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Title: BioStar: an online question & answer resource for the bioinformatics community

Author
item Parnell, Laurence
item Lindenbaum, Pierre - Institut National De La Sante Et De La Recherche Medicale (INSERM)
item Shameer, Khader - Mayo Clinic
item Dall'olio, Giovanni - Pompeu Fabra University
item Swan, Daniel - Newcastle University
item Jensen, Lars - University Of Copenhagen
item Cockell, Simon - Newcastle University
item Pedersen, Brent - National Jewish Health
item Mangan, Mary - Openhelix, Llc
item Miller, Christopher - Washington University
item Albert, Istvan - Pennsylvania University

Submitted to: PLoS Computational Biology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/16/2011
Publication Date: 10/27/2011
Citation: Parnell, L.D., Lindenbaum, P., Shameer, K., Dall'Olio, G.M., Swan, D.C., Jensen, L.J., Cockell, S.J., Pedersen, B.P., Mangan, M.E., Miller, C., Albert, I. 2011. BioStar: an online question & answer resource for the bioinformatics community. PLoS Computational Biology. 7:e1002216.

Interpretive Summary: Many of today’s research projects in biology – be that in nutritigenomics, cancer, human health, crop sciences or identification of beneficial traits in livestock – generate and analyze massive amounts of data in computerized form. However, many research groups lack the expertise to sufficiently handle the size and types of data generated by such projects. These scientists may only have an inkling what type of analysis needs to be undertaken and they then often find that software documentation is inadequate and local colleagues may be overburdened or unfamiliar with specific applications. Too often, such problems create data analysis bottlenecks that hinder the progress of biological research. Thus, to address this deficiency, a web-based, question-answer forum named BioStar was created. BioStar allows experts and those seeking solutions to problems of computational biology to exchange ideas. In just a year and a half of existence, BioStar has attracted over 1400 registered users and helped to answer over 2300 research-oriented questions. More importantly, as BioStar offers clear organization of the discussions surrounding each question along with a user-based voting system, it has been critical in enabling and expediting many research projects as evidenced by several scientific publications. BioStar can be accessed at http://www.biostars.org.

Technical Abstract: Although the era of big data has produced many bioinformatics tools and databases, using them effectively often requires specialized knowledge. Many groups lack bioinformatics expertise, and frequently find that software documentation is inadequate and local colleagues may be overburdened or unfamiliar with specific applications. Too often, such problems create data analysis bottlenecks that hinder the progress of biological research. In order to help address this deficiency, we present BioStar, a forum based on the StackExchange platform where experts and those seeking solutions to problems of computational biology exchange ideas. The main strengths of BioStar are its large and active group of knowledgeable users, rapid response times, clear organization of questions and responses that limit discussion to the topic at hand, and ranking of questions and answers that help identify their usefulness. These rankings, based on community votes, also contribute to a reputation score for each user, which serves to keep expert contributors engaged. The BioStar community has helped to answer over 2300 questions from over 1400 users (as of June 10, 2011), and has played a critical role in enabling and expediting many research projects. BioStar can be accessed at http://www.biostars.org.