Science 2.0

I think I have a profile on Friendster - I don't know, I haven't checked since 2003. I have bare-bones profiles on MySpace, LinkedIn and Change.Org and I will get an e-mail if you "friend" me (and will friend you back), but I do not have time to spend on there. I refuse to even look at all the other social networking sites like Twitter - there are only so many hours in the day.

But I am interested in possible ways of making science communication more interactive and more Webby 2.0, beyond just blogs. Pedro, Carl and Phillip have recently written thoughtful posts about this topic as well.

So, I am looking around to see what works. I set up profiles on Knowble and Nature Network. I check out the Sci/Tech section of NewsTrust and the Science tag on DailyKos every now and then. I check, as regularly as I can make myself, what's new on Connotea, Postgenomic, Scintilla and JeffsBench. And of course I read tons of science blogs.

All of those are interesting experiments in different aspects of Web2.0 and, considering my soon-to-start job, I'll be tracking all those experiments very closely to see what works and what doesn't and why.

But my own personal favourite - and I'll have to figure out why I like it so much - is Facebook. Some of my old NCSU students put me on there as soon as it was launched (only a few have un-friended me since) and I can see as they get jobs, get married, etc., which is quite nice. I set up a profile (yes, you can 'friend' me - just say you are my reader) and have been hooked ever since.

Then, I started reading what Fred Stutzman writes on his blog - he is doing a PhD on social networks here at UNC, with a special emphasis on Facebook. I repeated for the NCSU network a study he did in the UNC network.

Then, as an experiment, I started friending hundreds of ex-Yugoslavs all around North America and realized how the youngsters appear to have no animosity towards the "other" ethnics groups: Serbs, Croats, Slovenians, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Kosovo Albanians, etc. - all are friending each other, joining various "Yugo-nostalgic" groups, etc.

When Facebook opened its doors to non-'edu' addresses, the first result was dismaying. I suddenly started getting friends requests from various scantily clad women who wanted me to support their modeling agencies, or to vote for them on Maxim or some such stuff. My thought at the time was "Oh my, there goes Facebook, following MySpace into the junk territory..."

So, I deleted several hundreds of "friends" and left only those I knew personally very well, either online or offline. That was also the time when others - more serious types - started discovering the Facebook. Now, you can join fan-club groups of such blogs as Pharyngula, Pandagon (also I Am Amanda Marcotte), Shakesville, Pam's House Blend, Feministe, Firedoglake and Blue NC, or a broader North Carolina Bloggers group. And you can make friends with those blogs' owners, contributors, commenters and lurkers.

Since yesterday, you can also join the fan-club group of A Blog Around The Clock. Or you may prefer to join the fans of

There are many fun groups there, like Sleep... it's the new sex. But there are also a growing number of science-related groups, e.g., Order of the Science Scouts of Exemplary Repute and Above Average Physique, Prof. Steve Steve is my Hero!, The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, STS (Science and Technology in Society) and Charles Darwin Has A Posse.

Some groups are more action-oriented, e.g., Access to Research Now!, I want national wireless Internet!, Net Neutrality, Abolish Abstinence Only Sex Education, Support Stem Cell Research or Stop the U.S.Army from bombing Pinon Canyon dinosaurs.

One can follow the links and links-within-links from group to group, from friend to friend, and find all sorts of stuff. Last year, I made an 'event' for the NC Science Blogging Conference and will do so again a little later in the year for the Second conference. I may try to promote the Anthology there, or build a fan-club of PLoS. And with the new ability to add all sorts of applications built outside of Facebook, the possibilities for online connections of scientists are endless. Will there be a Connotea app there soon? Postgenomic? All we need to do is get more scientists to sign up and who knows what may come out of it in the end!

Update: I just noticed that Euan also thought about Facebook in terms of Science 2.0

Related: Bertalan Meskó - 10 Tips for How to Use Web 2.0 in Medicine

Has anyone looked at Erudix yet?

And for the YouTube of science, check JoVE and Lab Action

More on Facebook:

Dave Winer:

When someone lists you as a "friend" on Facebook you get to confirm it. That's good.

When you click on the "Confirm" button, you get a list of choices that almost never seems to have the right choice. Does that mean you don't have a relationship with the person? No. It means that the list of possible choices hasn't been updated since Facebook was opened to people outside the education system.

Dave Winer again:

Everyone is going ga-ga over Facebook, but like the people who hold out on Twitter, I'm not ready to give my life to a service that views me as a college student. My relationships are adult relationships. Okay, I probably won't even use Facebook when they offer me some realistic choices on labels for the arcs that connect me with people in my network, because what we really need is an architecture that allows anyone to add a tag to an arc, the same way we add tags to pictures on Flickr.

BTW, one does not have to choose from one of the given options, but can invent a new one (perhaps they listened to Dave and fixed this).

Fred Stutzman:

I think my thoughts on how higher ed could use the platform warrant another post. I might even mock up a few ideas. Your ideas and feedback welcome in the thread.


I love Facebook and all the apps that are popping up each day. This is not anymore the second, but third life...


Conclusions: if you held a gun to my head and made me choose only one of these services I'd pick Facebook. Especially if I already didn't have a blog as a platform to communicate with other people.

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i actually found a science-writing position through a facebook-only connection. so yup, you're quite right that it doesn't only provide a good outlet for networking but lends flexible networks to enable idea- and resource-sharing between people. perhaps its cliche (and certainly self-evident), but with how diffuse science has gotten, it's awesome to have quick access to all these new spaces and faces...

Although "Web 2.0" can be a somewhat nebulous term, it usually tracks well with "community-driven content". By this criterion, ScienceBlogs and PLoS One are both very Web 2.0-like enterprises. I agree that it would be nice to have some sort of aggregator or meta information storage for online scientific knowledge. I think that this is what PLoS One is trying to do, but it will take quite a bit of time to get there, and implementation of even more community-driven content. In my opinion, it would be better to build such an online community from the information side (blogs/papers) than from the community side (Facebook/Linkedin etc). I feel like if you have a group of people all discussing related information content, there will be a spontaneous move towards forming coherent community there.

I think there are two challenges for Science 2.0:

1) Can you get researchers to act as "social" beings? In particular, older researchers already have established peer network, publication areas, etc. What's the value proposition to induce them to participate? We are working on a social networking site for our research team (240 researchers) and are trying to tie participation to notification of new funding opportunities. Will have to wait and see if this works or not.

2) How do you prevent the fracture of online social identity? Much like you I have more then six different online identities, none of them easily linked together. How do we induce social behavior without having a clear "winner" in terms of science 2.0 site?

On the heels of this post, I was informed of another Web2.0 site for scientists that just launched - SciTalks collects talks and lectures by scientists on a variety of topics. There are already many clips available on the site, which you can rate, or add some from your own collection. You can find out more about the site here and at the site's blog.

What I was getting at with this post is not so much how to use Facebook for science communication as to what is it that makes Facebook so successful and can be replicated elsewhere for specifically science-related networking?

I think the golden age of Science 2.0 is a long way away. Social networking is just too uninviting for the average scientist.

Right now, with Facebook at least, there is so much work building a social network and the gains are questionable. Sure you can plan events, maybe meet up with people working in your field, but scientists need more than just "walls" to post comments and photo galleries. They need online chalk boards to write on with tablet PC's and live in-lab video streams. With features like that available to accelerate research, that's Science 2.0

So much is possible with current technology but it's just not easy enough to unify them. So until some genius builds the right framework I'll just stick to the "If I were an enzyme i would be DNA helicase so i could unzip your genes" Facebook group :)