Facebook for Scientists?

Researchers need networks too

A report in the Chronicle notes:

A $12.2-million federal stimulus grant from the National Institutes of Health will finance a network some are calling a Facebook for scientists. Several universities, including Cornell University and the University of Florida, will develop the network over the next two years in the hopes of helping scientists find other academics to work with.

If a researcher is looking for someone else in a very specialized field, he or she would usually think of all the people he has met or simply scan recent scientific journals for names, said Michael Conlon, interim director of biomedical informatics at the College of Medicine at the University of Florida and the principal investigator on the grant. Mr. Conlon calls those methods “haphazard.”


People using the network will be able to enter targeted inquiries into a search box. The results will show scholars in very specialized fields. The site will also reveal relationships between academics, such as whether someone has published an article with someone else, or whether someone was an adviser to someone else.

But why create a new network to achieve this? Aren’t existing networks like Facebook or LinkedIn able to do this kind of thing better and more efficiently?

5 thoughts on “Facebook for Scientists?

  1. I really can’t see the point of this amount of investment for something that, as you refer to Paul, pretty much already exists through networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Okay, maybe Facebook isn’t any good for this as communities tend to be formed around existing friendships and connections, and therefore it’s unlikely to help you find someone new. However, LinkedIn serves a slightly different purpose as through connections and group discussions you can find out so much more about a stranger. More ‘open’ networks have great potential here, such as Twitter, and the ability to build niche networks of your own on platforms such as Ning too must have some value (and won’t cost $12.2m). Surely adapting existing technology is the way forward rather than reinventing the wheel? Actually, the money would be far better off spent on professional development programmes to help academics understand how social media can benefit their work and helping them to get started with it.

  2. Very interesting post. Facebook and current networks could mine their data and build connections based on more than the six degrees of separation but are locked into their own inertia – right? Niche networks can solve specific problems that Facebook or Linkedin are too big and broad to worry about, launching a light version and seeing if enough user’s validate they value the service should give them the exit velocity that Steve Blank refers to in Four Steps to The Epiphany. Only an iterative, agile and customer centric development model, i.e the user’s will decide.

    Taken some serious inspiration from this post. Thanks. đŸ˜‰

  3. Also to try and briefly answer the question as to whether current networks are more likely to be able to do this, and do it more efficiently – can the answer be taken seriously of I say yes but no. No references to Little Britain intended…

    Yes because they have the users, the loyalty and critical mass. A niche network like the one described in your post might seriously consider building connections with those networks through Applications and therefore use them as a platform for virality. On the other hand however the user’s on those networks are not there to share their research as much as they may be on their blogs or on twitter. Do they have the data required to solve the problem?

    On that basis we lead towards a no. These networks are not gathering sets of data specific to these areas of research to then organise and redistribute that data or breakdowns of that data such as connections/collaborations between researchers. I can see huge value in Institutions being able to unleash some viral sharing of their research and the scholars responsible for their contributions. I think where Social Networking and the Internet are concerned, we are just at the beginning.

    Again knowledge of this project gives my research some inspiration, and I wander who else in the University is looking at solving these problems of sharing, and how do I find them? đŸ˜‰

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