AAA is not a new concept to those who read our blog, nor our tireless efforts to increase the availability of and access to our research. Just today here in Cali, at the CIAT campus I have been discussing a paper written by our colleague Edith Hesse about CIAT’s efforts to increase the availability and accessibility of their research, following our joint efforts to introduce web 2.0 tools in the CIAT science week.

And it was only yesterday that I got to know Mendeley, the latest innovation to organize, discover and share scientific papers.

It goes to show how fast things move in this area.

What is Mendeley? Apart from a great demonstration of how innovation in one area (music) can move to another (scientific publications)?

To understand Mendeley you need to know how Last.fm works. It is a radio channel on the web where users can listen to their own songs and other tracks recommended by Last.fm’s algorithms based on their tastes, including iTunes, and those of friends.

Think to apply the same principles to scientific research.

“Why can’t researchers, instead of waiting anywhere up to three years for their papers to jump all the hurdles, be part of a real-time market place – a fusion of iTunes and Last.fm for science? ” wonders Viktor Keegan .

So meet Mendeley: a databank of scientific articles built using Last.fm’s principles of recommending music, videos and concerts based on what you listen to.

Keegan goes on to explain how it works. “At the basic level, scientists can “drag and drop” research papers into the site at mendeley.com, which automatically extracts data, keywords, cited references, etc, thereby creating a searchable database and saving countless hours of work. That in itself is great, but now the Last.fm bit kicks in, enabling users to collaborate with researchers around the world, whose existence they might not know about until Mendeley’s algorithms find, say, that they are the most-read person in Japan in their niche specialism. You can recommend other people’s papers and see how many people are reading yours, which you can’t do in Nature and Science. Mendeley says that instead of waiting for papers to be published after a lengthy procedure of acquiring citations, they could move to a regime of “real-time” citations, thereby greatly reducing the time taken for research to be applied in the real world.”

It looks like some of the large archives, such as ArXiv’s, efforts, with its half a million e-papers free online – will soon pale in comparison to the potential of Mendeley. The growth rate of Mendeley is impressive, over 4 million scientific papers have already been uploaded in a matter of weeks. If you think that the largest academic databases host about 20 million papers, you will see what I mean.

Is Mendeley also a rival for Google? The real innovation with Mendeley is that it does not limit itself to links to a website, but links like-minded people.

If you are not convinced yet, watch these videos

First, an overview:

And a sample use:

Could this be a way to change the face of science? Shall CGIAR researchers give it a serious try? Could this be a real breakthrough to ensure our researchers stay easily connected and their results easily get to the hands of those who need it?

A thank you to our friends from CGNET pointing Mendeley out to us

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gtalk1

skype1

CGIAR staff frequently use online tools to communicate with colleagues and partners around the globe. Many of these tools have made a significant, positive impact on the way staff work by facilitating communication and information sharing.

Until recently, some CGIAR Centers used Microsoft’s Live Communications Server (LCS) version 2005, an internal instant messaging (IM) system that integrates other IM applications (MSN, AOL and Yahoo) using a single client. LCS wasn’t deployed widely in the CGIAR mainly because the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) conversations between Centers didn’t work properly. This was due to the different security levels and network environments across Centers, as well as some limitations with LCS itself.  In addition, the implementation of LCS incurred monthly costs for server maintenance and per-user licensing charges.

Consequently, the decision has been made to remove LCS from the CGIAR’s portfolio of services come September 2009 and explore alternatives.

As the Technical Coordinator of the ICT-KM program, I’ve been working with a group of CGIAR IT managers over the past few months to research possible cost-effective alternatives to replace LCS.  The objective is to find a tool (or set of tools) that:

  • doesn’t incur high licensing and server maintenance costs
  • has a user management that can be integrated with CGIAR Active Directory, which presently has over 8500 users
  • allows users to make calls to landlines and mobile phones at low rates given the high cost of communications between Centers and with CGIAR partners and to a much lesser extent within Centers

With these requirements in mind, we started exploring GTalk and Skype, both of which are applications in the cloud.

While a system-wide decision is yet to be made, I would like to share the information I’ve collected so far about these tools and present a comparison table.

Google Talk (GTalk) gtalk1

In mid 2008, the CGIAR tried out Google Apps as a suite of collaboration tools. The ICT-KM Program gathered the feedback from users and published it in the CGIAR Google Apps Case Study Report. Then, in January 2009, it was decided to implement Google Apps Education edition to replace the CGXchange BEA Aqualogics infrastructure and take advantage of the collaboration tools in the Google Apps package:  Docs, Sites, Calendar, Google Talk, etc.

GTalk Downloadble Client

GTalk Downloadble Client

Google Talk is a free web-based application for instant messaging and voice over internet protocol (VOIP), offered by Google Inc.

Instant messaging between the Google Talk servers and its clients uses an open protocol, XMPP, allowing users of other XMPP clients to communicate with Google Talk users.

GoogleTalk allows users to sync their “screenname,” so to speak, with their e-mail account so they are alerted when they receive new mail, thereby eliminating the need to frequently check their accounts.   email_alerts
The first beta version of the program was released on 24 August 2005. At first, it was only possible to use Google Talk via the Gmail interface, but now users can download  a program to keep in touch with contacts and that’s available for Windows systems only.
Although the Google Talk program has room for further improvement, it allows for a bit of flexibility that other IM programs don’t. For example, most other lite or express IM versions require the use of JavaScript and other scripts to run from the web.

One of the advantages of Google Talk is that you can access it either through your personal Gmail account or your Google Apps account (if you are in the CGIAR), making it easier to keep in touch with contacts.
GTalk in the mail page

It also works with any operating system through the web, whereas some other popular programs do not always allow users to sign in over the web depending on the type of computer and Internet connection used.

Google Talk also allows the Google Talk Gadget to be added to personal website or blogs simply by pasting some code in the site’s HTML.

Google Talk also allows the Google Talk Gadget to be added to personal website or blogs simply by pasting some code in the site’s HTML.
In summary, you can use Google Talk through the downloadable client, Gmail or the Google Talk Gadget. Please note that the features in these three approaches are not the same and this may create confusion. As such, it would be useful if Google could incorporate the same features in all the options they offer.

For more information about Google Talk, click here.

Skype

skype1, another popular VoIP software with IM functionality, is already more widely used than Google Talk in the CGIAR. Skype, which has been owned by eBay since 2005, is free to download and has more than 443 million users around the world as of March 2009  (according to EBay).

One of the main differences between Google Talk and Skype is that the latter allows users to make free PC-to-PC calls as well as low-cost long-distance or international phone calls to landlines and mobile phones over the Internet.

Skype uses a peer-to-peer protocol and offers voicemail, chat, videoconferencing and an expanding array of additional services. Skype is not a replacement for ordinary telephones and cannot be used for emergency calling.

Source: Skype

Source: Skype

While Skype was originally intended for personal communications, the service also offers significant appeal as a low-cost, long-distance service for businesses, particularly for companies that need to communicate internationally.

There are some 3rd-party Skype solutions for business such as  Skip2PBX and VoSky Exchange to name a few that offer the possibility of integrating Skype with their PBX systems. However, Skype has begun testing a connection to corporate VoIP systems (Skype For SIP for Business Users), something that enterprises have been asking for years and which is currently undergoing beta testing.

Although Skype is a great tool for making competitively priced calls to landlines and mobile phones, I feel it needs to improve its online presence indicator – sometimes, online users are shown as being offline when their status if set to online. I’ve also received some instant messages several days after they were sent. In short, the IM feature is not always so ‘instant’ after all.

For more information about Skype, click here

Comparison between Google Talk and Skype

See the Google Talk and Skype comparison table

Conclusions

In my opinion, Google Talk is more enterprise-oriented than Skype, has a good level of security, requires less bandwidth, collaborative features that work well with the implementation of Google Applications Education Edition (CGX 2.0), and integrates with our Active Directory through third-party tools, to name just a few advantages.

Skype, on the other hand, is an application with many interesting features that Google Talk doesn’t have at the moment, such as the ability to establish a conference call with up to five people at a time and the ability to make phone calls to mobiles and landlines worldwide at low rates. However, this software requires more bandwidth than Google Talk and it is blocked in some CGIAR Centers as a result.

In summary, there is no single tool that does it all. At the moment I use Google Talk mostly for work-related purposes since it’s directly linked with the Google Apps CGX 2.0 collaboration workspace and with external partners or friends that have Gmail accounts.

I mostly use Skype for personal communications or when I need to make international phone calls or send a text message.  I hope Google introduces a feature that will allow users to make phone calls to landlines and mobile phones at low-rates with Google Talk. Google is working on  Google Voice, the next version of Grand Central (presently in private beta), which will allow users to make international calls, conference calls and send text messages. However, it’s not known if Google Voice will be integrated with Google Talk. If that were to happen, we would have a real killer application at our disposal.

Keep a look out for the full report on the ‘Selection of a communication tool in the CGIAR’ – to be published soon!

Until the next time, the question still begs: GTalk, Skype or both?

Chances are, you’ve used maps not only to find place or location, but also to explore an area based on a theme or criteria. For example, “I want to eat Korean food in Rome”. Where to eat Korean food in Rome is the geographic extent to a set of criteria to find what I want for planning my evening: Where Korean restaurants are located, when are they open, how are their ratings (reviews), what is the nearest public transportation to get me there and take me home, and do they take credit cards. I recently put this search to the test with an earth browser, and I must say I had a splendid night out!

The CGMap team is gearing up for the release of research plans to the world via KML, the Open Geospatial Consortium international standard for the geographic annotation and visualization in earth browsers, mobile maps, and Web-based maps. CGMap is the epitome of ICT-KM’s ‘Triple A’ approach, and once CGMap lands on the Web’s engines through KML, the project plans in CGMap will have an even greater Accessibility and Applicability potential.

Google Map Search for CIMMYT Projects

Search engines will now have geographic coordinates of the who, what, and where of CGIAR research. This means that searching for ‘maize and wheat genetic research’ will give results on CIMMYT projects, along side other relevant sources, like FAO.

Google Earth Sample Overlay CGIAR Projects with Koppen Climate Classification

Scientists, researchers and beyond … investors, partners … who use tools like Google Earth to study and plan activities will be able to build scenarios which provide a more intelligent context to their research. For example, a researcher using an earth browser to plan maize and wheat genetic research activities will be able to focus on any geographical region/location, search for maize and wheat genetic research, see results, add layers of required data (e.g: the Köppen climate classification), and save the scenario built on the fly.

Who is doing What and Where in the CGIAR?

From my first day with the ICT-KM Program, this has been an underlying question and driving force in most of my work with the Program. CGMap, launched in late 2008, is the CGIAR’s prime source of MTPs, the Medium Term Plans in which CG Centers and Challenge Programs express both their strategy and coherence to the CGIAR objectives and priorities.

Recent posts on the Social Media Tools Series have shed light on how social media tools provide researchers a more effective landscape for the collaboration and dissemination of research information. Exploiting research projects geographically will give rise to sharing and collaborating by using CGMap’s existing resources, the CGIAR project plans (who is doing what and where).

Stay tuned for future landings on maps and earth browsers of the CGIAR’s Ongoing Research: Focus on Africa (a.k.a. Eastern and Southern Africa – ESA).

CGMap, a System-wide application that enables users to navigate easily through information on research and research-related activities that the CGIAR Centers and Challenge Programs publish in their Medium Term Plans (MTPs) every year, recently teamed up with the CGIAR’s Regional Plan for Collective Action.  Their goal?  To put active research projects in East and Southern Africa firmly on the map.

Read on for a rare glimpse into the workings of the CGMap application. Although this article is a little technical, we’ve tried to keep it as simple as possible, in the hope that it will guide you towards a better understanding of what goes on in CGMap’s navigation room. (more…)

Yesterday, TechCrunch published a guest post by Vic Gundotra, Vice President of Engineering for Google’s mobile and developer products, with the title: Follow the Mobile User.

Kudos to the editor for combining in one short title the three very keywords that made all ring bells go off in my monday-morning-challenged brain, on day 2 of daylight saving time. They worked better than a caffeine shot.

The post is a fully disclosed Google take on what will enable the growth of mobile Internet usage (in the US, with projections sort-of worldwide) based on a fair amount of hard data, some of which from Google’s internal sources.

Gundotra builds his argument around three enabling factors: “simpler data plans, better web browsers, and a smoother on-device experience“, which equal:

  • cheaper mobile Internet connectivity: tough to disagree here;
  • better browsers, that let us go on the Internet the way we’re used to with PCs. That is, give us a browser that works like the browser we’re used to;
  • more usable applications, that make it easy to find, try and access mobile data services. In short: improve the usability.

Good reading to start off the week mumbling on future trends.  It’s a view on infrastructure and software as enablers, takes for granted 3G network coverage and may be a one-sided view (as remarked in the comments, also worth reading). Still, it’s got some figures, not only opinions, and highlights three key preconditions of technology adoption that can easily apply beyond the industrialised world.  Food for thought for the ICT4D community’s attempt to identify the content and context enablers of the mobile Web in research, agriculture and development at large.

Should you decide to read the full post on TechCrunch, you may want to mind this slang alert:

  • phat: acronym for “Pretty, Hot, and Tempting” (source)
  • fugly: very, very ugly (source)

Technology continues to change; the way we collaborate with others has changed; and the way the CGIAR conducts its business is currently undergoing radical change. With the present air of change that is permeating the entire System, it was inevitable that CGXchange would, sooner or later, have to answer the call for a portal that meets current needs. As such, CGXchange’s intranet concept has been exchanged, so to speak, for a dual-concept application that satisfies both the need for public content and the need for ‘private’ collaboration spaces.

Past and present in the CGXchange 2.0 logo

Last month, we introduced the new, improved CGXchange 2.0, a platform based on Google Apps that satisfies our current needs by facilitating online collaboration and exchange both inside and outside the CGIAR.

Why Google Apps?” you might ask.

Well, with a highly decentralized set up like that of the CGIAR, over 8,000 staff in 120 offices, mostly in countries where connectivity is a challenge, and with a dire need to collaborate with colleagues and partners, we are always on the look out for solutions that simplify our work. So last year, we tried out Google Apps as a suite of collaboration tools and were suitably impressed. You can read the results of our experiments in the CGIAR Google Apps report.

A few months later, during the first half of March 2009, a selected group of testers evaluated a beta version of the site. The summary report of the test results is just out on CGX 2.0: tried, tested and passed with flying colors! We have included our replies to the comments and questions from the test participants.

So what’s so new with CGX 2.0?, you might as well ask. In a nutshell:

  • Public content: the tutorials, guides, links to useful resources, outcomes of our tests are open to anyone who wants to learn how non-profit institutions such as the CGIAR are taking advantage of online tools for improving communication, sharing and collaboration.
  • Openness is our main driving principle: while CGIAR staff benefits from the availability of the Google Apps collaboration tools, then anyone with a Google account can be invited to collaborate and view the information CGIAR staff will create with Google Apps.
  • Freedom of choice is our other driving principle: we aim to inform you and show you the possibilities that the Web offers to share knowledge and collaborate more efficiently online. The available tools can be safely used for closed and/or geographically distributed groups. We can guide you through the tools available, but you will make the final decision as to what is best for you.
  • We walk the talk and share the lessons by doing our best to test the tools in our context and share the circumstances in which they proved to be suitable and useful and referring to more than two years’ experience with the ICT-KM Program’s Knowledge Sharing projects.

What do I do now?, you might, again, ask.

You have a few options (and NOT necessarily in this sequence):

  1. Visit CGXchange 2.0
  2. Take a quick tour of the collaboration tools
  3. Request access to the Apps for yourself and your colleagues (if you’re CGIAR staff)
  4. Browse around the CGX 2.0 Newsfeeds Aggregator to experience keeping up-to-date with RSS feeds
  5. Sing along

google-apps
CGIAR centers are not new to innovation. With a highly decentralised set up, over 8,000 staff in 120 offices, mostly in countries where connectivity is a challenge, and with a dire need to collaborate with colleagues and partners, we are always on the look out for solution that help us do the job best.
So last year we tried out Google Apps as a suite of collaboration tools. We have gathered the results of our experiments in this CGIAR Google Apps report

What’s next? Well our new CGXchange is based on Google Apps…. stay tuned to see our new CGXchange launched!