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How to get critical mass? Scifoo Lives on Session on Medicine and Web 2.0

29 August 2007 6 Comments

I attended the session held on Nature Island as part of the Scifoo Lives On series being organised by Jean-Claude Bradley and Bertalan Mesko and wanted to record some of my impressions. The mechanics of the meeting itself were interesting. My initial reaction to the idea of meetings in Second Life was pretty sceptical. My natural inclination would have been to setup some sort of video cast or conference call. However there are advantages to the sense of actually having people milling around (and I apologise to all the people I bumped into or whose slides I inadvertantly changed). It was good to ‘meet’ Jean-Claude if not in the flesh then in the fur and the sense of actually seeing a person or at least a representation makes this somethow seem more natural.

The disadvantage was that as the dialogue is typed and at least on my connection was coming through quite slow it is difficult to have a real conversation. Several times I would start typing a question or comment and by the time I’d got through to the end the conversation seemed to have moved on. Audio would be better and this can be enabled but it would probably have its own problems with people talking over each other. Maybe we would need to learn to put our hands up? The advantage of SL is that it is a single package which once you’ve got working, gives you the slides, the talk, and the questions all in one package. I use video conferencing quite regularly for meetings but there are real issues with ensuring that participants are compatible with the package you are using – in practise it is almost entirely used either for internal (multi-site) meetings or one-to-one meetings via Skype or something similar.

The Scifoo Lives on session itself has been covered by Jean-Claude who also provides a transcript. An issue that came up with several of the posters is how big the community that supports them is or needs to be and how you go about growing that community. Sites that provide a ‘Wikipedia for Medical Information’ or a ‘digg for the bioscience literature’ are laudable efforts. Their succes, like that of other sites featured depends on a large enough community actively contributing to the site and providing added value. Wikipedia ‘works’ (not wishing to get into the argument about accuracy here) because an enormous number of people provide their time freely to add value. Arguably a number of other Wiki sites aimed at smaller communities have not achieved as much as hoped because the community support isn’t enough to provide critical mass. Its a tough world out there and competing sites will rise and fall but there is some critical mass required before they attract a big enough audience that the site builds itself.

This is also true of open research more generally. We are a long way from the critical mass that makes it worthwhile for people to put in a little bit of effort on a regular basis because they get a lot back. They key question to my view is what are the best steps to take that will put us on the right path as fast as is sensible. And where can we find some sociologists to help us on this? An argument for using the term ‘Open Research’ may be that we need the help of the social sciences community to figure out how best to proceed.


  • I’m glad you were able to make it and that we had a chance to chat “face to face”. One of the problems with having several presenters in an hour (in Real Life or Second Life) is sometimes conversations get cut short. The idea of the presentations was mainly to introduce people to each other. The real strength of Second Life, in my experience, is with actual poster sessions invovling only a few people at each poster. There audio should work very well. The posters have now been re-organized into a poster session friendly configuration and there should be plenty of time to meet one-on-one with the presenters at future sessions.
    http://scifooliveson.wikispaces.com

  • I’m glad you were able to make it and that we had a chance to chat “face to face”. One of the problems with having several presenters in an hour (in Real Life or Second Life) is sometimes conversations get cut short. The idea of the presentations was mainly to introduce people to each other. The real strength of Second Life, in my experience, is with actual poster sessions invovling only a few people at each poster. There audio should work very well. The posters have now been re-organized into a poster session friendly configuration and there should be plenty of time to meet one-on-one with the presenters at future sessions.
    http://scifooliveson.wikispaces.com

  • I totally agree with Jean-Claude. Although the posters are a great to learn what is being done elsewhere, it’s the interaction with other users that makes it so much more appealing.
    It’s the bringing the distance to a null and allowing people from anywhere to chat and trade ideas, just like in RL @ SciFoo (or any other conference/meeting)

  • I totally agree with Jean-Claude. Although the posters are a great to learn what is being done elsewhere, it’s the interaction with other users that makes it so much more appealing.
    It’s the bringing the distance to a null and allowing people from anywhere to chat and trade ideas, just like in RL @ SciFoo (or any other conference/meeting)

  • I guess the question from my perspective was is there a better way to organise this one-to-one type interaction. Having thought a bit about the other options I think the current answer is probably no, the other options are too complicated, platform dependent, and require too much technical expertise to get working. I think as Jean-Claude says that voice will make a big difference. Particularly if you can run both one to one and group audio to allow side conversations.

  • I guess the question from my perspective was is there a better way to organise this one-to-one type interaction. Having thought a bit about the other options I think the current answer is probably no, the other options are too complicated, platform dependent, and require too much technical expertise to get working. I think as Jean-Claude says that voice will make a big difference. Particularly if you can run both one to one and group audio to allow side conversations.