Here is the full interview:
For whom is it intended?
Findings is a notebook app for scientists. Lab notebooks are used by scientists when running experiments, to keep a detailed account of what they have done. Up until recently, lab notebooks were simply paper notebooks. Paper is a very versatile medium, but it has limitations in areas where computers have taken over: storing results, analysing data, searching, replicating, sharing, preserving, and more. Findings ambition is simple: make your computer a better tool than paper to run experiments and keep lab records.
Findings is thus aimed at scientists and students that use a lab notebook as part of their research. This includes most experimental fields in biology, physics, chemistry, social sciences, and psychology. Findings is best for “academic” research, where new assays and new types of experiments are designed and used every day, and where flexibility is key.
2. Who are the people behind Findings app?
The Findings app is developed by a French company called Findings Software SAS. It was founded by Alexander Griekspoor, of Papers and EnzymeX fame, and myself, Charles Parnot. I develop the Mac version and manage all the work needed to get such a project going (development, design, marketing, etc). Joris Kluivers develops an iPhone/iPod Touch version (that will be released at a later date). Marcello Luppi, also an ex-scientist, works as a contract designer for both platforms (http://wrinklypea.com). Tânia Margarido e Griekspoor helps with the marketing and support. Finally, Alexander Griekspoor is a co-founder and investor on the project, and has been working on all aspects of the app from very early on. Alex is the CEO of Papers, now part of Springer Science + Business Media. Note that Findings itself is not owned by Springer and has not received investment from Springer.
Before becoming an app developer, I was a scientist. I worked in a research lab, more specifically in cellular biology and in structural biology, at the Collège de France in Paris, then at Stanford University, and finally at a biotech company in the Bay Area. Findings is the tool I would have liked to have all these years!
4. You state that the app is a “personal” Lab book. Is it a commercial strategy?
Making Findings into a “personal” lab notebook is fundamentally a design strategy. We want the user to feel that the app is really their personal lab notebook, which accompanies them in their experiment, and is under their control. We do not want Findings to feel like a remote service that lives somewhere else, and that the user needs to connect to. Of course, our approach still allows to be connected with the outside world, colleagues and collaborators, and to make use of the power of online services. But we want the user to always know where her or his experiments are and to feel in complete control of what should be a tool at their service.
It is true that our “philosophy” is different, and maybe unique, but it would be very pretentious to dismiss the existing competition, which is very much active. There has been a lot of new offerings coming out in this area in the past 2 or 3 years, many of which I consider excellent products. The difference in our approach is most obvious when considering that most of these products are web-based, while we started by developing a native app. We think that it can make a difference. However, our goal is not to “beat the competition”, but rather to simply make a product that will help our users and be tuned to their needs. In any case, the market is very new and there is space for multiple offerings. I think our real competitors are paper notebooks!
6. Will it remain “personal” or will Findings broaden to a more “enterprise version”?
I think we can easily be both. Being “enterprise” in this market means paying attention to how research teams work, or how multiple teams collaborate with each other. This is definitely an area where we want to improve the app. And the ability to collaborate and share does not prevent an individual user from having an app that still feels personal. Finding the right balance is a design challenge, but because we start with this personal aspect, it will be much easier for us to keep the individual at the center of the app. We will make sure the users are always in control of the content of their notebook, can keep things organized their way and know where things are. Rather than diluting their work, the addition of collaboration and sharing features to Findings should help expand their efforts and improve their output and their impact.
There are definitely ways the two apps could interplay. For instance, citing publications in Findings using the “Magic Citations” feature of Papers would be very nice. This is something we have in our (long) to do list. In general, a tool like Findings can really be enhanced by making interactions with other apps easier, wether it's taking data in, or pushing data out, to other apps. That is also an aspect that we have seriously considered for the future.
8. A Lab Book in an iPad. The idea is challenging but you are preparing an iOS version of Findings app. What are the plans for this platform? A complementation of the Mac version or an independent system?
We are indeed preparing an iOS version of Findings. To be clear, this will be initially optimized for a small screen, like iPhone or iPod Touch. This form factor is actually great in a lab, as you can have such a device at the bench, to perform very useful tasks that would not be so easy with a laptop: follow the steps of a protocol and keep track of which step you are at, start timers for longer steps, take pictures of your results, type quick notes when encountering problems or adjusting parameters at the last minute, etc. The user would then typically use a laptop or desktop at the desk, and the iOS app would be a specialized companion app when on the move or at the bench.
We have limited resources and chose to first focus on the Mac, then iPhone/iPod Touch (already in development), before iPad. That said, we hope to develop an iPad version as well in the future, that can bring more powerful features to a highly mobile device.
We have enough ideas to keep us busy for years, so I will focus on what I know we can deliver in the short and medium term, and keep the rest as a surprise. As our roadmap states on our web site, our short-term plan is to release an iOS version and provide syncing between devices (Macs and iOS devices). We also plan to implement timers, and add support for insertion of tables. It's never a good idea to promise a delivery date on anything, but all the above (and other improvements) should be available before the end of 2014. After that, we will focus on sharing and collaboration features to make Findings work really well with teams. It is difficult to predict much beyond that. Mostly, our development efforts depend on user feedback, and this could mean an iPad version, better integration with online services, or any other needs that our users have.
10. To end, and just by curiosity: the logo of Findings app is a yellow submarine. A tribute to the Beatles or an analogy to some (most!) lab experiments that just sink?
This is an excellent question, and I am very happy to clear that up! The icon of Findings is actually a stylized bathyscaphe, the submersible developed by Auguste Piccard in the late 40s to dive into the deepest parts of the ocean for scientific exploration. I think this is a great representation of the scientific process: exploring an unknown and vast territory, whether it's the ocean, a complex cellular process or a new branch of mathematics, with limited tools but with an open mind and a lot of patience and ingeniosity. We initially struggled trying to find an idea for the app icon, but when our designer Marcello Luppi came up with the bathyscaphe idea, we knew instantly we had a winner. It's been a lot of fun using the bathyscaphe in different parts of the app, like the welcome guide, and on the web site (look at it carefully there…).