Anyone who followed the recent investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing and the ensuing manhunt saw first-hand the power of the crowd. Tens of thousands of web-connected citizens poured over photos and videos that would have taken federal and local police agencies weeks or months. Within hours of releasing low quality photos, both suspects were identified and flushed out of the darkness.
Similarly, an article from The Scientist recently posited the idea of crowd sourcing drug discovery. The thinking here is that waiting for new chemical entities to fail in Phase II studies is as unfair to patients as it is to the researchers who toil in redundant efforts. The brute force approach of high throughput screening did little to bring new drugs to market faster. Last year, a Harvard Med School student and budding entrepreneur named Shantanu Gaur started a group at Meetup.com in an attempt to create a drug discovery collective. His ethos is built around the mantra of replacing “publish or perish” with “share or despair.” For an industry that strives on peer review, overcoming IP issues that enable crowd thinking could provide the massively parallel efforts that will streamline understanding and treatment of diseases .
None of this is new to lab instrument support. For a number of years now, users have been able to interact with each other as well as vendors and independent support organizations via forums such as LRIG and LabWrench. Users share similar experiences as hints and tips come from current or past employees of instrument manufacturers. Some manufacturers have even created user forums to help support their products. Still, a fair amount of knowledge about instruments is proprietary and closely protected by manufacturers. This is understandable as many of these companies rely upon post-sales support revenue as an important component of their balance sheets. The one thing missing from breaking this logjam is a more formal unification of the user community. The power of the crowd lies within the sheer number of end-users for lab instruments. Figure out a way for all users to speak with one voice and the leverage of the crowd will move the way instruments are supported.
But, how to do that is the subject of one of my next postings…