Acknowledging contributions to online expert assistance [v0]

This is version 0 of an abstract to be presented at altmetrics11.

Andra Waagmeester Department of Bioinformatics – BiGCaT, Maastricht University, Maastricht, the Netherlands
Gareth Palidwor Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Pawel Szczesny Department of Bioinformatics, Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Warsaw, Poland
Istvan Albert Bioinformatics, Pennsylvania State University, USA
Mary Mangan OpenHelix LLC, Bellevue, Washington USA
Chris Miller The Genome Institute at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Simon Cockell Bioinformatics Support Unit, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Pierre Lindenbaum NSERM, UMR915, Institut du Thorax, Nantes, France
Daniel A M M Silvestre LIM01 – Laboratório de Informática Médica – HCFMUSP, São Paulo, SP – Brasil
Giovanni Marco Dall’Olio Institute of Evolutionary Biology (UPF-CSIC), CEXS-UPF-PRBB, Barcelona, Spain
Chris Evelo Department of Bioinformatics – BiGCaT, Maastricht University, Maastricht, the Netherlands


We present a poster which contains a sequence of a question, answers to this question and comments regarding acknowledging content on BioStar. is a website where questions about Bioinformatics can be asked and answered. Users can also comment on both the questions and the answers. The site is modelled after (see description from Joel Spolsky), a comparable site for programmers.


Users find the site valuable both for answers to questions they have and as a reference. Since the content can also be viewed without registration the site likely reaches a larger audience. For instance, BioStar questions are often referenced on Twitter and FriendFeed. This leads to the question of how contributions to such a site can be measured and how they should be cited on other websites. The site itself has some mechanisms in place, which are mainly meant to encourage users; it uses reputation points and so called badges to recognize the quality of contributions. Reputation points are given by the community, who can up- or down- vote questions and answers. Badges are automatically awarded based on predefined criteria. Users with higher reputation levels can also manage the site itself, for instance by adding tags, editing questions and answers or even closing and deleting them. The reputation mechanism is interesting since it is not automatically given based on input provided but actually decided on by fellow users based on their judgement of the quality.


We have used the BioStar website itself to ask “How do you acknowledge Biostar and its contributors in your research output?”. Currently (April 2011) this question is still active and in the top-10 of questions with most votes, indicating clear interest by the community for ways to acknowledge content from BioStar. The poster gives some interesting viewpoints on the matter. Some examples indicate how useful BioStar was in practical cases, for instance by showing how multiple consequences from gene variations can be mined, results of which could immediately be applied to real research questions. Of course people wanted to acknowledge BioStar in such cases, and indicated how they did that in practice. Although a paper about BioStar itself was suggested as a useful reference and way to advertise the site, people seem to agree that this is not the best way to acknowledge individual contributions. As an alternative, an example of a citation standard for blogs developed by the National library of medicine is mentioned, which also keeps track of the date (and thus version) of the cited document. The use of the Document Object Identifier was discussed, as a way to get easy links to fixed versions of a question with answers. Although the answers provided are given in the context of the BioStar community, the presented content is applicable to other online resources as well and could provide valid input to other communities.

One Comment

  1. birukou
    Posted May 28, 2011 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Very interesting website and the question, moreover it seems that you succeeded in building the commuinity around it – well done!

    In my opinion citation with a link (which remains the same for the next X years) would be a good way of acknowledging any digital contribution, but I see the point of DOI, which solves exactly the problem of preserving the link the same over the next X years.

    Minor comment – could you please fix links: and are now leading somewhere else:(

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