BioNumbers – Specialty Biology Answer Search Engine
Today, I met with Dr. Ron Milo who works in the field of plant sciences at Weizmann Institute in Israel, who showed me a specialty search engine project he built from the ground up named BioNumbers. In short, BioNumbers is a collection of common biological numbers that is useful to one’s research. For example, the average diameter of a protein is 5 nanometers.
This week, I am on a special trip known as the Blogger Delegation to Israel. We are being taken around by the Israeli Consulate to learn about Israel and the people who live here. Clearly, my focus is on search – so when I went to the Weizmann Institute today and met with extreme experts in the field of nanotechnology, alternative sustainable energy and even plant sciences, my main question was – what databases do you use for your research.
As I listened to information that was clearly way above my head, i.e. a new onion like molecule that when used in your car, it would never require an oil change again – I kept wondering, how can other scientists and researchers use this information to help their studies. How can researchers quickly pull up data, with citations, to find information at their finger tips.
So when I spoke with Professor David Cahen, he told me about his meetings with Google and trying to convince them to build out a search engine that does just that. In fact, he is on a personal crusade to educate the average person out there that much of the information out there on the web is either wrong or can be used wrong. His dream search engine would return accurate information, with citations listed, to your questions on how much energy does it consume to burn a certain amount of oil. Google is on their way to showing information on energy topics, such as their Power Meter that is designed to educate consumers about their power consumption. The issue is, according to Profession Cahen, it isn’t always accurate.
Cahen’s issue, in my opinion, is that Google cannot possible allocate their resources to building out a specialty database for this cause. If the Professor can use tools such as Yahoo’s BOSS platform and feed the data to BOSS, it might work well for his purpose. The main issue is that the professor does not have the time and resources to collect and feed this data to a search engine.
I was incredibly impressed with the work Ron Milo did with BioNumbers. Ron Milo is actually building a community of researchers, who add and edit (almost in Wiki style) to his specialty database. Milo’s main issue is getting his “pet project” out there to his community. What came to mind immediately was Google Coop’s Topics program. I cannot tell you how frustrated I was to hear that Ron Milo never heard of it. Why do I say that? Because Ron Milo is the exact person Google wants to use this service. Ron has built a structured data set that can easily be added to this Google project and might build out more awareness of BioNumbers.
Why is awareness of BioNumbers important to search? Google, no matter how good I find it to be, still has issues accessing structure data. Google Coop was one of Google’s answers, as is Google Base, Google Blog Search and so on. Yahoo BOSS or Search Monkey is another answer to these questions. BioNumbers can be expanded into other verticals, such as ChemiNumbers or GeoNumbers and so on. Getting experts to contribute to these specialty databases and Google and Yahoo educating these researchers on the tools they have to help build awareness of the answers the databases have, is incredibly important to furthering all sciences. Bridging the two, is a win-win for both the search engine and the researchers.
Here is a short video demonstrating some of the answers BioNumbers gives searchers:
The only issue is, resources – and who can the search engine serve best with those resources. The average consumer or the researchers? In this case, researchers need to build these data sets and feed them to a search engine. Search engines need to better educate these types of organizations about the tools they have that can unlock the data these researchers seek.