… or not on them? In fact, all of us are members of social networks. We have circles of friends and acquaintances, and we interact with professional colleagues and associates every day. That’s true whether you are a basic or medical researcher, a physician or other healthcare provider, medical writer, educator, whoever. Now think about the traditional ways in which we can and do communicate with our peers: letters (snail mail?), the telephone, formal meetings, informal discussions at work, in the lab, during lunch, on the golf course, at a bar or at a department party.
Of course, technology has made communication easier, faster and farther reaching. There’s a reason that a cell or mobile phone is called a “handy” in many countries. Think about how e-mail has changed everything, or internet data transfer, or public postings of clinical trial protocols and results, or online submission of journal articles. What about the indexing and accessibility of publications? Consider the evolution of Index Medicus, SciSearch or Current Contents from paper to the Web. Consider open access of electronic publications. Got your attention yet?
Now enter Web 2.0; sign on, log in, and interact. The “www” pages, forums, bulletin boards and instant message apps you’d come to know and love have morphed into blogs, wikis and social networks. The venues have changed even faster than the content. You might remember (or Google) Marshall McLuhan who said “the medium is the message.” The medium influences how one perceives the messages that it delivers. People are often more interested in the venue and presentation than the content. Of course, this is all leading to the “elephant in the room”; the Facebooks, MySpaces and others like them. Scientists need “Facebooks,” but social networks for scientists are still new and in their formative stages. Examples of what’s “out there?” Nature Network, ResearchGATE, SciLink, BiomedExperts, Academia.edu, Mendeley, Laboratree, and many, many others.
What does it take for a network to succeed, i.e., to become populated with members who visit often and contribute? Easy to say, difficult to predict. The network has to fulfill a perceived need and it has to do it better than the tools that were previously available. Perceived need is a bit tricky though. It could be something that someone needs, but doesn’t know it yet. Sounds flippant, but may not be so.
So what’s out there now for scientists that’s well populated? LinkedIn is one example – an evolutionary biologist would say that it has generalized (as opposed to specialized) adaptations. Another? Our Biocareers blog – growing fast, and pretty eclectic. Another? Wikipedia.org. Don’t say “no” to that one right away. Lots of its scientific entries are of high quality, it is definitely an interactive, web 2.0 collaboration, and most important, it is self-correcting.
Some thoughts of useful web 2.0 networking tools for scientists: journals that have online peer-review comments for authors plus ongoing author responses. Yes, the authors and reviewers can still be anonymous and the editor can moderate. Sort of a blog descendant, and it would be faster and more efficient than the current e-mail based system. Other ideas? Well, I’ll leave that up to you.
Cheers until next time,
Clement Weinberger, PhD