An open letter to the developers of Social Network and ‘Web 2.0’ tools for scientists
My aim is to email this to all the email addresses that I can find on the relevant sites over the next week or so, but feel free to diffuse more widely if you feel it is appropriate.
I am writing to ask your support in undertaking a critical analysis of the growing number of tools being developed that broadly fall into the category of social networking or collaborative tools for scientists. There has been a rapid proliferation of such tools and significant investment in time and effort for their development. My concern, which I wrote about in a recent blog post (here), is that the proliferation of these tools may lead to a situation where, because of a splitting up of the potential user community, none of these tools succeed.
One route forward is to simply wait for the inevitable consolidation phase where some projects move forward and others fail. I feel that this would be missing an opportunity to critically analyse the strengths and weaknesses of these various tools, and to identify the desirable characteristics of a next generation product. To this end I propose to write a critical analysis of the various tools, looking at architecture, stability, usability, long term funding, and features. I have proposed some criteria and received some comments and criticisms of these. I would appreciate your views on what the appropriate criteria are and would welcome your involvement in the process of writing this analysis. This is not meant as an attack on any given service or tool, but as a way of getting the best out of the development work that has already taken place, and taking the opportunity to reflect on what has worked and what has not in a collaborative and supportive fashion.
I will also be up front and say that I have an agenda on this. I would like to see a portable and agreed data model that would enable people to utilise the best features of all these services without having to rebuild their network within each site. This approach is very much part of the data portability agenda and would probably have profound implications for the design architecture of your site. My feeling, however, is that this would be the most productive architectural approach. It does not mean that I am right of course and I am prepared to be convinced otherwise if the arguments are strong.
I hope you will feel free to take part in this exercise and contribute. I do believe that if we take a collaborative approach then it will be possible to identify the features and range of services that the community needs and wants. Please comment at the blog post or request access to the GoogleDoc where we propose to write up this analysis.