Research Institutions in the field of the Geo-Sciences own extensive archives of data that if not managed and valued can revert to be a problem rather that an asset. We will here report on a perspective, which hinges on investing data with the role of attractor of new scientific collaborations and therefore could increase the scientific rating, and possible funding, of the institution that will adopt it. We will consider the example of Exploration Seismic data which has several peculiarities that prevent a direct application of the common paradigms for data access based on data downloading, but of course the view can be extended to other disciplines.
Seismic data are very expensive to acquire, process and use. Data collectors therefore prefer to use them within the scope of their institution or only within local collaborative work with partners that they fully trust. The hinge of this problem is how data can be accessed. The common practice offers eventually a downloading service. But once downloaded, there is no way, for the data owner, to protect its holdings. Data protection can be guaranteed only if data is not physically moved or copied from the owner's archive. To access data, it is now possible to build a web based system that allows remote access to the data to external users in a transparent but owner-controlled manner. This system must provide tools commonly employed while analyzing data, which especially in the case of seismic data, introduces several technical problems related to file size, bandwidth and again the sensitivity of the handled data. To balance the server workload in mapping and data visualization and to optimize the bandwidth usage, it is possible to develop a mixed server side/client side paradigm where positioning, not being sensitive nor cumbersome can be sent to the remote client as vector graphics (SVG) and there rendered, while the seismic data are viewed server side only. Prototypes have been already tested and show good results especially from the user perceived system performance point of view, but we cannot stop there. Science is a social construct where besides the access to the primary source, which is data itself, it is necessary to provide a space for negotiation and referencing (secondary sources as scientific papers or reports) .
The first issue can be achieved embedding a messaging system, that becoming centralized will also overcome all the limitations of the common e-mail based collaborative practices (as file size limit, duplication, inconsistent file naming, lack of a shared search tool). the second can be incorporated through a shared file repository and tagged linking database. The tool resulting from the combination of data access, negotiation and referencing can be referred as a Collaborative laboratory or Col-laboratory. Each institution offering a col-laboratory will have, this way, the possibility to balance the opportunities of collaboration with the problem of protecting their assets.