Facebooks for scientists – they’re breeding like rabbits!
I promised some of you I would do this a while ago and I simply haven’t got to it. But enough of the excuses. There has been a huge number of launches in the past few months of sites and services that are intended to act as social network sites for scientists. These join a number of older services including Nature Network, OpenWetWare, and others. My concern is that with so many sites in the same space there is a risk none of them will succeed because the user community will be too diluted. I am currently averaging around three emails a week, all from different sites, suggesting I should persuade more people to sign up.
What I would like to do is attempt a critical and comprehensive analysis of the sites and services available as part of an exercise in thinking about how we might rationally consolidate this area, and how we might enable the work that has gone into building these services be used effectively to build the ‘next generation’ of sites. All of these sites have good features and it would be a shame to see them lost. I also don’t want to see people discouraged from building new and useful tools. I just want to see this work.
My dream would be to see an open source framework with an open data model that allows people to move their data from one place to another depending on what features they want. Then the personal networks can spread through the communities of all of these sites rather than being restricted to one, and the community can help build features that they want. As someone else said ‘Damnit, we’re scientists, we hold the stuff of the universe in our hands’ – can’t we have a think about what the best way to do this is?
What I want to do with this post is try to put together a comprehensive list of sites and services, including ones that get heavy scientific use but are not necessarily designed for scientists. I will miss many so please comment to point this out and I will add them. Then I want to try and put together a list of criteria as to how we might compare and contrast. Again please leave comments feel free to argue. I don’t expect this to necessarily be an easy or straightforward process, and I don’t expect to get complete agreement. But I am worried if things are just left to run that none of these sites will get the amount of support that is needed to make them viable.
So here goes.
Stability: funding, infrastructure, uptime, scalability, slashdot resistance, long term personnel committment
Architecture: open data model? ability to export data? compatibility with other sites? plugins? rss?
Design: user interface, ‘look’, responsiveness
Features: what features do you think are important? I don’t even want to start putting my own predjudices here.
How to take this forward?
Comment here or at Friendfeed, or anywhere else, but if you can please tag the page with Fb4Sci. I have put up a GoogleDoc which is visible at http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dhs5x5kr_572hccgvcct (current just contains this post). If you want access drop me an email at cam eron ney lon (no spaces) at googlemail (not gmail) and I will give anyone who requests editing rights. Comment and contributions from the development teams is welcome but I expect everyone to make a conflict of interest declaration. Mine is:
I blog at OpenWetWare and use the wiki extensively. I have been known to ring into steering committee meetings and have discussed specific features with the development team. I am an irregular user of Nature Network and a regular user of Friendfeed and Twitter. I have a strong bias towards open data models and architectures.