A Torrents Site for Academics – Good idea – Wish We Had Thought of That (Oh wait …)

Just saw a Tweet from Jeff Ross-Ibarra at UC Davis

It refers to this: Academics Launch Torrent Site to Share Papers and Datasets | TorrentFreak.  Nice idea.  And I hope it finds some uses.  Though I wish they had mentioned that Morgan Langille who was a post doc in my lab at the time launched a version of exactly such a site in 2010.  See for example

Now, Biotorrents has kind of wilted a bit over the years so I can see why they might not want to mention it.  But still, I think they should have.  In fact, perhaps they could have talked to Morgan Langille about some of his experiences with trying to run Biotorrents over the years …

If anyone out there wants to track him down – Morgan is now an Assistant Professor at Dalhausie University.  See his Web site here.  Follow him on Twitter here.

UPDATE 1:15 PM 2/2/14

Just discovered that a few days ago Morgan Langille and others discussed this exact issue

Experiments in scientific sharing contd: Biotorrents

Yesterday a paper from my lab (by Morgan Langille, with me as co-author) was published in PLoS On: BioTorrents: A File Sharing Service for Scientific Data

In it we describe a new website dedicated to the sharing of biology related files via BitTorrent, the popular distributed file sharing system. The abstract sums things up prety well:

The transfer of scientific data has emerged as a significant challenge, as datasets continue to grow in size and demand for open access sharing increases. Current methods for file transfer do not scale well for large files and can cause long transfer times. In this study we present BioTorrents, a website that allows open access sharing of scientific data and uses the popular BitTorrent peer-to-peer file sharing technology. BioTorrents allows files to be transferred rapidly due to the sharing of bandwidth across multiple institutions and provides more reliable file transfers due to the built-in error checking of the file sharing technology. BioTorrents contains multiple features, including keyword searching, category browsing, RSS feeds, torrent comments, and a discussion forum. BioTorrents is available at http://www.biotorrents.net.

Personally, I am not sure if Biotorrents is going to end up being used extensively. I hope so. I think it is a great idea of Morgan’s. But more importantly, I believe it represents something we need more and more of in the “Open Science” movement. We need experimentation with all sorts of methods for improving sharing. The sharing of large electronic files, such as datasets of some kind (e.g., sequences, pictures, mass spec results, etc) are rapidly becoming a major complication in scientific research. If one publishes a paper on whatever, or even before one publishes a paper, sharing the data associated with the work is not always simple. Biotorrents could help in this in that sharing files via BitTorrent is very simple and easy. And if some data sets are of great interest, and if a lot of people start using Biotorrents, then the download and distribution of the data sets of interest will get faster as more and more people serve as hosts to contribute to the distributed file sharing.
If you want to learn more about Biotorrent, the best place to go is to Morgan’s blog “Beta Science“. In particular you should read “An interview with the creator of Biotorrents” where he interviews himself.
Also, Janet Fang of Nature News has just written a brief post on Biotorrents: “Biotorrent aims to open data sharing floodgates” where they quote me and Morgan. I particularly like the ending:

“Someone could download all the Nature papers and post them there, but we’re not encouraging that,” Eisen jokes. All PLoS papers are already on BioTorrents.

More on the web is coming out regarding Biotorrents and I will try to post some links here, including to some slightly older stuff
Some links: