Toward an Open, Worldwide Chemical Information Network

September 17, 2006

...Whatever your views of the present situation may be, I think there is general agreement that more attention will be given in the next few years to the information network concept. The hardware capability for such a network is well assured; in fact, the capability exists today. The real question is when, and under what conditions, the chemical community will determine that an economic need exists for a network that will tie together a wide range of chemical information services.

Walter M. Carlson J. Chem. Doc. 1965, 5, 1-3

Several online chemical information services, including PubChem, NMRShiftDB, and ZINC, have emerged in a relatively short period of time. As these systems go from being toys for hackers to essential components of scientific workflow, their true potential will be unlocked by developing innovative ways to tie these disparate systems together.

This is not unlike the situation Carlson was describing in his 1964 luncheon speech before the ACS Division of Chemical Literature. Technologies have changed radically, but the fundamental problem of integrating disparate chemical information systems remains unsolved and ripe with possibilities.

A future in which Chemical Abstracts Service no longer dominates the collection and distribution of chemical information is looking more possible than ever before. If recent history is any guide to this future, we can look to an array of semi-independent, open systems using open standards and operating on a global scale to become the new focal point. In fact, the capability exists today.