Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Figshare Fest 2018

Dan Towns provides us with a report from Figshare Fest 2018, attended by a range of institutional repository and research data managers from across the world.

Why am I here?

At Loughborough University we have been working with Figshare (1) to provide a cloud hosted repository (2) to house the institution’s research outputs (datasets, presentations, diagrams and figures etc.) since 2015. At the same time the University’s ‘Institutional Repository’ (3) for publications (Journal articles, conference papers, book chapters etc.) has been hosted locally using an instance of DSpace (4).

This DSpace instance has become more than a little long in the tooth and the University recently went out to tender to replace that system. The winner of that exercise was Figshare and so we are now gradually working towards both publications and research data appearing in the one repository.

When I joined the team looking after library systems in IT Services the purpose of both DSpace and Figshare were explained to me. The arrangement of having two separate repositories provide what appeared to be very similar functions seemed odd to me and so I find the idea of moving to one repository appealing.

And so this is how we answer that question posed back at the start, why did I attend Figshare Fest 2018? My boss had spoken highly of the inaugural event 3 years earlier (5), so when presented with the opportunity to head to Figshare Towers in London for a conference I jumped at the chance to learn more and meet other people from other institutions to hear their insights.

The location

Figshare are located on the 7th floor of Kings Place a short 5-minute walk from St. Pancras. You know you have found the right location when are greeted at the door by the CEO and Founder of the company. Mark Hahnel was directing traffic to the correct location and advising on where to get a cup of the hot stuff.

On the subject of coffee, I have to admit to a fair amount of jealousy when it comes to the Digital Science (6) offices hosted by WeWork. There can’t be many offices boasting their own barista making coffee to order.

The conference part 1 – Before lunch

Armed with a steaming hot americano I settled in for the start of the conference. Mark had swapped his meet and greet guy hat for his CEO and Founder hat and gave the opening talk centred on updates of activities within Figshare. It was clear to me from Mark’s talk that he isn’t a CEO who has been installed to run a technology company but rather having founded the company and coming from an academic background he understands the area his company is working in very well indeed. Mark discussed at length what lies ahead for the product with one area of particular interest to us Loughborough folks being the development work to make Figshare a more viable product for operating as an Institutional Repository.

Mark Hahnel’s opening presentation at Figshare Fest 2018, photo by Alan Hyndman

Following the opening Figshare update we moved on to discussing data curation for repositories which included some interesting debate about how to handle curating data from co-authors based at different institutions both using Figshare.

This was followed by an introduction to FAIR Data by Luiz Bonino, International Technology Coordinator of Go Fair (7). The FAIR principles, standing for Finadable Accessible Interoperable Reusable, were first published in 2016 as a set of guidelines intended to be used for the management and stewardship of scientific data (8).

Luiz talked us all through the various things that can be done to meet the FAIR principles such as using unique persistent identifiers and describing data with rich metadata which includes the persistent identifier. Some time was given over to discussing how Figshare could be used to help meet these principles.

Our final session before lunch was a whistle-stop tour of the public development roadmap for Figshare by Chris Blumzon. So keen was Chris to get through all the items he wanted to talk about that he had to be told to stop and breath at one point. We got to hear about the great many things in the pipeline from the Figshare development team such as the minting of handles, a new improved admin area, custom item types, faceted searching, custom and private metadata, comment moderation and custom thumbnails to mention a few of the things we can potentially expect to see arriving over the next 12 months.

The conference part 2 – After lunch

After lunch and another visit to see the barista, the first part of the afternoon was given over to case studies of how various institutions are using Figshare. This was kicked off by Loughborough University’s own Research Data Manager Dr. Gareth Cole who gave a presentation on how we are preparing to use Figshare as our institutional Repository.

Other case study presentations were made by Middlesex University and Carnegie Mellon University. Listening to David Scherer from Carnegie talk about "Kilthub" (9) it was clear that they have faced and are facing many of the same challenges that we are finding here at Loughborough.

The second part of that afternoon was taken up by my highlight of the day. Jan Willem Tulp from the eponymous TULP interactive (10) gave an almost hypnotic presentation on visualising data. He showcased some of the projects he has worked on taking raw data and turning it into an interactive visual representation. These included Trillions of Trees for Nature (11), Coral and Fish for Figshare (12) and the fascinating ESA Star Mapper (13).

I would highly recommend visiting not just those projects but also the others linked to from his website. They are great illustration of how, with the right skill set and a not inconsiderable amount of imagination, huge data sets can be turned into something informative, engaging and visually stunning.

Jan also shared with the group some of the process he goes through in developing the visualisations, showing us that it was very much an iterative process to find what looks good and what works. It was clear this often takes a good deal of thought and experimentation.

Afterwards I spoke with Jan about the technology he used to create his visualisations as his presentation left me wanting to have a go at trying to build a visualisation myself.

Visualisation of Coral and Fish populations, picture from tulpinteractive.com

The conference proper was closed by a keynote on “Undiscovered Openness” from Dr. Erinma Ochu, Lecturer in Science Communication and Future Media at The University of Salford. Her talk was introduced by Alan Hyndman whilst holding a pint of cider and he also included the somewhat distracting announcement that whilst the barista had finished for the day the beer and cider taps now had been turned on (WeWork offices come with a feature they call “Craft on Draft” which means later in the day you can enjoy a pint at your desk!).

The conference part 3 – Après Conference

After the conclusion of the closing keynote Alan Hyndman announced that Mark Hahnel would now lead the way to the pub. I dutifully followed and discovered the pub was on the ground floor of the same building. Suffice to say I was very glad I had booked an open return to Derby and very much enjoyed the company and a drink or two.

In conclusion

I have to say that the conference was a very enjoyable and interesting experience for me. I had the opportunity to meet a great many people from other institutions and hear about their experiences. Much of the time I found myself listening to what was being discussed rather than actively taking part but this is mostly down do not being involved in the day to day operation of a repository. As is no doubt already apparent the part of the conference I found most interesting came from Jan Tulp and his data visualisations. This may be because of my history of working in IT on databases but I think no matter what your background you would have been hard pushed not to find that subject engaging.

Hopefully I will be able to get a pass to attend Figshare Fest 2019.


  1. Figshare https://figshare.com/
  2. Loughborough Figshare instance https://lboro.figshare.com/
  3. Loughborough DSpace instance https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/
  4. DSpace https://duraspace.org/dspace/
  5. Brewerton, G., 2015. Figshare Fest 2015. Ariadne, 75. http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue/75/brewerton
  6. Digital Science https://www.digital-science.com/
  7. Go FAIR https://www.go-fair.org/
  8. Wilkinson, M.D., Dumontier, M., Aalbersberg, I.J., Appleton, G., Axton, M., Baak, A., Blomberg, N., Boiten, J.W., da Silva Santos, L.B., Bourne, P.E. and Bouwman, J., 2016. The FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management and stewardship. Scientific data, 3. https://doi.org/10.1038/sdata.2016.18
  9. Carnegie Mellon – Kilthub https://www.library.cmu.edu/kilthub/about
  10. TULP Interactive http://tulpinteractive.com/
  11. Ehrenberg, R., 2015. Trillions of trees. Nature News, 525(7568), p.170. https://doi.org/10.1038/525170a"
  12. Coral and Fish https://knowledge.figshare.com/noaa/
  13. ESA Star Mapper http://sci.esa.int/star_mapper/