Imagine you spend three months trying to extract DNA from a new microbial species, carefully following a protocol published decades earlier. After much frustration and many cups of coffee, you discover a key nuance in the methods. This critical detail cost you months of your time, and is likely of great interest to a broader community of researchers currently struggling with the same problem as they try to adapt the methods to their own project and organism. With new knowledge in hand, how/where/when should you share this critical update, containing information, details, and commentary that go far beyond a publication?
One common barrier that scientists face is slowing progress due to the fact that they are constantly re-discovering knowledge that others have not had the time to publish, and also improving existing methods without the ability to quickly and effectively share those improvements. Protocols.io, a free, central, and crowd-sourced protocol repository, provides users an open platform for sharing laboratory, field, and bioinformatic methods as well as best practices. The repository allows lab groups and communities connected by research interests to come together and troubleshoot methods, share protocols and updates, publish results, and build community.
To use protocols.io, a lab group or individual researcher creates a free account, uploads their protocols (choosing whether or not to make those protocols public in the process). From here, other groups can search for protocols, link to others’ methods, and begin online discussion groups to ask questions about the methods, and share tips and best practices, building community along the way. Protocols can also be “run” through the protocols.io app, directly connecting online protocols with laboratory studies.