FigShare: publish all your data

5 August, 2011

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish as a diversion to your PhD.” This was Les Carr’s opening gambit as the questions started for Mark Hahnel of FigShare after he presented at the repository fringe. It was very inspiring, a highlight of the event. 

Mark spotted a problem with the existing scholarly model – the fact that only a tiny fraction of results are ever published and shared – and developed a simple and practical tool to help turn the situation around. By encouraging all data to be shared, including negative results, FigShare aims to improve science and avoid duplication. 

I particularly liked the common-sense approach. Many of us in the digital curation community could learn from this. Here are some of the basic principles they work to. Granted, these are points we’ve heard before, but FigShare actually puts them into practice:

  • it has to be stupidly simple otherwise people won’t do it. If you needed training to use Facebook, it wouldn’t be so successful.  
  • scientists are lazy so do it for them if you can
  • ask for feedback and be completely open to new ideas

The result is a growing database of figures, datasets and media across a variety of disciples. FigShare offers full search and browse, all data is citable with handles for persistence, and the upload function is amazingly quick and simple. The interface is clean and intuitive with everything that users need to know provided up front. Data is visualised and everything is clickable.

Figures have been pulled from open access journals to seed the database, meaning scientists aren’t being asking to do the same thing twice. And the scientists benefit further as their data is no longer locked away in PDFs, it’s given its own page and citation, and the Google rankings make the results much more visible.

User feedback has led to the development of new features. Sharing pre-publication findings allows researchers to get constructive feedback on their ideas. Metrics and comments features are also being enhanced to give researchers more opportunities to profile their work and demonstrate impact.

One concern not covered in the talk but addressed in questions was sustainability: what happens to this in the future? They’ve just got funding to guarantee persistence for the next twenty years. The positives just keep coming.

To find out more follow @FigShare and upload your data at

There were lots more inspiring talks at #rfringe11.  You can check out the twitter archive and LiveBlog now, and HD videos of all presentations will be online soon.