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An open letter to the developers of Social Network and ‘Web 2.0’ tools for scientists

6 August 2008 9 views 18 Comments

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.

Dear Developer(s)

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.

Yours sincerely,

Cameron Neylon

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  • http://mndoci.com/ Deepak

    Especially a community that isn’t large enough. If it is fragmented you pretty much lose any advantage you get from network effects.

  • http://mndoci.com Deepak

    Especially a community that isn’t large enough. If it is fragmented you pretty much lose any advantage you get from network effects.

  • http://network.nature.com/blogs/user/rpg/ rpg

    Just to let you know I’ve posted a headsup at NN.

  • http://network.nature.com/blogs/user/rpg/ rpg

    Just to let you know I’ve posted a headsup at NN.

  • http://MolecularEngineer.blogspot.com/ Roozbeh sanaei

    there are many forums in biochemistry (and in any other topic)

    http://www.scienceforums.net/

    http://biowww.net/

    http://www.molecularstation.com

    … and many others that i dont know!!!

    if i have a question, do i have to send my question to each of them one by one is there any better way?

    Just see number of unanswered question in internet forums that i am sure that there are many people in the world that know their answers and like to help but they dont know that there is such question unanswered.

    Another example i have a problem and i want to solve it with OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE. there are many programs very similar that each of them only solves one part of my problem, have i to learn all of them?. then i prefer to write my code by my self. is it any better solution for this one.

    I want to know which labs in the world work on special topic, each of them use different keyword for that topic, i cant view all of them, what i should do?

    I want to review some topic and there are many review papers. I have to read many of them and most of their parts are similar. is there any way to prevent this?

    I want to know application of “QUANTOM DOTS”? there are more than 10000 paper about them. i dont want to rely only on citation, what i should do?

    If you find a way for more integrative work the result is HUGE!

    MOST INTERESTING ASPECT OF WIKIPEDIA IS COLLOBRATIVE WORKS DONE, otherwise you can find anything in wikipedia also in google but it takes long time.

  • http://MolecularEngineer.blogspot.com Roozbeh sanaei

    there are many forums in biochemistry (and in any other topic)

    http://www.scienceforums.net/

    http://biowww.net/

    http://www.molecularstation.com

    … and many others that i dont know!!!

    if i have a question, do i have to send my question to each of them one by one is there any better way?

    Just see number of unanswered question in internet forums that i am sure that there are many people in the world that know their answers and like to help but they dont know that there is such question unanswered.

    Another example i have a problem and i want to solve it with OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE. there are many programs very similar that each of them only solves one part of my problem, have i to learn all of them?. then i prefer to write my code by my self. is it any better solution for this one.

    I want to know which labs in the world work on special topic, each of them use different keyword for that topic, i cant view all of them, what i should do?

    I want to review some topic and there are many review papers. I have to read many of them and most of their parts are similar. is there any way to prevent this?

    I want to know application of “QUANTOM DOTS”? there are more than 10000 paper about them. i dont want to rely only on citation, what i should do?

    If you find a way for more integrative work the result is HUGE!

    MOST INTERESTING ASPECT OF WIKIPEDIA IS COLLOBRATIVE WORKS DONE, otherwise you can find anything in wikipedia also in google but it takes long time.

  • http://usefulchem.blogspot.com Jean-Claude Bradley

    There are also consolidation tools like FriendFeed that unite disparate info feeds, as we have both experienced.

    If you are referring to the communication of protocols and experimental data, yes it would be nice to have some portable formats. The acid test for these standards (for me at least) will be if they can represent the data from your lab notebook and mine sufficiently well to be practically usable.

  • http://usefulchem.blogspot.com/ Jean-Claude Bradley

    There are also consolidation tools like FriendFeed that unite disparate info feeds, as we have both experienced.

    If you are referring to the communication of protocols and experimental data, yes it would be nice to have some portable formats. The acid test for these standards (for me at least) will be if they can represent the data from your lab notebook and mine sufficiently well to be practically usable.

  • http://humans.scienceboard.net/ Alethea

    Yes, this quote is the most critical for me, a poor user and not a developer: “enable people to utilise the best features of all these services without having to rebuild their network within each site”. What a waste of time, this non-portable network building! I just started using Facebook because I was essentially forced to, in order to access certain information from a less-connected point of contact. Now that I have made that time investment, do I want to change? No way! And I had also invested in FriendFeed (but without seeing a lot of difference with Facebook except in presentation – perhaps Jean-Claude or someone else could point me to some of the advantages of FF over Facebook? support of more 3rd party applications?), and before that, Nature Network, Science Advisory Board, OpenWetWare of course… and I’m supposed to be conducting research in between all of this. I’d be happy to volunteer my services and my connections to take the temperature of “what do (basic life) scientists really want?” for any developers who answer this letter.

  • http://humans.scienceboard.net Alethea

    Yes, this quote is the most critical for me, a poor user and not a developer: “enable people to utilise the best features of all these services without having to rebuild their network within each site”. What a waste of time, this non-portable network building! I just started using Facebook because I was essentially forced to, in order to access certain information from a less-connected point of contact. Now that I have made that time investment, do I want to change? No way! And I had also invested in FriendFeed (but without seeing a lot of difference with Facebook except in presentation – perhaps Jean-Claude or someone else could point me to some of the advantages of FF over Facebook? support of more 3rd party applications?), and before that, Nature Network, Science Advisory Board, OpenWetWare of course… and I’m supposed to be conducting research in between all of this. I’d be happy to volunteer my services and my connections to take the temperature of “what do (basic life) scientists really want?” for any developers who answer this letter.

  • http://lukeskywaran.blogspot.com/2008/07/previously-blogging-about-smart-tools.html Luke

    I think it is absolutely sensible to collectively address the above problem. it is quite evident that there are mushroom growth of such tools and services. for the benefit of every one it is good that there is an under current that unify all of us.

  • http://lukeskywaran.blogspot.com/2008/07/previously-blogging-about-smart-tools.html Luke

    I think it is absolutely sensible to collectively address the above problem. it is quite evident that there are mushroom growth of such tools and services. for the benefit of every one it is good that there is an under current that unify all of us.

  • Rachel

    Vadlo is a cool search engine for scientists, with great cartoons and powerpoint search!

  • Rachel

    Vadlo is a cool search engine for scientists, with great cartoons and powerpoint search!

  • Gordon Rae

    Can I suggest you start with a literature review? I don’t know of one, and it would be a very good resource.

    Sukhdev Singh may be a good contact

    http://blog.sukhdevsingh.com/2008/07/open-source-software-in-education.html

  • Gordon Rae

    Can I suggest you start with a literature review? I don’t know of one, and it would be a very good resource.

    Sukhdev Singh may be a good contact

    http://blog.sukhdevsingh.com/2008/07/open-source-software-in-education.html

  • http://openwetware.org/wiki/User:Cameron_Neylon Cameron Neylon

    Is there really enough literature to review? I am only aware of one or two papers that actually look at these kinds of tools for scientists (as opposed to a reasonable number which describe a tool – but then we may as well look at the tool as review the paper). The intention is certainly to write a review of the available tools (as soon as I get on to actually kick starting this)

  • http://openwetware.org/wiki/User:Cameron_Neylon Cameron Neylon

    Is there really enough literature to review? I am only aware of one or two papers that actually look at these kinds of tools for scientists (as opposed to a reasonable number which describe a tool – but then we may as well look at the tool as review the paper). The intention is certainly to write a review of the available tools (as soon as I get on to actually kick starting this)