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Vol. 29 No. 3
May-June 2007

Secretary General's Column — IUPAC Web Developments

by David StC. Black

For some years there has been a desire on the part of various groups of IUPAC members to improve the functionalities provided by the IUPAC website. Some groups felt that the IUPAC server was not able to act as a host for their specific applications because there was insufficient support. In particular, some division presidents and standing committee chairs have commented that IUPAC needs a website that is user friendly to all chemists and not just IUPAC-familiar people. There was also interest in having a web discussion board function, so that IUPAC members could access and review documents, and carry out online discussions. Certain other groups were concerned with major databases, which could not readily be handled by the existing site without some improvements. Such databases are central to IUPAC work, and it is vital that such carefully accumulated technical information is stored reliably, is readily accessible, and that new data can be easily entered.

In May 2006, after wide-ranging discussions, President Bryan Henry asked me to convene an ad hoc committee that would review the need for change, and make specific recommendations. Around this time, the host for the IUPAC website was moved from ibiblio in North Carolina to a dedicated IUPAC server located at the Fachinformationszentrum Chemie GmbH in Berlin (FIZ Chemie Berlin), following an offer by the manager, professor Dr. René Deplanque, who is a member of the Committee on Printed and Electronic Publications (CPEP). FIZ Chemie Berlin is Germany’s Chemistry Information Centre, which provides information services related to the chemical sciences and chemical engineering to scientists in industry, academia, and government. It is funded by the German federal and state governments as a nonprofit information agency. Relocation of the IUPAC server to FIZ Chemie Berlin was achieved on 26 June 2006, and the support provided there now enables the modernization of the technology underpinning the website from HTML to XML.

The Ad Hoc Committee, established in August 2006, brought together a group with knowledge of, and interests in, the various aspects of website and database requirements. It included some members of CPEP. The terms of reference were “to recommend requirements to achieve a modernized interactive IUPAC website and an ability for IUPAC to provide large databases of value to chemists.”

In considering what to do, the committee was asked to define and prioritize one or more options. An important issue in making decisions in this area is that the overall IUPAC budget is relatively fixed. However, the budget issue was something that could only be dealt with after a decision was made on what direction to take. So, the committee was asked to bear in mind only general financial constraints, but not to worry about the details. The committee’s report would go to the Executive Director, who is in the best position to assess the financial and human resource implications.

The committee was not only given access to available comments on the website, but also given a detailed business plan for the future management of the Stability Constants Database, which is IUPAC’s largest database, developed over some years by the Analytical Chemistry Division. This has been managed until now by Academic Software, but because of impending retirements, they wish to be relieved of that in the future. Thus, this was a good example for the committee to consider in detail, but it is not the only important IUPAC database to take into account. Division I also has an active involvement in other databases.

In dealing with databases, there are essentially two strategies. One is for IUPAC to establish in the Secretariat the expertise to do the complete management and delivery of databases. This would require significant costs, either for additional staff or contracts, and would necessitate diversion of funds from other areas. The alternative strategy is to form an alliance with an organization that already has all the expertise and capacity, and it was always obvious that FIZ Chemie Berlin might be such an organization. In my view, the second strategy was always going to be preferable. It indeed transpired that the main outcome of the committee’s work was an extremely generous offer of further support from FIZ Chemie Berlin. After they did a careful analysis of the requirements, they gained approval from their board to cooperate with IUPAC in a strategic alliance that was seen as being mutually beneficial. On 1 March 2007, René Deplanque and Bryan Henry signed a Memorandum of Understanding, which reads as follows:

“This Memorandum of Understanding between the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry and the Fachinformationszentrum für die Chemie Berlin covers cooperation to provide web-based services to IUPAC bodies and the worldwide chemistry community through the IUPAC website. The specific services currently contemplated are the following:

a. implementation of a content management system, which will enable the direct control of the content and the editing of the content by IUPAC
b. implementation of the TRAC systems for project control and guidance
c. a secure site and a billing system for the “stability constant database” and further IUPAC data collections, for example, “evaluated kinetic data” and “organic nomenclature”
d. the implementation of WIKIs as a web discussion board

Additional services will be part of this memorandum as agreed in writing by the parties.

FIZ Chemie Berlin will implement these services on the IUPAC website using its staff and at its own cost. Information necessary for the operation and maintenance of these services will be provided to IUPAC, which will be responsible for content generation, operation, and user service.”

Collaboration has already begun, particularly in relation to the work being done in Prague by the group coordinated by Bohumir Valter, which includes Miloslav Nic and Bedrich Kosata. This group has provided very valuable and long-standing expertise and effort to transfer the Gold Book and Pure and Applied Chemistry to the web. There have also been on-going discussions about the Stability Constant Database.

The important thing is that a start has been made, and the collaborative process will be stepwise. We have by no means solved all the problems, and given the nature of web development, we shall never be able to do that. But we have entered into an exciting phase of development where IUPAC can confidently move forward, hand in hand with an expert organization, which is able to provide the best possible assistance and advice.

In once again expressing IUPAC’s appreciation to FIZ Chemie Berlin, let us not forget the foresight of CPEP Chairman Leslie Glasser, in bringing René Deplanque into the IUPAC fold via CPEP.

IUPAC Secretary General David StC. Black <d.black@unsw.edu.au> has been involved in IUPAC since 1994 as a committee member of the Division of Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry, and served as Division vice president during 2002–2003. He has served as secretary general since 2004.


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