File Sharing for Scientists

This post originally appeared on the Software Carpentry website.

A scientist I recently met in Toronto had a problem: how to share large files with colleagues. Each file is a couple of hundred megabytes; dozens are produced each week, but each is only interesting for a couple of months; and there are confidentiality issues, so some kind of password protection is needed. Conventional file-sharing services like Dropbox aren't designed for data that size, so in the end she bought a domain and set up secure FTP.

But now there's this:

BioTorrents: A File Sharing Service for Scientific Data

The transfer of scientific data has emerged as a significant challenge, as datasets continue to grow in size and demand for open access sharing increases. Current methods for file transfer do not scale well for large files and can cause long transfer times. In this study we present BioTorrents, a website that allows open access sharing of scientific data and uses the popular BitTorrent peer-to-peer file sharing technology. BioTorrents allows files to be transferred rapidly due to the sharing of bandwidth across multiple institutions and provides more reliable file transfers due to the built-in error checking of the file sharing technology. BioTorrents contains multiple features, including keyword searching, category browsing, RSS feeds, torrent comments, and a discussion forum. BioTorrents is available at

It's a neat idea, and will become neater once scientists routinely put DOIs on data as well as papers. I'd be very interested in a usability study to see how easy or hard it is for the average grad student in botany to get this plugged in and turned on.

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