Commentary: The sad tale of MutaDATABASE

The problem of bioinformatics web resources dying or moving is well known. It has been quantified in two interesting papers by Jonathan Wren entitled “404 not found: the stability and persistence of URLs published in MEDLINE” and “URL decay in MEDLINE — a 4-year follow-up study”. There is also a discussion on the topic at Biostar.

The resources discussed in these papers at least existed in an operational form at the time of publication, even if they have since perished. The same cannot be said about MutaDATABASE, which in 2011 was published in Nature Biotechnology as a correspondence entitled “MutaDATABASE: a centralized and standardized DNA variation database”. Fellow blogger Neil Saunders was quick to pick up on the fact that this database was an empty shell, but generously gave the authors the benefit of the doubt in his closing statement:

Who knows, MutaDatabase may turn out to be terrific. Right now though, it’s rather hard to tell. The database and web server issues of Nucleic Acids Research require that the tools described be functional for review and publication. Apparently, Nature Biotechnology does not.

Now, almost five years after the original publication, I think it is fair to follow up. Unfortunately, MutaDATABASE did not turn out to be terrific. Instead, it turned out just not to be. In March 2014, about three years after the publication, www.mutadatabase.org looked like this:
MutaDATABASE in 2014

By the end of 2015, the website had mutated into this:
MutaDATABASE in 2015

To quote Joel Spolsky: “Shipping is a feature. A really important feature. Your product must have it.” This also applies to biological databases and other bioinformatics resources, which is why journals would be wise never to publish any resource without this crucial feature.

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