DataONE Network Analysis Project – From E-mail to Notebook

Need to retroactively post some information from last semester prior to starting the open notebook.

Might post-date these entries to reflect the time at which each was discussed.


Network analysis project was assigned November 11, 2012.

E-mail folder for “Network Analysis” related e-mail contains:

20 e-mail threads

14 threads with attachments

A point about some of these is that any correspondence on e-mail can have some problems in collaboration.

For instance, I have an e-mail about a GeoPhyloBuilder “Evolution Visualization Tool” from NESCENT that I sent as an FYI to a colleague.

In reply, I got an update about some network visualization, with no change in the subject heading.

This makes finding  information more difficult, since the new information is not relevant to the original e-mail thread.

If I had the open notebook up and running in the Fall 2012 Semester, organizing the content here would have made sense.

A second problem exists with the network analysis project: sensitivity of the information.  Because the network reflects a human network, and DataONE has access to personal information, I can’t be 100% transparent about my work with this personal information.  If I create a data file with personally identifiable information collected by DataONE, which is inherently the case with a network analysis, then I cannot make it available on my ostensibly “open” notebook.

However, information that I collect from open sources such as LinkedIN or the open web can be posted here.  I am not exactly sure how to deal with that problem except:

1) And personally identifiable, sensitive information can be stored on the UTK Sharepoint “Network Analysis” site.

2) I may be able to continue to post open notebook entries to document my research effort, but in the case of any information that could potentially be sensitive, I could edit the “visibility” setting.

Strategy for the moment in terms of importing content pertaining to DataONE network analysis project from e-mail threads to the open notebook is to:

1) create a folder on my local machine entitled “DataONE Network Analysis”

2) Access University Microsoft Live 365 e-mail account (tjessel) via web browser; open “Network Analysis” folder

3) Set web browser default download location to newly created “DataONE Network Analysis” folder;

4) systematically access text content from most recent correspondence to furthest correspondence; use keyboard shortcut “Command + P” to print as PDF each e-mail thread.

5) e-mail threads will be named according to the date on which they are sent to create a sortable list, using yyyy-mm-dd as the file naming convention.

6) concurrently download attachments via “save all attatchments” that are saved to a folder matching the subject heading, e.g., “RE%3a_Evolution_Visualization_Tools_-_GeoPhyloBuilder”

7) attachments must then be deposited to new folders to group the source message with the attached material.

Obviously this is a complicated series of steps and I am concerned about the time spent on each.  It might be easier to link together my desktop version of Outlook with my Web version of outlook.  This might offer a simpler workflow as the desktop version creates a local cache of the Web e-mail content.

However, the workflow described above seems systematic enough and allows for direct transfer from the web-based server to my local machine, in folders I specify.

Another option, especially for moving forward with any specific project and linking it to this open notebook, might be to investigate the possibility of forwarding any e-mail to a “secret” publishing URL available from the wordpress platform.

It may be that this could streamline the process of incorporating correspondence on projects directly into the lab notebook.

In this model, a “secret” e-mail wordpress publishing address could be designated as the recipient for any e-mail containing a certain combination of words, e.g., “network analysis” in the subject heading. This could be accomplished via use of forwarding rules, or simply by the researcher (me, in this case) forwarding the pertinent e-mail to the “secret” address.  The “post via e-mail” setting could be held as a draft for review, formatted to make sense within the notebook, and perhaps edited for clarity.

A key problem with this is that while the researcher with the open notebook would know that anything written in an e-mail could potentially be “slurped” into an e-mail, collaborating researchers may not be aware.  And in fact, it is likely that most researchers view e-mail correspondence as semi-private, even though e-mail correspondence among researchers who receive public funding (who are not students, to my understanding)  could conceivable be subpoenaed or otherwise accessed via a FOIA request or similar mechanism. Therefore, some professional courtesy on the part of the open notebook keeper would be warranted.

On the other hand, a greater prominence of open-notebooks in science collaboration might push researchers to keep banter to a minimum, and ensure that “climate gate”-esque scenarios do not arise; meaning, researcher say precisely what they mean.  For example “trick” as in “tricks of the trade” that we saw in “climate gate” would never be used in correspondence as it could be taken out of context.  Instead, something like “a statistical method to account for the variables” might be used instead.

Ultimately, e-mail makes for horrible metadata and preservation.  Subject lines can change; a thread can drift dramatically from its intended purpose.  These weaknesses likely account for the rise in collaboration platforms like Live 365, Google Docs (now drive), Sharepoint, and similar platforms. Yet I’ve read scientists continue to conduct important correspondence/collaboration via e-mail.  Lack of options?  Lack of convenience?

I did a quick google search to try and pull up something to substantiate “I’ve read” (which is about as credible as “some people say”) –

“Science” AND “Collaboration” AND “e-mail” AND “Attatchment”

I found this exerpt from a book <>that talks about information sharing methods available – but not quite what I want.

Also this popped up: “Modes of collaboration in modern science: Beyond power laws and preferential attachment”

Interesting, but I am really looking for something on prevalence of e-mail attachments for information sharing among scientists.

Finally – this was most interesting – I found ”″ from AAS – about “how to collaborate” but there is nothing in this about some of the infrastructure needs for scientific collaboration.

Also “Oxford handbook of Interdisciplinarity” and comments from Science that NSF is basically pushing for more interdisciplinarity –;

So it seems intuitive that researchers across institutions and fields will use different information technology to collaborate.  Perhaps this is the rationale behind software like openwetware and mendeley desktop.

Shifting over to Google Scholar yields this paper from Elsevier’s SciVerse database:

Scientists’ collaboration strategies: implications for scientific and technical human capital

Promising but still not quite! Perhaps I should have focused on “communication strategies” rather than “collaboration.”

Obviously it is frustrating to be pursuing an MLIS and be unable to find just what I want – so any leads would be appreciated on tracking down an actual statistic on use of e-mail! I may have seen it in a presentation and will have to ask some recent presenters about it.  In any case this isn’t the goal of today’s research effort so I need to move on from it and investigate the “secret e-mail” account.

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About Tanner Jessel

I am a graduate research assistant funded by DataONE and pursuing a Masters in Information Sciences with an Interdisciplinary Graduate Minor in Computational Science. I assist scholarly research efforts supporting the Sociocultural, Usability and Assessment, and Member Nodes working groups within DataONE. I am based at the Center for Information and Communication Studies at the University of Tennessee School of Information Science in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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