As many of you know over the past years Biostars has undergone tremendous growth in user base but also as software platform. Beside this site the Biostar software is now used to provide support for well known bioinformatics projects such as the Galaxy Project and Bioconductor. At the same time there is a growing constellation of smaller communities adopting the software such Neurostars and MetaStars. We also know of commercial deployments such as DNA Nexus Answers. All of them are welcome to the fold.
But with growth come responsibilities towards both our users and our partners. In the past we could get by postponing features over many-many months and delaying updates until the time was right for us. We have occasionally received small amounts of funding from public grants and indirect support from programs such as Google Summer of Code. These have helped greatly and brought many highly visible and highly used features to the site. But what we really need is a predictable and steady stream of revenue that would allow us to contract out features, support the infrastructure costs and allow us to expand the platform even further.
A few weeks ago a marketing company named Direct Effect Media reached out to us and suggested an advertising model that is nearly identical to that employed on StackOverflow sites. The company offered to manage all advertising and contracting on our behalf. This lets us focus on what we do best. We decided to give it a shot and evaluate the potential of supporting the site this way.
What this is means is the following: In the next few weeks users will start to see Side Banner and Top Leaderboard type of ads on most pages. The score of a user will determine the number and frequency of ads that are generated (if you must know I came up with a magic formula where every 500 points will drop the likelihood of seeing ads by half, the formula being:
p = exp(-log(2) * user_score/500). In addition we will reserve hundreds of thousands of page views for community ads. Users with more than 1000 points may run these as before (the FAQ pages will be updated with this information).
What is next for Biostar? There are many very exciting goals that we want to move towards all revolving around creating better educational experiences and better integrating the software into active, online learning environments. Have you ever noticed how all MOOC platforms are locked, all courses are all alike, most of their interfaces are incredibly dated and barely usable? Moreover that teachers that do all the work don't own the platform nor the data on it?
This is our next direction, a Biostars platform that you can use to not only run a Q&A but a short course, a summer meeting, weekly training, or even a MOOC within your institution. An easy to install platform where you own every bit of it, no restrictions, from code to content. We hope that the current arrangement gets us closer to achieving that.