This is perhaps an impolite question question to ask in a blog hosted on Nature Network, but I ask in a spirit of enquiry rather than provocation.
I am inspired by an interesting blog post on the Scholarly Kitchen blog that points up the failure of social networking websites to gain many converts in the scientific community. This has been highlighted a few times in recent years so is not surprising. The blog post identifies the problem:
Most networks seem to make two assumptions that doom them to failure: 1) that networking and communication is a central part of a scientist’s day, and 2) that scientists are willing to openly communicate on a wide scale with their communities. The first is a failure of perspective, those building and promoting social networks are “true-believers“, people whose lives revolve around social networking. While communication of results, networking and building collaboration are important for scientists, they’re somewhat peripheral compared to doing actual research. These are things one does in addition to one’s “real” work, performing experiments and seeking funding is often more important as well. Finding collaborators is at best, a sporadic event, not something done often. Any network that asks for regular participation and priority in time and effort will fail for this reason.
This makes a lot of sense to me. I am a bit of a “true believer” – I do join up and try things out. More importantly I think that the social model of information is here to stay. Filtering resource discovery through a network of friends, colleagues or like-minded people is a valuable technique and is something we all do in the real world anyway. Finding a way to do it online is the challenge. I think it will only work when the networks are built into what we already do online, and when there is effectively a single network rather than a series of disconnected networks in different services.
The BBC website also had an article about some new tools for scientists, highlighting the social aspects and mentioning Mendeley, Faculty of 1000 and Google Wave.
Meanwhile, Cell this week has an article)01305-1 about Twitter. They say it has become very popular, yet most scientists are still steering clear of it. The article’s author speaks to some scientists who have found value in tweeting.