The Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Heavenly Virtues of Scientific Websites

When I say here “scientific websites”, I am not referring to education sites, science blogs, or scientific journal web sites. I am talking about sites scientists use for their day to day research. Sites like Entrez, EBI, FlyBase, ExPasy, PDB etc. The sites I just mentioned I deem quite virtuous, but there are many sinful sites out there. We all run into them, some of us are guilty of them at one time or another, as no-one is without sin 🙂  Sinful sites will drag you into the hellfire of obscurity, whereas virtuous sites will earn you the heaven of peer recognition, citations, and perhaps even some funding.

The Seven Deadly Sins:

1. Lust:   “form over function”: beautiful site design, lovely widgets, gadgets, interactive semi-transparent whachamallits but how exactly do I work this application? Where is the application?

2. Gluttony: stuffing my browser with Javascript code until it chokes and grinds to a halt.

3. Greed: lock your application, do not provide the source code. Also, if you want to make your site a paysite, fine. But if it’s free, (and definitely if it is paid) please keep it down to two  Google ads and one banner. If I see to another Flash drop-down  I will go away and never come back.

4. Sloth: Not updating your reference databases, not maintaining your code, broken links.

5. Wrath: not providing documentation to your application; not answering query emails (or worse, giving a half-hearted response).

6.  Envy: not designing your web site with an an API in mind. If you site is good and useful, don’t force your user to click their carpal tunnel into oblivion. Let them be able to write code to better use your site as a web-service. Throttle incoming traffic if you must, but let it come in.

7. Pride: not being able to take criticism, and make appropriate changes based on users’ comments. Also, a soul-sucking registration followed by too many emails.

The Seven Heavenly Virtues:

1. Chastity: a lean website. Minimal to zero use of Google web toolkit, Java applets, and other flashy yet often useless bells & whistles.

2. Temperance:  fast applications, with a load well split between server and browser.

3. Charity: open source you applications. Provide a downloadable, standalone version of your WWW application under an OSI open source license.

4. Diligence: maintain your code. Run periodic application checks to see that everything works. Don’t wait for the users to inform you of a crash or a bug. Keep  as close as possible to the latest version of your scripting language, web interface, OS, server software and DBI.

5. Patience: Take time and effort to document your web site and standalone applications well.  Make sure you answer all query emails within 24 hours, even if  your answer is “sorry, busy now.. please hold on another day”.

6. Kindness: Provide APIs and dynamic URLs,  so your site can be used as a web service. Document al URL formats, and API toolkits. Make sure error messages are meaningful. If you need to throttle traffic, advise users of the traffic throttling policy.

7. Humility: remember, those using your website are the best judges of its usefulness to them. Leave a clearly marked contact email for comments. Read those comments, and act on them.

Photos from [klf]photography on flickr under CC/attribution/non-commercial

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