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The Drupal Ecological Information Management System (DEIMS): recent progress and upcoming challenges for a grassroots project

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Issue: 
Fall 2011

Inigo San Gil (MCM)

Through the use of Working Groups and Production Workshops, the LTER Information Management Committee has provided examples of cross-site collaborations by leveraging expertise and resources across sites to provide resources for the LTER Network. The Drupal Ecological Information Management System (DEIMS) Working Group is not only an example of how such resources are developed, but also a demonstration of how they can be deployed and used by ecological information managers beyond LTER. This article presents a historical outline of DEIMS’ formation, summarizes recent successes, and outlines challenges for the future. In sum, DEIMS is making inroads based on the same collaborative principles of the LTER Information Management group and the open source community.

The DEIMS group was formed in 2008 by a handful of LTER Information Managers, as well as participants from the Organization of Biological Field Stations and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The earliest DEIMS collaborators were Sevilleta (SEV) and Luquillo (LUQ). At present, there are nine sites participating in the working group. Apart from the aforementioned early adopters and the LTER Network Office, these are Arctic (ARC), Jornada (JRN), McMurdo Dry Valleys (MCM), North Temperate Lakes (NTL), Niwot Ridge (NWT), and Plum Island (PIE). 

During the 2011 training workshop in Albuquerque (see the photo gallery here), DEIMS participants made significant progress.  Most member sites now have developer instances, or sand boxes where they can break rules, twist information content, and try new ideas that may be either discarded or adopted by the group. DEIMS is now also capable of interoperating with products that are released by other LTER working groups, including LTERMaps, the controlled vocabulary, and the Unit Dictionary. Group members have also begun using services that are developed by members of the community external to LTER, such as the NBII, the Encyclopedia of Life, and the ITIS species taxonomy service and other miscellaneous services such as current weather conditions. Consuming such services teaches us lessons about what works and what does not, without the costs associated with development and implementation. Instead, we get time to see the products in action.

At this point, DEIMS looks to be approaching a critical transformation stage. It is at this stage, sometimes referred to as crossing the chasm, where the highest failure rates occur among business start-ups. At this point, we expect DEIMS to undergo a period of unpredictable growth during which it will face its real tests as it is stressed by the need to scale up and meet operational needs. New project testers will find a myriad of feature enhancements and bugs that make demands on both the initial group and the broader community. 

However, we argue that DEIMS is well positioned to face challenges related to crossing the chasm. A primary advantage is that we can off-shore most of the development work, maintenance load, and scalability issues to the thousands of Drupal contributors that lend their time free of charge to the community. DEIMS uses the Drupal core and over fifty community contributed projects.  In reality, the DEIMS team comprises of the direct work of hundreds of people across the world. Thanks to those unnamed contributors, DEIMS uses web services, list look ups, databases, relationships, controlled vocabularies, map applications, and excellent bibliographic management systems that were available “out of the box” for free.

In the end, the key to DEIMS’ success hinges on Drupal, with its large developer base and architectural flexibility. The Drupal API makes it appealing to both the skilled developer and the web aficionado. This structure, where all new projects hook into and leverage the core (as opposed to existing as monolithic addendums), gives further cohesion to the software and knowledge base of our group.

To read more about DEIMS, please see these peer reviewed papers

  1. Case Studies of Ecological Integrative Information Systems: The Luquillo and Sevilleta Information Management Systems. Communications in Computer and Information Science, 2010, Volume 108, 18-35, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-16552-8_3.

    Resource at:http://www.springerlink.com/content/j183x10588574846/
  1. Metadata Activities in Biology - Journal of Library Metadata, Volume 10, Issue 2 & 3 April 2010 , pages 99 - 118. Resource at:

    http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a928352203~db=all~jumptype=rss

The DEIMS Google code project link is http://code.google.com/p/deims/. This project page contains also a link to the group mailing list, also hosted in Google groups.