WeFold is an experiment designed to compete and collaborate within CASP. We began discussing and preparing the WeFold gateway in 2011 but the project’s blueprint was pretty much undefined until the first day of CASP10. In May 2012 the WeFold participants logged in into the WeFold gateway and started the real discussion about how to combine the different components of their protein structure prediction pipelines into new pipelines.

After the official CASP10 results were released, we spent several months analyzing them and concluded that the mix-and-match methods that we collaboratively generated produced improvements relative to the base methods in a statistically significant manner. In fact, we were impressed that the combination of methods that were not optimized to work with each other, could achieve peak performance for certain CASP10 targets in both tertiary structure and refinement categories.

When we were in the first stages of the WeFold paper preparation (I’m very excited to report that we submitted it last week!!!), I read a New York Times article by Thomas Friedman entitled “Collaborate vs. Collaborate” [1]. The article describes how the industry uses coopetition, which refers to cooperative competition, to thrive in today’s markets and better serve their customers and suggests that the practice should be adopted by Congress to achieve similar results. I immediately adopted the word coopetition to describe what we have done with WeFold: I changed the title of the paper to “WeFold: Large-scale coopetition for protein structure prediction” and change the entire introduction of the paper to emphasize on the coopetition concept.

Last week, George Khoury sent me a paper that gives a comprehensive literature overview on the field of coopetition from a business perspective [2]. One reference in particular got my attention and helped me explain WeFold as a natural consequence of the CASP experiment. In fact, Hu et al. [3] compare business networks with many players or agents that use either strictly competitive or strictly cooperative strategies. They show that in a competitive environment a situation evolves which is in the middle between competition and cooperation and provides the best profit perspectives in the whole system. Their conclusion is that a competitive outset is advantageous for the whole system in comparison with a totally cooperative outset because the former evolves into a coopetition, which is the best of all the approaches. Thus, CASP is the best approach to dealing with a grand challenge and WeFold is the natural byproduct, the natural result of CASP evolution.

Finally, I’d like to make the distinction between the WeFold-style coopetition, which refers to large-scale, open collaboration within a competitive context, and specific, targeted collaborations between 2 or 3 players that sometimes occur, usually between leaders in complementary areas of the same field. To illustrate the difference, I’ll use the Netflix challenge which another WeFolder, Jaume Bacardit, brought to my attention. In 2006, the Netflix Corporation organized a competition in which it challenged the computer science community to develop methods that could beat the accuracy of their movie recommendation system by 10% [4]. It took 3 years for participants to meet the 10% challenge and during that time progress prizes were awarded. Many teams participated achieving an 8% improvement by the end of the first year. However, by year two they reached a plateau where barely any progress was made. Then, some teams began to “blend” resulting in further improvements. This is another example that proves Hu’s theory that a strictly competitive system will likely evolve into a coopetitive one. But the interesting observation here is that initially the blending only included the leaders of the competition and that the resulting teams could not make substantial progress. It was the collaboration between the leaders and the most outlying teams, i.e., also-rans, that made them won. This unlikely collaboration proved to be key towards the end of the competition because the combined approaches captured effects that the mainstream ones had neglected [5,6].

With this in mind, I’d like to invite all the CASP participants as well as those non-CASP participants who have interesting ideas and methods to share to join the WeFolders for another experiment in coopetition that we’ll call WeFold2.

Talk to you soon!


1. Friedman, T. L. “Collaborate vs. Collaborate”, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/opinion/sunday/friedman-collaborate-vs-collaborate.html?_r=0
2. Stein, H.D. “Literature Overview on the Field of Co-opetition”, Business: Theory and Practive 11 (3): 256-265, 2010.
3. Hu, Y., Houdet, J. and Duong T. “A Multi-Agent Model of Cooperative and Competitive Strategies in Supply Chain”, Journal of Fudan University, Shangai 9(1):873-879, 2008.
4. Bennett J. and Lanning S. The Netflix Prize. Proceedings of KDD Cup and Workshop 2007, San Jose, California, Aug 12, 2007.
5. Buskirk E.V. “How the Netflix Prize Was Won”, Wired 2009. http://www.wired.com/business/2009/09/how-the-netflix-prize-was-won/
6. Lohr S. “Netflix Competitors Learn the Power of Teamwork”, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/28/technology/internet/28netflix.html?_r=3&