Convergent evolution of scientist behaviour on Web 2.0 sites?
I would add that in my opinion Cameron’s points about FriendFeed apply also to Nature Network. I’ve seen lots of examples of highly specific questions being answered on NN in the way Cameron describes for FF…But NN and FF aren’t the same: they both have the same nice feature of discussion of a partiular question or “article at a URL somewhere”, but they differ in other ways,…[CN- my emphasis]
Alright, in isolation this doesn’t look like much, read through both David’s post and the comments, and then come back to Maxine’s, but what struck me was that on many of these sites many different communities seem to be using very different functionality to do very similar things. In Maxine’s words ‘…discussion of a…paricular URL somewhere…’ And that leads me to wonder the extent to which all of these sites are failing to do what it is that we actually want them to do. And the obvious follow on question: What is it we want them to do?
There seem to be two parts to this. One, as I wrote in my response to David, is that a lot of this is about the coffee room conversation, a process of building and maintaining a social network. It happens that this network is online, which makes it tough to drop into each others office, but these conversational tools are the next best thing. In fact they can be better because they let you choose when someone can drop into your office, a choice you often don’t have in the physical world. Many services; Friendfeed, Twitter, Nature Networks, Faceboo, or a combination can do this quite well – indeed the conversation spreads across many services helping the social network (which bear in mind probably actually has less than 500 total members) to grow, form, and strengthen the connections between people.
Great. So the social bit, the bit we have in common with the general populace, is sorted. What about the science?
I think what we want as scientists is two things. Firstly we want the right URL delivered at the right time to our inbox (I am assuming anything important is a resource on the web – this may not be true now but give it 18 months and it will be) . Secondly we want a rapid and accurate assessment of this item, its validity, its relevance, and its importance to us judged by people we trust and respect. Traditionally this was managed by going to the library and reading the journals – and then going to the appropriate conference and talking to peopl. We know that the volume of material and the speed at which we need to deal with this is way too fast. Nothing new there.
My current thinking is that we are failing in building the right tools because we keep thinking of these two steps as separate when actually combining them into one integrated process would actual provide efficiency gains for both phases. I need to sleep on this to get it straight in my head, there are issues of resource discovery, timeframes, and social network maintenance that are not falling into place for me at the moment, so that will be the subject of another post.
However, whether I am right or wrong in that particular line of thought, if it is true that we are reasonably consistent in what we want then it is not suprising that we try to bend the full range of services available into achieving those goals. The interesting question is whether we can discern what the killer app would be by looking at the details of what people do to different services and where they are failing. In a sense, if there is a single killer app for science then it should be discernable what it would do based on what scientists try to do with different services…