But let's go to "person of interest" of this review: Findings app!
The basic organization of the app is "Projects -> Experiments". It is possible to create several projects where you can plan and follow your experiments. Interesting is the opportunity of distinguishing between ongoing and completed experiments which makes it easy to keep everything well organized. Nevertheless we would like to see and extra organization step by which you could group experiments inside a project. For example (and using the image in this section): Inside the project "Iron man suit" it would be interesting to group experiments by subcategories like "Helmet" or "Armour".
Protocols are for Findings like gas is for cars and ,since protocols are the base of all science, Findings app dedicates a separate section in the app for them. The app already offers some pre-installed protocols which will certainly increase with the growth of users/scientists. Create protocols that can be incorporated in experiments in extremely easy and intuitive allowing to have the full protocol written in every single experiment instead of the "See full method description in page X of lab book 12032".
Notwithstanding we think that inverse process, the possibility of writing the protocol inside and experiment a have an option like "Export to protocols", would be very interesting since it is more common to write a protocol when we really need it.
Experiments, Experiments.. The braves that make a Master or PhD journey soon realize that, in science, failed experiments are more usual than the working one. Furthermore, in a kind of scientific torture, it is necessary to write all of our failures in an organized way so that others can understand them. When dealing with several projects, keeping up to date lab book(s) can be a difficult task but it seems this will change.
With Findings app there is, above all, a methodological uniformization of your data: all the experiments will have a header with the project name, experiment title and the its goal. Each experiment will have the correct protocol written and the results can be added creating a unique file with everything.
The app offers 3 views when inside the Experiment screen, "Protocol Picker", "Text Editor" and "Calendar" (see image gallery) with all having positive aspects but also some negative.
- "Protocol Picker" is, without any doubt, fantastic! In this view and, with a simple Drag & Drop", it is possible to add a protocol (or more) to the ongoing experiment. Interestingly it will recognize if a specific protocol lasts for more than one day and will add the protocol steps to the following days. Although each step is independent, the protocol remains as a "whole" and, for example if the initial day of the experiment is altered the next steps will also move according to this shift.
- The "Text Editor" is the most complete in terms of information and allows to easily edit data and write the experimental planning. We like the option of doing "check" on a certain step is completed. On the other hand we believe it would be useful that the app could recognize the times between the steps in a protocol like, for example, when we check one step the app would control the time for the next step, working like a timer (perfect for the mobile app- don't you agree?)
- "Calendar" is useful to plan and get an overview of the experiment throughout the week - although we all know that in research some times planning can be tricky. Here you can also edit the experiments steps like in the Text Editor but we prefer the "Text Editor" option.
As mentioned previously, the size of the lab book increases exponentially during the year with the amount of extra paper added and this reality needs to be adapted to the digital world. Findings app success certainly depend on the capability of importing and integrating data in several formats (graphs, images, texts, etc...) so that an experiment has a beginning (protocol), middle (experiment itself) and end (results). Nowadays the app already offers a competent "import" option but we would like to see more, especially in the Results part. In our opinion a extra section entitled "Results Library" to store, access and visualize our results and final comments would be perfect.
Regarding the Export and Sharing there is space and opportunity to improve. The Export to PDF is very good and this, just by itself, can be a powerful sharing tool between researchers, but we believe Findings app could go the extra mile. Have you ever went to a conference and fellow research asks you "What is the protocol you used?". How easy it would be if, either in the Mac or in the mobile app that's coming, we had the option to "Send" or "Share" a protocol in that exact moment just by adding a email address?
To conclude this section and although Findings app is a "Personal" lab book, we must not forget that a scientist is inserted in a group that frequently has common protocols. The possibility of creating small "communities" that allowed to create a protocol database would be very appealing and would help the app to succeed in a laboratorial micro-ecosystem.
Findings app design is minimalistic but we guarantee this is not negative. There are no fluorescent colors or menus with dozens of options. The lab book must the pratical and that comes with simplicity (let's leave the difficult part of science in the lab itself).
It's about time! The lab book concept needs to be urgently updated and needs to adapt to a laboratorial environment where 99% of the data are now obtained digitally.
Yes, there are other lab book softwares in the market but all targeted to a more enterprise ecosystem and sometimes with an old-fashion design and not very user friendly. A lab book needs to be complicated and easy at the same time: complicated because is a crucial part of a researchers work but easy because the great discoveries are at the bench. And Findings is perfect in this concept: great design, easy to access tools, fast learning curve and easy to optimize and use.
Nevertheless there is still space for improvement in Findings app particularly in the creation of theme-specific dedicated plug-ins, optimization of the three views and interaction with other softwares - Who knows if one day softwares like imageJ will have the option "Export to Findings"?
Paper lab book is as old as science itself, therefore the transition from this version to a digital one will require a lot of dedication and work but we truly believe Findings app is a major step towards this direction.
To end just mention that Findings app is with an introductory price of just 19€ and you can purchase it HERE.