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PLOS Computational Biology






Public Library of Science

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Web applications, also known as web apps, are increasingly common in the research communication portfolios of those working in the life sciences (e.g., [1]) and physical sciences (e.g., [2–4]). Web apps help disseminate research findings and present research outputs in ways that are accessible and meaningful to the general public—from individuals, to governments, to companies. Specifically, web apps enable exploration of scenario testing and policy analysis (i.e., to answer “what if?”) as well as coevolution of scientific and public knowledge [5,6]. However, the majority of researchers developing web apps receive little formal training or technical guidance on how to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of their web-based decision support tools. Take some of us for example. We (Saia and Nelson) are agricultural and environmental engineers with little experience in web app development, but we are interested in creating web apps to support sustainable aquaculture production in the Southeast. We had user (i.e., shellfish growers) interest, a goal in mind (i.e., develop a new forecast product and decision support tool for shellfish aquaculturalists), and received funding to support this work. Yet, we experienced several unexpected hurdles from the start of our project that ended up being fairly common hiccups to the seasoned web app developers among us (Parham). As a result, we share the following 10 simple rules, which highlight take-home messages, including lessons learned and practical tips, of our experience as burgeoning web app developers. We hope researchers interested in developing web apps draw insights from our (in)experience as they set out on their decision support tool development journey.