Ten Years of Figshare — What We’ve Achieved And What’s Next

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A lot has changed in the field of science in the last decade: the first photo of a black hole was taken, artificial intelligence began having demonstrable applications in our everyday lives, and NASA landed on an asteroid. These achievements were made possible by building upon scientific research made openly available. There has been a major shift in the way research is shared: it’s now more open and more reusable.

At Figshare, we’re celebrating 10 years of making research data and other scholarly outputs openly available, accessible, reusable, and citable in the name of progressing scientific research. It began as a place for our Founder and Stem Cell Biologist, Mark Hahnel, to share his videos of stem cells and other non-traditional research outputs (NTROs) that formed part of his PhD research and get credit for them.

In a webinar celebrating our decade-long existence, Mark highlighted the achievements of the last ten years including the rise of Open Access and preprints and better access to literature and data.

“A decade ago, you couldn’t publish 5MB videos in the supporting information section of publications,” said Mark. Figshare now hosts nearly 6 million items including datasets, videos, software, presentations, papers, and more and is the repository solution of almost 200 universities, publishers, funders, government agencies, and pharmaceutical organizations all over the world.

In 2011, the vision for Figshare was one of reducing the duplication of research carried out by the scientific community and publishing previously unpublished research. Figshare Alpha was a neon corner of the internet with a mission for advancing scientific research by sharing all research — nul results and all.

We went through a few iterations of the platform over the next couple of years with various UI and UX designs but the message was always the same: get credit for your research, even if the data are negative.


In 2013, V1 launched as a freemium model with functionality to cite items published on Figshare — meaning they had a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) — plus users could use Figshare as private spaces to work on projects and publish them directly in Figshare when appropriate. It also included a GitHub integration making it possible for software to be assigned a DOI for citing.

Over the next eight years, we developed a whole host of functionality based entirely on community feedback, funder/government/legal requirements, legal and regulatory requirements, and more to deliver repository infrastructure to organizations. Some of the key, groundbreaking features include:

  • HR feed/SSO integrations and user management
  • an Altmetric integration
  • DOI versioning
  • a robust, fully-documented API
  • advanced search capabilities
  • review module
  • advanced custom metadata
  • a Dimensions integration to allow for funding links
  • a ReadCube integration to view Open Access PDFs straight from the references section
  • EN 301 549, WCAG 2.1 AA, and Section 508 accessibility compliance
  • restricted publishing and requesting access
  • Sherpa Romeo integration for checking compliance with publisher policies on Open Access archiving

It’s also worth celebrating the community that has flourished over the last decade. There have been countless Figshare Fests (our community user days), webinars, case studies, Slack conversations, and video calls among the community of organizations using Figshare. These have been for the sole purpose of sharing knowledge, best practices, and asking questions of each other to make each users’ experience better and more progressive for the sharing of scientific knowledge.

https://twitter.com/ErrantScience/status/1229777621296320514, https://errantscience.com/

In a 2014 interview with Wired, Mark was asked where he saw the company and academia in ten years’ time. “For us the Shangri-La is a world where a group of researchers generate new information based on new hypotheses, make it available on Figshare and then others pull together the combined world's knowledge to look for new patterns and discoveries that the original authors had not thought to look for. These data scientists will need tools, which we have already made available on our open API. I'd love to see more of these tools helping more people make more discoveries, more often.” This is already happening — with the tracking of citations and Altmetrics on item pages, users can see who is mentioning and reusing their data and the progression that’s had on scientific advancement. Take this use case, for example, of a University of Sheffield researcher who made his data available on Figshare and has since developed collaborations and new lines of enquiry into adjacent areas of research.

However, there’s still a long way to go in some areas. “Slightly frustrating for me is that while there has been innovation in the space, the majority of Open Access is Gold Open Access and not Green Open Access. This is just one area, we need to be focussing our attention, to make things more equitable,” said Mark. “I also thought we’d solve the problem of sharing and getting credit for negative data. I don’t think that problem has moved as fast as I’d like; there’s still a lot of valid negative data that doesn’t get published.”

While we may have been quite inwardly focussed in the early days of Figshare, the Shangri-la vision seems more in-reach, albeit through a plethora of tools and repositories that have since emerged. Deepmind’s Alphafold has recently demonstrated the power of well-curated, homogenous open data. When thinking of research data, future consumers will not just be human researchers — we also need to feed the machines. This means that computers will need to interpret content with little or no human intervention. For this to be possible, the outputs need to be in machine readable formats and the metadata needs to be sufficient to describe exactly what the data are and how the data was generated.

We at Figshare will continue to support organizations in making life easy for their researchers to create, share, and store well-curated, homogenous open data.

Let’s hope for even further progress in the next 10 years.

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We held a webinar recently celebrating 10 Years of Figshare, where our Founder and CEO, Mark Hahnel, looked back at the evolution of research management and our Product Director, Chris Blumzon, reflected on the features and functionality we’ve developed in the last decade.

Watch the webinar

Apr 6, 2022 11:00

This is a reposted article from our blog, the original article can be found at:

https://figshare.com/blog/Ten_Years_of_Figshare_What_We_ve_Achieved_And_What_s_Next/653

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