Wednesday, January 21, 2009

ScienceOnline'09: Social Networks for Scientists

The final session of the day I attended was on social networks for scientists. As someone who has not embraced most social networks (exceptions being LibraryThing and LinkedIn), and recalling David's intro of BiomedExperts during a reference meeting last year, I was interested to see if the general audience felt that networks specifically for scientists were beneficial or redundant, and how/if they might be useful to our faculty, students and librarians. Cameron Neylon and Deepak Singh did a great job framing the discussion.
  • Facebook helps people find people
  • scientists need to find people therefore it obviously follows that scientists need Facebook
  • so...people want to build a "Facebook for scientists"
  • quick room survey exposes that some people use science-specific social networks but almost entirely Nature Network
  • two issues in usefulness for any social network: critical mass and features
  • Facebook was built around a pre-existing community (Harvard undergrads) but people tend to forget
  • Twitter is standout network that launched on the world without a pre-existing community
  • myExperiment paid people to put stuff on site
  • FriendFeed is relevant for filtering; if people like/comment that item keeps coming to top
  • also useful for finding people with expertise
  • FriendFeed pulls in *everything* friends do online, so recipe for disaster: blog, Flickr, YouTube, Digg, Twitter, etc.
  • Nature Network more like a group of scientists socializing than a social network for scientists
  • fatal flaws I: social networks rely on network effects; no members means no network; if I arrive and no one else is there why come back?; must provide up front value - solve a problem I know I have
  • only a few of the current offerings do this
  • social networks have histories going back to usenet days
  • serendipitous discovery on Google extremely useful
  • do we need social networks for scientists or just use existing such as LinkedIn?
  • CiteULike, Connotea do something better for scientists than Delicious
  • several people use FriendFeed to find others' CiteULike
  • branding as MySpace-like or Facebook-like for scientists backfired
  • may not need to know you have a problem but still needs to solve; barrier for most people is need to do something
  • fatal flaws II: scientists not very social; looking for solutions, not people; data finds data, people find people
  • five guidelines for online services:
    1. tool must solve problem and solution must fit what you're doing
    2. tool must outperform existing tools
    3. must be near 100% reliability
    4. provide at least one killer feature
    5. prepopulate
  • need to be able to take data out when you want to leave or network shuts down
  • site also can't claim copyright on your data/input/contributions
  • BiomedExperts did a good job of prepopulating using existing connections via literature citations
  • Ravelry for knitters, crocheters
  • very much like science in that people connect via materials (yarns) and how they are used
  • not necessarily connecting around people, but yarns, patterns, etc.
  • large number of people, small number of items and agreed upon way of talking about - but this is not true for science/scientists

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