Collab Seeker is a collaboration tool we at Aalto-Helsinki 2015 team built. Its purpose is to make contacting other iGEM teams easier by providing teams with both easy and centralized access to other teams’ contact information as well as search tools for finding common interests. Our goal behind Collab Seeker was to provide iGEM teams with an easy to use, lightweight and platform-independent solution for achieving first contact with other iGEM teams.
Collab Seeker is a standard web application. This means that you can use it both from your workstation or phone, as well as tablets, whenever you want, wherever you are. There's no need for users to jump through hoops to find the collaborators they want; those are directly available to them. Collab Seeker only provides users with the contact information of possible collaborators, it does not in itself provide a space for collaboration or a means of communication. This makes our Seeker light enough to use for anyone as well as eliminates the need for the teams to register to any additional services.
The usage of Collab Seeker is extremely simple: one just has to search for what one is interested in collaborating with, or any other keywords by which one wants to filter the results. After this, Collab Seeker presents the user with a list of possible teams, and the user can check these teams’ contact information, as well as a short description of the teams’ projects. Then the only thing remaining is the first contact.
When we began our iGEM project, we were excited about the possibility of collaborating with other iGEM teams. However, actually finding the teams and their contact information proved to be time-consuming, as we had to rely on either the last Finnish team’s contacts or search Facebook and Twitter for the teams listed on iGEM homepage. After that, we still had to find out if the other teams were interested in collaborating on the same subject as we were, since in the beginning of the summer most of the teams’ wikis were either completely empty or incomplete.
Seeing that there was a need for improvement, we made a survey about the ease of collaborating and sent it to iGEM teams. The results we got were promising; Almost all of the respondents shared our need for an easy way to find teams sharing common interests.
Our questionnaire consisted of 8 multiple-choice questions revolving around the topic of collaboration and collaboration platforms. The questionnaire was spread through social media and individually to some teams through email. This was done because we assumed that some teams do not have access to mainstream social media platforms, yet wanted to reach them as well. By August 5th 23 teams had replied to our questionnaire.
Out of the 23 contacted teams 12 had had issues when trying to contact interesting teams. 22 out of 23 teams felt the need for a better tool to find teams to collaborate with.
As the results show, a significant portion of iGEM teams felt the need for a way to find other iGEM teams to collaborate with. We also found that there was not a shortage of different communication tools; instead, the people who answered the survey are fragmented on these communication platforms, making communication difficult. Some teams were using a combination of communication tools, such as e-mail, Twitter and Facebook to communicate both inside their own team and to other teams. Encouraged by our findings, we made Collab Seeker to answer the problem of finding collaborators.
Collab Seeker is built using ready-made services for rapid prototyping of apps. Collab Seeker uses Flask and Python as the framework for the back-end. Sparse is used for the databases containing the information about the teams. The application is hosted on heroku, which is a platform for hosting apps in the cloud.