7. alan@benchfly

    wrote on October 15, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    Jean-Claude,
    Thanks for your input! I know you've thought about these issues much more than I and that case of the praziquantel synthesis via Ugi is an good example. It's interesting to consider using ONS to go on the offensive and block others from the ability to patent something.

    To your second point, researchers could also make the decision whether they wanted to pursue a patent or not and then delay publication in the notebook for the rare cases where they (and Tech Transfer) felt it was appropriate. So it seems patenting and ONS aren't mutually exclusive for scientists who want to keep their options open – it's the best of both worlds!

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