OpenBehavior: Progress, user survey, future directions

May 23, 2019

The OpenBehavior Project launched in 2016 with the goal of accelerating research through the promotion of collaboration and sharing open-source tools for behavioral neuroscience research. The project is 100% non-commercial and all content has been generated by volunteer efforts. Prior to the launch of our site, access to design files and build instructions relied on word of mouth and isolated blogs and posts on social media. Last week, we posted for the 100th time on our blog site about open-source tools for behavioral neuroscience research.

A wordcloud generated from survey respondents when asked about the strengths of OpenBehavior and why they might recommend it.

This week, we would like to report on the most active posts on the site and also on a survey on user experiences with OpenBehavior. Thanks to those who took part in the survey!

To date, the top five posts on OpenBehavior (based on web hits form unique URLs) have been on the UCLA Miniscope and four projects for video tracking and analysis: Automated Rodent Tracker (ART), FaceMap: Unsupervised analysis of rodent behaviors, Janelia Automatic Animal Behavior Annotator (JAABA), and Behavioral Observation Research Interactive Software (BORIS). We are preparing a more detailed report on these projects and their impact on current research in neuroscience that will be submitted very soon for publication.

72 people completed the survey. All users had very positive comments about the site and most said that they learned about us through Twitter. It’s quite satisfying to find that an open media framework like Twitter has helped promote the free exchange of ideas on open-source tools and designs.

Three aspects of the participants were most interesting. First, all participants described their field as behavioral neuroscience. We were a bit surprised not to find folks from other fields, such as electronics or software development, and acknowledge that we need to do more to bring in researchers focused on tools for research in human neuroscience and computational models and data analysis methods for understanding behavior. To this end, we are going to include posts at least once a month on these topics. Our next post will be about some open-source options for eye tracking in humans. Other upcoming posts will feature open-source software for drift diffusion models and algorithms for reinforcement learning.

Second, OpenBehavior posts are followed by folks at various career stages. Roughly half of the participants identified as postdoctoral researchers and principal investigators. 20 of 72 participants indicated that they had used tools featured on the site that were not developed by their own labs. 38 other participants indicated that they follow the site with plans to incorporate some of the devices and software that we have profiled into their research programs. The experiences of these users of our website and followers of our Twitter feed indicate that we have had strong initial success in our overall mission to accelerate research through promotion of collaboration and sharing.

Third, and most satisfying to us, the site is used by researchers all around the world. We are exploring adding a forum to the website to encourage interactions between developers and users, which was suggested by several participants of our survey. We will post more details on this soon.

Our survey was the first step in assessing how open-source tools are impacting behavioral studies in neuroscience. To further assess the interests and experiences of our community, we will be running another survey next week to assess knowledge and use of software, microcontrollers, and options for 3D and PCB printing. Once again, we would greatly appreciate input from the community on these issues, and will reach out via Twitter.

By the way, OpenBehavior would not be possible without the efforts of founders Lex Kravitz, Mark Laubach, and MJ Preston, current curators Linda Amarante and Samantha White, and you, our readers.

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