How to Encourage Contributions
We are currently exploring various strategies to encourage people to let us know when they find errors or omissions in UniProt, or even to contribute data as they publish their research, rather than waiting for a curator to pick up their results from a publication.
In principal all of this has been possible for a long time: We have feedback forms etc, but people don’t make use of these often (or not as often as we would like…). The most frequent requests are from people who have published a paper and would like us to cite them.
The most effective improvement, in my opinion, may be to allow people to directly attach comments to each database entry, like in a blog (simple, instant gratification etc). These comments could then be reviewed by curators, and integrated into the database, if appropriate.
Having a system where people could add and update data directly, on the other hand, wouldn’t be practical: The amount of training required to enter data in a consistent manner is considerable, and being consistent is essential for large, highly structured data sets like UniProt.
Another approach is to have a hand-picked list of experts who are responsible for certain database entries, according to their area of expertise. These people would be responsible for letting us know if something needs to be updated, though I wonder how many people can be motivated to commit themselves to such a thing.
The critical factor in the end may not just be how easy it is to contribute, but also how much credit can be gained from doing so. Contributors should be listed on each page. Should we go as far as attributing individual facts to contributors? This would allow us to also state who disagrees with something. Should we allow people to rate the contributions of others? This way people could gain reputation through our web site. Somehow I suspect that contributing to public databases like UniProt won’t become common practice until this is something that you can proudly mention in your CV…