Computers, telecommunications, and the microbiologist : the online hunt for microbes.
This study concerns the relationship between social and technological change. It asks
whether the introduction of a new technology, computer mediated communication,
enables scientists to engage in an altogether new and potentially more effective research
activity, the online hunt for microbes. It shows that such technology, in the form of the
Microbial Strain Data Network (MSDN), boosts significantly the overall speed, flexibility
and extent of possible communication between microbe hunters and microbe suppliers.
As a result, the global hunt for microbes in existing research and service oriented culture
collections can transcend historiC geographic and institutional barriers that diminish its
timeliness and comprehensiveness and, as a result, its potential utility. Therefore, the
study hypothesises, microbe hunters will use extensively the MSDN's electronic mail and,
especially, its online microbial strain databases.
However, contrary to expectations, the mere availability of the MSDN is evidently
insufficient to assure its widespread use. The MSDN was, in fact, little used during an
extensive six month evaluation period in 1990191. Moreover, despite lowering its prices
and increasing its strain database offerings, as well as improving its ease of use, the
MSDN remains liltle used today. The study concludes that the MSDN's non-use reflects
its general incompatibility with the context in which it was applied. The prevailing sociotechnological
structure of microbiology diminishes significantly the accessibility,
comparability, and reliability of shared strain data. In doing so, it reduces the potential
benefits of CMC technology generally, and the MSDN in particular, in facilitating the
online hunt for microbes. Success in the online hunt for microbes therefore requires
changing the socio-technological context in which the hunt occurs. The discussion
recommends possible changes to the socio-technological structure of microbiology to
improve the online hunt's viability. It also points to the need for further research about the
viability of the online hunt for microbes, as well as about the effective application of
computer mediated communication technology to science generally.