When I present on ChemSpider and talk about community participation one of the common questions is “how many people curate? deposit? annotate? records on ChemSpider”. It’s a low number for each but, in my estimation, it is in-keeping with how we operate as individuals. If you compare the number of people reading Wikipedia articles to writing them I judge it has to be a pretty high ratio of likely >5000:1. Even if its 1000:1 you get the point. More people use than contribute. It is the same for most everything that we use…Amazon book reviews, Netflix DVD reviews, things like that. It’s only when it’s “about us” that the majority of us tend to contribute – to our blogs, our LinkedIn profiles, our Twitter account, our Friendfeed discussions, our Facebook pages etc. I judge this is because it makes us directly visible…we are showing what we are interested in and taking owenership for our comments, activities etc. This is of course human nature…the majority of us have that “look at me” mentality and “connect with like minds” and it is, in many cases, that need for incoming voyeurism and participation that has driven the incredible shift to social networking we are encountering.

There are then the “servants for the community”. In this case I mean servants with the most positive connotation. Those who slave away on Wikipedia articles and don’t immediately have their names up in lights. You actually have to dig under an article to find out who wrote/contributed to it. It’s not upfront and center. On Wikipedia chemistry there are a very small number of dedicated individuals who contribute large blocks of time to working on Wikipedia to improve its quality and content. There is a Long Tail of contribution of course but you might be quite surprised by the small number of “primary” contributors. If you check out their Wiki pages however these individuals are recognized and commended within their own community of participation yet may never be known by the readers of the articles.

On ChemSpider we have a similar situation. There are a very small number of primary curators (I will name them: Myself, Heinz Kolshorn and Barrie Walker – these people are enhancing ChemSpider literally daily). We have a smaller number of secondary contributors who add a spectrum once in a while, annotate a record occasionally or curate out bad data. I would say this is about 30 other people. We also have people who provide us data to deposit and they do it willingly but don’t want to have a hands on approach to depositing data onto the database.

When I was in the UK recently during my first week of employment with the RSC I gave a number of presentations. There was a lot of interest in what ChemSpider could bring to the organization and offer the community and a lot of discussions regardng “what if”. Of the audiences I would suggest that only a small portion actually laid their hands on the system to investigate its capability and an even smaller fraction chose to jump in, feet first, and use the system and participate fully. There was one spike in particular. During the evening after one of the presentations I noticed that one individual in particular was adding comments to individual records, questioning names, suggesting that structure layouts be changed and examining links to external resources. The first evening there were a few edits. The next night, even more, and since then this individual has continued, unabated, making edits and now enhancing the articles with new information, in this case YouTube videos.

david-sharpe_50David Sharpe is fairly new to the RSC and is one of those people who just cares. A silent contibutor in the background (until today!) who is cleaning and enhancing ChemSpider for the sake of the community. To be clear, his work on these activities has been done in the evenings and weekends and this past weekend he was exchanging emails with me about adding “Element Videos” to the elements on ChemSpider. David’s been moving across the elements on ChemSpider and using the YouTube embed functionality to put the Periodic Table videos from the University of Nottingham into the Description section of the appropriate records.

Check out for example the video for Sulphur here. As we move forward we will layer on a recognition system for individuals contributing to ChemSpider so that we can track the spectral depositions, curations and so on. We believe that such efforts warrant recognition and applause. Of course some will choose to be anonymous and remain in the background making their difference in a silent manner. We honor you all.

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