February 14, 2011

It's time to close a chapter on Depth-First and some of the other Web projects I've undertaken. In this post, I'll explain why and what comes next.

Depth-First's first post appeared on August 12, 2006. The events that inspired that first post included the appearance of the public-facing PubChem and Zinc chemical structure databases. But there was more to it than that. I wanted a way to keep notes to myself about the things I learned as I entered the new field (to me) of cheminformatics. As I immersed myself in the field, I noticed a distinct lack of open source tools, so I also wanted to document my findings in a way others could benefit from.

Over the next four years, I wrote about cheminformatics from every angle I could think of. From providing a directory of free chemical databases, to multi-part tutorials on substructure search, to experiments in name to structure conversion, to documenting controversies with the ACS and its publishing business, I wanted to not just write a blog. I wanted the blog to help me learn faster.

And it worked - very well, in fact. As a bonus, one of the most pleasant surprises of all was the large number of people I met through writing Depth-First. I can't thank you all enough for your insights and encouragement.

I also used this blog as a way to discuss Web projects I started along the way that probed the intersection between chemistry and the social Web, including Chempedia, Chempedia Lab, and Chemvoice.

Change of Focus

One of the other things I did along the way was to start a company. Like most startups, what seemed like a good idea originally - to build open databases and subscription Web services in chemistry - turned out to not be what actually gained traction - providing high-performance Web components and services for scientific data visualization.

It's now crystal clear that continued success will take complete focus on this one problem domain, de-emphasizing the others.


Although changing focus, I'll continue to write. So if you've enjoyed Depth-First and are still game to read yet another article from me, I encourage you to check out Signals.

Signals is a blog about the intersection between scientific software and client-side Web technologies, especially JavaScript and HTML 5. Like Depth-First, Signals will combine detailed tutorials and technical discussion, news, and broader remarks about the field in general. Unlike Depth-First, Signals will not be restricted to chemistry or cheminformatics, nor will it spend much time on the server side of the scientific Web.

Why not just change focus and continue to post to Depth-First? The reason is simple: I've grown accustomed to creating a certain kind of content here. Signals is a way to break out of my preconceptions, focus on issues most relevant to my customers, and move with full force in a new direction.

Sometimes, you just have to burn the boats.

What About Depth-First?

Depth-First's backfile of over 700 articles will continue to be available. Every once in awhile I may post an article, most likely pointing to an interesting collaborative project in the area of open chemical information, or a Signals article that might interest readers here.

Other Web Projects

For a variety of reasons, some of which you may have already guessed, all of my projects in the area of chemistry and the social Web will be discontinued. In the case of Chempedia and Chempedia Lab, their datasets will continue to be available under Creative Commons licenses, but the sites themselves will cease to accept new submissions. ChemVoice will be shut down completely, with no data dump available.

Two other blogs that were started along the way, the Zusammen blog and the Metamolecular Products blog will be shut down entirely.

Looking Forward

For those interested in following the new Signals blog, there will be much to talk about. The technical success in developing ChemWriter, our recently-released, plugin-free chemical structure editor written entirely in JavaScript, the accelerated uptake of new client-side technologies like HTML5 and WebGL, coupled with the high level of interest I'm seeing in all of this, offers much food for thought.

It's a meal for which I hope you'll join me.