First of all, we are really happy and proud that the portal is still up and running. The initiative started with a few dedicated undergraduate students, but soon after they all graduated and started on their own career paths. At this moment, the PI is on long-term travel, following up the project remotely. The main players have joined graduate school (in four different universities spanning three continents: MRR at the American University in Cairo; RSA in USA; RRS in Germany; and SG at Cairo University in Egypt). This is partly why we are thankful that the website is not just running, but also—slowly but surely—growing.
It is always hard to properly measure progress, notably in the case of a project run by volunteers; however, we can look at a few criteria that are often used to evaluate web portals.
Since its launch, PharmacoMicrobiomics has been up and running without any interruption, of course except for server down times, which we cannot fully control; yet, we have been running with two different domain names http://pharmacomicrobiomics.org and http://pharmacomicrobiomics.com located on two different servers (although one redirects to another).
2) Utility/ Access statistics:
The purpose of a public database is simply to be used by the community and to reach all users who might benefit from it. This is one of the hardest goals of all databases. It requires publication, promotion, advertisement, and lot of travel. Unfortunately, most of the above is not available to us at the moment; however, we published about the database (initially as a paragraph within an abstract then as a full article) and we attempt to spread the news via a Twitter and a Mendeley profile. Again the purpose is to get those interested into using the database, and we cannot really know this until we’re “officially cited”; however, from the access statistics we can see some positive patterns (nothing like the giant databases of course). Having filtered out our own computers/IPs, we estimate the users of the account to be ~600 unique visits in the first year (since officially launched on 11/11/11), with 77 returning users. This is very modest of course, but given that a few laboratories are interested in drug-microbiome interactions, and from manually checking the access data we see that we are often visited by top laboratories & companies in the US and UK (e.g., Harvard, Glaxo, Cambridge, NIH in Maryland, Pfizer, see below). This is not a bad pattern of course.
3) Data growth:
Another sign of progress is the growth of the submitted data. So far, we have not started crowdsourcing data submission yet, and we count on our 4-5 curators. During the past year, we started with about ten records at the time of launch. Today, we’re almost at 70 records. That is great progress given the scarcity and sparsity of data in literature.
In conclusion, we find the signs of progress in the first year promising. The coming challenges are on three axes:
1) Adding data (the more we have the harder we can add; but as the Human Microbiome Project is booming, we have to expect loads of publications in the next 2-3 years).
2) Adding functionality (microbiome mining tools, connecting the current data to enzyme and pathway databases, etc.)
3) Adding users and soliciting crowdsourcing & crowdfunding.
Let’s hope for the best. Please let us know how we can do better and how you can help.