Wikipedia or Wikitravel, wikis have quickly become a standard tool on the Internet, but in academia, the anonymity often associated with publishing in wikis is a key factor that works against them. Tracking down the exact history of changes in a wiki entry can be a convoluted process, yet being able to exactly attribute a certain statement to one writer is at the heart of the academic enterprise. Mememoir aims to provide a wiki that is heavily focused on authorship and can help to dispel the prejudices scientists have against publishing in a wiki-like format.Thanks to successful projects like
Wikis in Science
Mememoir is a completely new development and as of now, its only deployment is in the form of the WikiGenes wiki. Both Mememoir and Wikigenes, a database of literature about genetic information, were created by Robert Hoffmann, a fellow at Society in Science in Switzerland and a visiting scientist at MIT.
For scientists in academia, publications are the lifeblood of their careers. Having published in a wiki is not going to persuade a tenure track committee anytime soon, but the systems that Mememoir puts in place might just make those contributions stand out a bit more. Besides attribution, Mememoir also gives its users the ability to rates authors and their contributions.
The developers are still looking at their options for possibly open-sourcing the code behind Mememoir. As Robert Hoffmann pointed out to us, the project will look at its options at a later time and is mostly focused on running the Wikigenes project for now.
The information in WikiGenes itself was based on iHop, another project by Hoffman (and not the infamous chain of pancake houses). The idea behind iHop is that information about a single gene can often be dispersed over hundreds of different academic papers, which makes finding and synthesizing all this data extremely hard. IHop used algorithms to parse all this information and bring it together in one database, which was then used to seed WikiGenes.
According to Hoffmann, the idea behind WikiGenes is that it will combat this dispersal of information in the first place, as scientists can enter their research results into the database directly.
Trust and Authorship
WikiTrust, which rates authors on Wikipedia according to an algorithm is trying to do something similar for all of the Wikipedia, but Mememoir takes this to a more personal level. Both systems are, of course, potentially fraught with problems, but it will be interesting to see if scientists will warm up to the wiki model.
We would really like to see Hoffmann and his team open up the code to Mememoir, as the wiki itself is a highly capable piece of code that looks flexible enough to power any kind of wiki - academic or not. In testing it, it turned out one of the easiest to use wikis we have seen so far and it could surely benefit a lot of different projects in the long run. If you would like to see it in action, the project has create a short screen-cast that you can see here.