Nature Network - a thinking person's social network?
Writing in the Education Guardian, Jessica Shepherd discusses the rise of Nature Network (NN) - a social network for "scientists to gather, talk and find out about the latest scientific news and events".
Comparisons with Facebook (Fb) are obvious (a "Facebook for professors, postdocs and PhDers in the sciences"), but it is perhaps worth thinking a bit about the similarities and differences:
- Fb mixes up academic and social use in quite an interesting way - interesting in the sense that some people don't mind these things being mixed up, whereas others absolutely hate them being mixed up. Do students want their lecturers in the same social network as them, for example? Do lecturers want to be in the same social network as their students!? Do researchers want to mix up their research (work) with their social (private) activities. I suspect that these are questions with no clear-cut answers.
- Fb leans towards the social, but we are seeing some work-related use. NN leans towards work, but (in the blogs at least) we see some social-related use.
- Fb is a platform, meaning that people can develop their own Fb applications and then share them with others. NN is not (as far as I can tell). I think this is a significant issue because it more easily allows Fb to morph from its original purpose into whatever its users want it to be.
- Fb allows one to pull stuff in from elsewhere. Oddly (I think) NN doesn't appear to do this. It is more closed than Fb in some senses.
- Fb is completely global. NN is limited to some areas of science. I've joined for example, but I don't expect to get much out of it because I'm not a scientist or a researcher. I think that it will be interesting to see whether researchers prefer global social networking tools or discipline specific ones.
It is also interesting to ponder why Nature are doing this kind of thing. I think it is because they (rightly) recognise that the Internet is fundamentally changing the nature of scholarly communication. Communication that used to happen primarily thru the peer-reviewed, published article and the conference paper is now beginning to happen in other ways. Of course, there is some resistance to this - a scholarly communication momentum that needs to be overcome - a sort of peer (review) pressure I guess :-) But as Timo Hannay from Nature notes: "We are increasingly seeing the online world with its informal rapid communications complement the slower, more formal communications of academic journals".
Blogs and social tools like Fb are beginning change how scholarly communication takes place and NN is part of this. Note the discussions in NN about how to cite blog entries, whether it is acceptable to share Powerpoint conference slides, what the relationship is between this kind of activity and the RAE, and so on.
My personal view is that the capabilities that the Internet affords us in terms of immediacy of communication, ease of 'publication' (I use that term in its most general sense), instant citation, the 'wisdom of the crowds' (by which I mean crowds of researchers!) and so on will have an impact on how scholarly communication happens. I don't know how quick or drastic any resulting changes will be - but it seems certain that there will be changes. Nature, as a publisher, have to think about their role in the new world. So do all other academic publishers.