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SciLink Scours the Web for Connections


By Kevin Davies

Oct. 10, 2007 | Brian Gilman has made a lot of friends in the past decade or so, launching successful software companies and playing a key role during the heyday of the Whitehead Institute Genome Center. He hopes his new venture will make him a few more — 7 million more, to be precise.

SciLink — Gilman’s latest project — was founded in 2006, and has now grown into “a small child,” he says. Upon the company’s official web launch in August 2007, Gilman professed to being “giddy with excitement.”

The company was bootstrapped off Gilman’s previous start-up, Panther Informatics — a 5-year-old bioinformatics consulting firm. Gilman spent four years as a key member of the Whitehead Genome Center, reporting to David Altshuler, director of medical and population genetics and Jill Mesirov, CIO.

“Around 2002-03, lots of high-level consultants were laid off [across the industry],” says Gilman. “I saw that as an opportunity. I was sitting at the Whitehead and needed to make a decision.” Gilman didn’t really fancy being “a lifer” in academia, so he left, “and started to hire all my friends.” Today, Panther has a small full-time staff in Boston plus a dozen or so consultants around the country. “Panther Informatics is interested in a number of different research endeavors: using HapMap data to stratify patients for drug efficacy, tying HapMap data to adverse event reports, and bringing researchers together using advanced web services,” says Gilman.

Tree of Science
His latest venture builds on the widespread interest in social networking and Web 2.0 initiatives. But as Gilman points out, “no one was doing professional networking in this space.”

SciLink scours the web for publicly available information on the universe of scientists and their publications. “We took all of medline, the .gov and .edu domains, and scraped them to find 5.8 million scientists and their relationships.” (Gilman estimates the total universe of scientists is closer to 20 million globally.) SciLink takes those web pages and turns them into resumes, matched with over 18 million research papers.

“There’s already a professional network that exists inside scientific material,” Gilman explains. “So why not take that information and reduce the tedium of networking, which is finding people to connect with?” SciLink allows scientists to “claim” their published material from the database, and easily populate their resume. The site offers a widget — a small piece of HTML script — that can be cut and pasted into the user’s own web page to automatically keep an up-to-the-minute CV on their own website. That CV can also be exported into the familiar NIH “biosketch” format. This capability is “very popular among our academic friends,” says Gilman, referring to the mandatory biographical standard form that must accompany NIH grant submissions.

In addition, Gilman says, “We’re starting to push content like TiVo, where you train our system about what kind of information you’re interested in seeing more of.” That content includes funding opportunities, jobs, recommended papers, and more. The company has also created private networks for scientific and publishing clients, including Biogen Idec.

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of SciLink is the Tree of Science. Says Gilman: “It’s a family tree of science — a way to visualize relationships and careers over time.” The Tree of Science is free, and allows SciLink members to easily build a graphical, historical resume illustrating links to colleagues throughout their career along a timeline. In the first week since its launch, Gilman says more than 600 people built their trees adding at least three connections. As users scroll through their timeline on the X-axis, the Tree of Science presents a movie, illustrating collaborations, mentor-student and peer-to-peer relationships. “It’s a revolutionary way of showing how your career has progressed over time,” says Gilman. “All this community building is free,” he says, although SciLink will charge for integrating the movies into other documents.

Gilman enjoys good relationships with other commercial groups exploring scientific social networks, even if he doesn’t necessarily agree with their strategies. He is currently working with academic and commercial groups to form a “Science 2.0” publishers group in Boston to share ideas, techniques, and foster collaborations.

With biopharma constantly looking for experts and consultants, Gilman says “We’re spending money to find experts and figure out what they’re good at.” Gilman believes SciLink will be a powerful recruiting and collaboration tool — and that those services, along with advanced subscription registrations and advertising income, will connect the company with success.

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