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Posted on Jan 10, 2013 in Showcase |


At the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), we recognized the value in making our research networking application into a web platform. We have contributed an extension to the open-source Profiles research networking software tool and UCSF Profiles ( is now an OpenSocial-enabled platform.

How can academia and biomedical research benefit from OpenSocial?

If you look at the topography of all the different research institutions, many of them run different back-end systems, from Windows to Linux, Oracle to MySQL to SQL Server, and all with custom data models. Despite differences in underlying systems however, there is commonality in that many are deploying research networking systems to help investigators find and connect with one another.

While sharing new features and applications to extend the systems makes sense, it’s really difficult to do because the applications are hard-coded and tailored to each institution’s databases. As a consequence, many applications are rebuilt for the various systems. OpenSocial allows us to change that by making applications interoperable with any social network system that supports them.

What tips do you have for academic institutions interested in adopting OpenSocial?

Take advantage of the applications that have already been developed by UCSF, and others to help save time and money. We’re giving out both the applications and the code we used to convert our website to be OpenSocial-enabled, which lowers the technical bar quite a bit. It’s easy to apply the code in a few days. This is all available via our new initiative, Open Research Networking Gadgets (, pronounced “orange.”

It is also helpful for interested groups to know that we have combined OpenSocial with the Resource Definition Framework (RDF) standard that is core to academic research networking products like VIVO, Profiles and LOKI. RDF is a component of the semantic web and Linked Open Data. When applications support RDF it is much easier for them to share data.

While OpenSocial is seeing wider adoption in enterprise companies, adoption has been slower in the academic and biomedical arena. What would you like to see from the business sector?

UCSF would like for industry to recognize that there is an emerging market here that they can tap into. It’s a market that has a lot of value, a lot of social benefit, and a lot of wonderful brands behind it such as UCSF, Harvard, and Cornell. This is the kind of work that industry should be proud to be a part of, and they can convert that into a marketing message. UCSF also wants industry to know that we would like to work with them.

What’s the vision for OpenSocial at UCSF and for academia in general?

A standard only has value when it has adoption across multiple platforms, so UCSF wants to promote it and build a community. We also want to be a part of that community to be able to share the benefits of the networking effect. Right now research networking systems only give us a hint of what they’re capable of doing. People today are using these platforms to find out about one another, and even this is happening in a limited sense. People should be using these platforms not just to find out about one another, but to interact and get things done. That’s what people are doing with LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. With a strong OpenSocial community we can advance and extend current research networking systems much faster and cheaper to give researchers and administrators the opportunity to be hyper-connected and hopefully more productive.