A few weeks ago we reached out to the scientific community for help on the direction of the DCXL project. The major issue at hand was whether we should develop a web-based application or an add-in for Microsoft Excel. Last week, I reported that we decided that rather than choose, we will develop both. This might seem like a risky proposition: the DCXL project has a one-year timeline, meaning this all needs to be developed before August (!). As someone in a DCXL meeting recently put it, aren’t we settling for “twice the product and half the features”? We discussed what features might need to be dropped from our list of desirables based on the change in trajectory, however we are confident that both of the DCXL products we develop will be feature-rich and meet the needs of the target scientific community. Of course, this is made easier by the fact that the features in the two products will be nearly identical.
How did we arrive at developing an add-in and a web app? By talking to scientists. It became obvious that there were aspects of both products that appeal to our user communities based on feedback we collected. Here’s a summary of what we heard:
Show of hands: I ran a workshop on Data Management for Scientists at the Ocean Sciences 2012 Meeting in February. At the close of the workshop, I described the DCXL project and went over the pros and cons of the add-in option and the web app option. By show of hands, folks in the audience voted about 80% for the web app (n~150)
Conversations: here’s a sampling of some of the things folks told me about the two options:
- “I don’t want to go to the web. It’s much easier if it’s incorporated into Excel.” (add-in)
- “As long as I can create metadata offline, I don’t mind it being a web app. It seems like all of the other things it would do require you to be online anyway” (either)
- “If there’s a link in the spreadsheet, that seems sufficient. (either) It would be better to have something that stays on the menu bar no matter what file is open.” (Add-in)
- “The updates are the biggest issue for me. If I have to update software a lot, I get frustrated. It seems like Microsoft is always making update something. I would rather go to the web and know it’s the most recent version.” (web app)
- Workshop attendee: “Can it work like Zotero, where there’s ways to use it both offline and online?” (both)
Survey: I created a very brief survey using the website SurveyMonkey. I then sent the link to the survey out via social media and listservs. Within about a week, I received over 200 responses.
Education level of respondents:
Survey questions & answers:
So with those results, there was a resounding “both!” emanating from the scientific community. First we will develop the add-in since it best fits the needs of our target users (those who use Excel heavily and need assistance with good data management skills). We will then develop the web application, with the hope that the community at large will adopt and improve on the web app over time. The internet is a great place for building a community with shared needs and goals– we can only hope that DCXL will be adopted as wholeheartedly as other internet sources offering help and information.