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.”

facebook

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?

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In-house Facebook?

According to Business Week, this is what the big companies are now doing, ie providing an internal social networking alternative.

water cooler

By luring employees into a network, companies hope to leverage their skills and contacts. But they also hope that all that collaboration will cut out time that’s now spent mailing documents and e-mailing comments.

A bit optimistic perhaps. Seems questionable whether such homegrown facebook alternatives will actually provide a substitute for the real thing or just an additional channel. And how comprehensive is Sharepoint in any case?