VIVO: Enabling National Networking of Scientists

As we approach the six month mark (on March 25), I thought this would be a good time to give an update on our NIH-funded VIVO project. First, some quick background: VIVO was initially developed by Jon Corson-Rikert at Mann Library in 2003 to help both current and potential faculty, grad students, and others to navigate all the people, programs, departments, and fields that comprise life sciences at Cornell. Brian Lowe and Brian Caruso, also at Mann, then worked with Jon to re-implement VIVO using semantic web technologies. This brought a new level of flexibility, and the potential to integrate VIVO profile information with the larger semantic web. Simultaneously, Medha Devare of Mann served as the VIVO evangelist, encouraging adoption both within and outside of Cornell. The Cornell VIVO site now covers faculty, researchers, departments, and programs across all of Cornell. VIVO has been adopted at a number of institutions around the world, including the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Melbourne.

Last year, a group of seven institutions, led by Mike Conlon of the University of Florida, and including Cornell, Indiana University Bloomington, Weill Cornell Medical College, and three other partners, applied to the NIH’s National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) for funding to take VIVO from a system that can support a single institution to one that can support a national network of scientists, allowing researchers to discover relevant projects, research, and potential collaborators from any participating institution. We received the award in September 2009, and we’ve been running hard ever since. Just within Cornell, we’ve hired seven new developers, and we have a couple of more positions that may be filled soon. The overall VIVO effort at the seven institutions has grown to about 75 people, so it’s quite a team.

So, where are we? At the end of January, we released the first version of the new VIVO software and ontology to the seven partner institutions. All the sites are now running VIVO, and beginning to populate it from their own institutional data sources. The initial code release (v0.9) has a very limited distribution while we work to add some more critical features, improve the documentation, and shake out the bugs. We’re planning our next point release for around the end of this month, and it will include the critical ability to make VIVO data available as RDF for use by outside tools and systems. This is an open-source project, so once public releases are available, you’ll be able to use VIVO for any purpose under the terms of the BSD License. You can keep track of our ongoing progress and find out more details about various aspects of the project at our public web site: You can also subscribe directly to the VIVO blog to get the latest announcements.

Here are some of the things to look forward to in the months ahead:

  • We’ve just met with our Technical Advisory Board to understand how to fully integrate VIVO with the evolving tools and ontologies that make up the Semantic Web.
  • Katy Börner and her colleagues at Indiana University Bloomington are applying their visualization skills to the VIVO national network, allowing users to see and explore the web of scientific relationships.
  • We’re working with publishers and other sources to get authoritative publication information for researchers at VIVO institutions, information that can enable both visualizations and recommendation systems for finding potential collaborators.
  • We’ll be opening up the data in the national network to anyone who wants to build new capabilities into the network.

The entire VIVO team is also getting out, presenting on the project and its capabilities, and looking for potential collaborators. If you are a university, company, or other institution interested in developing tools for or being part of the network, please fill out our contact form. In the upcoming months, I will be giving a project briefing on VIVO at the CNI Spring Forum in Baltimore, April 12-13, and I’ll also be presenting a VIVO paper at the Web Science Conference 2010 in Raleigh, NC, April 26-27. Other VIVO team members will also be presenting at a number of upcoming events, please check out our events calendar for more information.

After our first six months, we’re very excited by the progress so far, and now that we are fully “up to strength”, we’re looking forward to all that we can accomplish over the next 18 months.

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