How To Get Scientists To Embrace Web-based Networking Technologies.

If you were looking for an answer to that up there, you’ve come to the wrong blog. I’m totally messing with you. PSYCH!

Seriously. I’m banging my head against that one, and I was reminded of my frustration about this in a post put up a few days ago from my blogging brother-in-arms Drugmonkey. I’ve been ruminating on that particular post for about three days now. At issue is a whole lot of grant money being spent to develop a web-based social networking technology for scientists.

I SO agree with DM that spending buckets full … entire banks full of federal grant dough…on inventing a whole new system so that scientists can network with each other seems pretty looney. The technology for people to network with each other across the web is out there, and I know that if you are reading this blog- it is highly likely that you are savvy to this already. Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, FriendFeed, Linkedin, …and Google for EVERYONE (and others I am undoubtedly  forgetting, and I’m not linking I know you people can use google to find those web addresses)!.  These sites have this networking thing DOWN, tons of users, and been out there on the web for quite some time. My gosh, if you can find your mother’s uncle’s ex-wife’s daughter’s third husband that you lost touch with in 1980 on Facebook… surely you can find (and network with) that guy you met at the Gordon Conference that works on the importance of the 52nd amino acid in your favorite protein. Right?  Maybe he could have all his protocols and all his clinical collaborators listed on one of the sidebars? So that inventing a web networking tool for scientists thing… kind of seems like re-inventing the wheel to me already….seems smarter and faster to adapt existing networking technologies to ‘fit’ scientists…

But here is the problem with scientists and social networking- it is just like DM said they don’t understand or see the usefulness of it. Mention that you use Facebook or Twitter or Google Reader even (and that’s not even networking!) or heaven forbid… that you BLOG-  to your faculty colleagues, and you’ll be met with a bunch of blank stares.  This will be rapidly followed by comments on how your faculty colleagues would not want to, or have time to, read on Twitter about that ham sandwich XYZ person ate for lunch. I hear myself explaining for the 16 thousandth time that I’ve never read about what anyone ate for lunch on twitter… it DEPENDS if you follow the kind of people who post about their lunch, or not. You could always follow the kinds of people who post interesting techniques or papers that you care about… I’m just sayin’..

Anyway- your faculty colleagues have this mind-set not because they are not smart or savvy or whatever… simply because they aren’t convinced of the usefulness of social networking, or other kinds of web-based communication, like this to their career/project/lab etc. I’m telling you though- if there was a place on the web that I could hang out with a bunch of glycobiologists that work on O-antigen, or techie geeks who do biology in high throughput with robots and computers, or people who develop databases and tools to handle large quantities of various kinds of data… you wouldn’t be able to drag me away. I’m totally down with those topics and I want to talk to other people who are too. Web based social networking can connect me to all of those different kinds of people quickly and all at once… and that works infinitely better for me than having to contact people that might have the right expertise one at a frickin’ time.

So- if you all are sold-… how do we sell the other 99% of the scientific community on the uses and benefits of web based social networking to them. This is our challenge.  I say we all write editorials and opinion pieces for our society publications… to do a bit of re-educatin’

P.S.: And as an aside- we shouldn’t forget those ‘networking’ areas directed specifically toward scientists… even journals have their sites… like Nature Network…like PLOS (you can set up an account here and have a profile, but it is not really networking… far as I remember) and the PLOS blog… and even the societies are getting in the game now-… the American Society for Microbiology has its own site now called ASM Community,

P.P.S:  There is a brief related Post over at NeuroScoop.

P.P.P.S: Sorry for the lack of proper linkage in this post… I’m tired!!


21 thoughts on “How To Get Scientists To Embrace Web-based Networking Technologies.

  1. a really neat site one of my friends has started is journalfire … the idea is to have an open network to discuss journal articles etc. you should try it! i’m trying to use it to discuss papers with other students in my group and my field around the country.

  2. I am also a member of ASM, and even joined their social network. While I hope otherwise, I can’t imagine that its going to have a huge explosion of users. It is a fully functional bit of software, but technical completeness doesn’t create a community. For evidence of this, see all the other of public networks of scientists that are gaining no traction (which is a horse I’ve seen DM beat more than once). People don’t want another login to remember and they don’t want to do the work of re-creating their social network yet again.

    From the little I know of web application programming, I think societies need to leverage the clear winners of social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, maybe Google) to gain eyeballs and attention, and create a space where there is real value added.

    Their web-application needs to have an OpenID, OpenAuth, or Facebook Connect type login so people can use their preferred login information and not have to remember yet another username/password.

    Societies need to have real value-added “stuff” in their system. Maybe giving them your Society member ID populates a list of all the society meetings you’ve attended. Maybe you can watch exclusive videos or audio or transcripts for the meetings you attended. Maybe you can see all the abstracts you presented. Maybe you can see who else from your institution is presenting at meetings you might go to. They could show you other Members at your institution that have recently presented or otherwise been recognized. They should let you know which of your facebook friends/LinkedIn contacts are also Society members, or at least let you tell them about it.

    Finally, they need to feed some of this back to the core social network, through facebook applications or other mechanisms. If I register an abstract, I want it to show up in my facebook feed saying “Brian is attending ICAAC, read his abstract here”. If register for the general meeting, I want it to show up on my feed effortlessly. If my friends are signing up for meetings, I want to see it on my home page. If I’m looking to share a hotel room, I should be able to post that on FB, or maybe share it with only society members at my institutions through a direct message.

    Societies need to realize that on the web, LinkedIn and Facebook are the hubs, and societies need to focus their applications on their, but they don’t need to give everything away to the hub, because the hubs will inevitably change.

    Dear Lazyweb, please make this happen!

  3. At a recent faculty meeting, we were discussing ways in which we can increase our program’s visibility and I was adamant that the first thing we needed to do was to revamp the website as it’s out of date and doesn’t have intuitive links through the main college site. My colleagues didn’t agree as, according to them, if you go directly to the site using the url you have bookmarked, everything is fine. Grrrr.

    I also suggested that we needed to take advantage of the fact that most/all of our current students and potential students use Facebook and I was met with blank stares. I even offered to set it up. The subsequent question was “how much does the Facebook software cost and where would we get the cds?” Sigh. There was no point trying to explain other things like Twitter and blogs at that point.

  4. This is why I joined LinkedIn – it is set up to do most of what we as scientists would want in a (professional) social networking site. But so far it’s been a disappointing experience. Mostly because so few people (relatively) use it…

    If you use TripIt on LinkedIn you can set it up to to do many of the travel-related things you’ve mentioned. Not all, but many. And it has a useful app for the iPhone if you have one.

    And no, I have no financial interests in LinkedIn or TripIt.

  5. Brian and PiT- Excellent suggestions.

    PiT- I feel your pain on web pages- unfortunately I feel that faculty/dept/college web pages are woefully bad (and C PP will no doubt slam me for making a sweeping generalization…)… and barely anyone updates their content reliably- because for those that don’t blog (and thus don’t understand how easy, easy, easy this is) you have to go through 9 levels of administrative hell to get something changed. BUT- I agree with you that this is incredibly important- it is your departments public face to the world. And if you can’t control that, what CAN you control??!!

    Brian- You are speaking my language. I’ve been experimenting with facebook mostly for personal reasons- and I’d love to make a cross over to being there for professional reasons as well. The societies are there- but not in a way that really works right now for more than just being part of the group. It would be great if on my facebook page I could have a separate section for sciencey type things, and could populate that with different content and tabs than my other stuff on facebook. Then there is the question of separate audiences. I love your idea about meeting lists and content.

  6. Thanks so much for the shout-out!

    I think that we should take advantage of the established social networking sites that are already on the web. I’m an avid Facebook and Twitter user (and, yes, it makes all the difference if you follow the right people!). I utilize my Google reader and I have a LinkedIn account. That’s four different websites already that I check regularly! Having one more for science related topics might push me over the edge LOL! The list features on Facebook and now Twitter are indispensable and can be used to separate family from fellow scientists etc.

    But still the question I keep pondering is ‘why’? Why not use FB and/or Twitter? Is it an elitist attitude toward these things? I invited the two speakers for the seminar we had earlier this week … although many of the people in attendance didn’t even have social media accounts, many of those who do rarely update or use them.

    And then what’s up with – maybe it’s ‘BioMedNet’ or something? – that has accounts for many of us that we didn’t even create? They have our publications listed, our education, etc.

  7. I guess think of it this way: when we youngsters get* into TT positions and are throwing down our own hott science, we’ll be more privy to using networking utilities, since we’ve grown up with the intertubez. Most of us have had facebook since we received our college email accounts (but that’s changed, since I have 13yr old cousins on fb.. don’t get me STARTED on how wrong that is!).

    Maybe I’m just delusional, but things will definitely change.

    We need ONE science-oriented facebook-like social networking utility. Facebook has been successful by giving a lot of leeway with user-created content. It’s a one-stop shop.

    Alright, I need to get back to killing off this GRFP…. grrr…

    *given there isn’t a H1N1-induced zombie apocalypse

  8. Here is the thing, I don’t want to FB friend the random guy that I met at the Gordan Conference. It is weird, and socially awkward. I am not inclined to overshare, but FB is a forum for family and friends. I think there is definitely a need for a distinct professional network for scientists. Linked in might be usable, but it isn’t really ideally suited to the needs of scientists. I have been using, and I have been very happy with it. Everyone, go check it out!

  9. Yolio- You are right not to want your business life and personal life to mix on facebook. I don’t like that either. A certain amount of mixing is OK, but would I want the Dean of my college on my facebook account, with my mother and my high school friends. Ah, no. But- you can have facebook accounts under different names (or different permutations of the same name), right? One for business, one for everything else. OR- even better – if you could have a separate functionality on facebook to admit people to different groups- so that they only saw personal stuff or business stuff (they could be facebook colleagues for example, instead of ‘friends’..). There is a facebook groups function, but so far as I can tell it allows you to divide your current friends into groups- not maintain separate categories of friends.

    Google groups is sort of more along those lines but you have to set up all the pages and things you want yourself…

  10. But- you can have facebook accounts under different names (or different permutations of the same name), right?

    whut????!!!! but…..but….that sounds like you are advocating….sock puppetry double doc!!!

  11. DM- No, what I meant (most innocently) was if you don’t want business and personal to mix- use your real name on two accounts- but differentiate them somehow- (middle initial on one, and not the other, with same first and last – whatever)- not different identities. Then sort business under 1 and personal under the other. I wouldn’t call that sock puppetry….. since there is no intended deception, or really any deception at all. Do you not think that is ok DM?

  12. Double Doc, DM is just jesting with you about sockpuppetry. He’s like that.

    But I’ve gotta say that having two accounts each with real-name and blog-name for FB, Twitter, etc. is more than I can keep up with. Even my Mom knows to follow Abel Pharmboy if she really wants to know what’s going on in my life.

    Re the dept webpages, PiT: this is why so many investigators have a separate, non-institutional lab page that they update regularly (as are virtually all of those from a 2007 competition in The Scientist – although one of my favorites from Jenny Nyborg hasn’t been updated since then). You go ahead and link to it via your bedraggled university webpage but most of your Google hits will be via your personal page. Come to think of it, I’d better get cracking on my own now that I’m back in academia.

    I’ve been really dismayed in a slightly different way from PiT: even at a not-junior period of my career, I have trouble convincing some colleagues of the value of blogs and twitter. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is that anything considered non-traditional is a waste of time (I loved DM’s description at his post on how e-mail was viewed by some as a useless communications tool when it first came to the masses).

    For those blog/FB/Twitter denialists who think they understand what we do here at drdrA’s and elsewhere amongst our cohort, there is also a fear among some older colleagues that information cannot be controlled. That we dare question the system. That we dare fight for equal representation of the sexes in science. That we criticize $27 mil going to something we already have.

    Mark my words: the programs that adopt these technologies to communicate, recruit students, and bridge the gap in public understanding of science will be the successful programs of the future. Those uncomfortable with the new media, fearful of truly open discourse, and denigrating to those of us who participate in these already-existing networks will have a really nice lawn but little else.

  13. Abel- This:

    For those blog/FB/Twitter denialists who think they understand what we do here at drdrA’s and elsewhere amongst our cohort, there is also a fear among some older colleagues that information cannot be controlled. That we dare question the system. That we dare fight for equal representation of the sexes in science. That we criticize $27 mil going to something we already have.

    Is just one reason why I love having you around. Seriously.

  14. There is a facebook groups function, but so far as I can tell it allows you to divide your current friends into groups- not maintain separate categories of friends.

    Actually, I was just playing around with this, and from what I can tell, you can do what you’re suggesting this way:

    1. Make lists to put your friends into, which you can categorize anyway you want–“friends” “colleagues” “relatives” etc.
    2. Go into your fb Privacy Settings and click on a category, like “Personal Info”.
    3. You should see a drop-down menu, where you can click “customize”
    4. Then you’ll see an option to “except these people” where you can enter a list.
    5. Voila! The people in your “restricted access” list can only see what you want them to see.

  15. Sorry, I forgot to mention how to make a list. If you click on the “Friends” link at the top of the fb bar, you’ll see a button that says “create new list.” Do that.

  16. Dr. Becca- I’m tryin this, and I go to the privacy settings page, & click on personal info- but I don’t see the drop down menu that allows me to customize… that is where I get stuck! Help!!

  17. Weird!! OK, just to be one million percent clear, you’re clicking in this order:

    Settings (from Home menu bar)
    Privacy Settings (from Settings drop-down menu)
    Then, do you see a list of separate things? Going down it should read “Profile” “Basic Info” “Personal Info” “Status and Links” and “Photos tagged of you”. Each one of these should have a pull-down menu, with “customize” as the bottom choice.

    If you’re doing exactly that and it’s not working, maybe it’s your browser? I tried doing it in both Firefox and Safari just to check, but had no problem with either. Have you let Firefox do its updates lately? I have no idea if that could cause a problem, but otherwise I’m stumped!!

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