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Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI)

The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) seeks to improve the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders by driving research efforts.

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Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI)

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Project Outline:


Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) works to "provide the scientific community and the informed public with up-to the-minute news about autism research"; "to provide commentary written by foundation staff and invited scientists that synthesizes various areas of research"; "to make important results accessible to all; to create forums to teach and clarify concepts and to welcome all disciplines to the discussions."

These goals go hand-in-hand with the tools available to researchers and the community, so SFARI partnered with Six Feet Up and Abstract Edge, one of our web strategy and design partners, to relaunch  SFARI had a wide variety of user audiences to cater to including scientists, clinicians, researchers, students, and families affected by autism. By identifying and structuring an intuitive navigation structure on the site, users can easily reach content that is pertinent to their needs and interests.

Existing tools were enhanced and new tools were developed by utilizing Plone 4's unique features.
A significant time saver was utilizing transmogrifier pipeline to migrate existing content rather than transferring by hand.  In addition, SFARI's custom OpenID solution was integrated into Plone 4 to allow one time login access across's multiple platforms: SFARI website (Plone), SFARI Wiki (MoinMoin), and SFARI Forum (Vanilla).



Wiki - SFARI WIKI offers the ability for live collaboration to provide an up-to-date, searchable reference about concepts in autism research. The SFARI WIKI was setup with MoinMoin, a Python WikiEngine, allowing for authorized users to create and edit wiki pages via their web browser.  Researchers and collaborators can create pages that include text, images, links, and various media.  Wiki pages are searchable within, making them accessible to the community and public alike.  Revisions of wiki pages are stored letting users go back to view the data transformation over time.

Discussion Forums - also needed to provide a virtual members' community for users to post questions, discuss areas of research between disciplines and share research before publication. Forums were provided via Vanilla for its customization and email subscription abilities.  Members can subscribe to "My Discussions", "My Bookmarks", "My Comments" and receive notifications when a comment or reply has been posted.  Restricting access to only members was one more feature allowing cross-discipline discussions to further research.

Comments - The foundation also wished to develop a method for invited guest commentators and their staff to be involved in the discussion.  Implementing and ReCaptcha allows for commenting on news and blog articles while limiting the potential for spamming. This feature also allows for the public to be involved in the discussion of developing research where insight into a topic is open and free flowing.

PubMed Integration - In order to keep the most up-to-date information on autism research available on, a method was developed using paper types in Plone and cron jobs to pull daily articles and publications from PubMed, an online citation source for biomedical literature.  Every night the newest articles regarding autism (and any other topic wishes to provide) are pulled from the PubMed database and formatted into a template designed for the foundation. Administrators can look through the articles pulled on a daily basis and publish those they feel are critical to research.

Rich Media -  Through the use of collective.easyslideshow and embedly, the site contains rich media elements, such as embedded videos and slideshows to showcase important content in an accessible format. SFARI can easily add these rich media items to any page on the site, creating a richer site experience for their users.

Custom Design - Throughout the site, customized templates were created in Plone to make sure the newest and most recent information was available to the public.  Listing views are applied to sections, such as news, blogs, autism in the arts, etc., that list articles in order of date published.  A related content portlet was also developed to display on news, blogs, etc that offer suggested material that may be of interest to the reader based on the content of the article being read. A custom member profile was created that allows members to maintain their information on the site making it easy for users to connect with others in the community.

Smart Search - Most importantly was ease of access to the material available on, which is why Solr was used to optimize search integration.  Using this highly scalable search platform, five distinct searches were incorporated into the site, including live search, normal search, search filtering, section searching, and "did you mean" search.


Featuring a brand new look and feel, the site offers a rich and interactive experience to users. Optimizing's Wiki, Forums, commenting, information displays and search functions all lead to a successful relaunch.  All of the improved site's features make it possible for researchers, foundation staff, and the public to interact and contribute to autism research, furthuring's goals on a daily basis.

If you would like more information on how we can optimize your online tools, contact Six Feet Up today.

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