Soon after Nature Network launched in 2007 it was being touted as the “Facebook for scientists”. Other sites that had been around longer, such as FriendFeed and LabSpaces, occasionally got that moniker too (and indeed Facebook bought out FriendFeed later on). I view any use of the phrase “Facebook for scientists” with great suspicion. At least Mendeley (the social and bibliographic management site) has the imagination to call themselves the Last.FM for science.
Brian Krueger, at LabSpaces, suggested why none of these sites have become dominant in the way that FaceBook has:
ResearchGate’s groups and Job listings appear to be relatively active, Nature Network has its blogs and forum, and LabSpaces has the news and Blogs. However it seems like, at least for LabSpaces, I’ve just catered to the scientists who were willing to interact on-line…
The attraction of scientists to a network is not going to be the network itself, that’s apparent, so it’s going to come down to developing a network around tools that help make a scientist’s life easier. The “problem” for developers is that the number of tools that overlap between fields and disciplines is too small for any network to really dominate the science social network landscape which could limit large scale investment in social network based free tools.
Daniel Mietchen agreed with this diagnosis:
It’s a small, dedicated group advocating for open science and social networks. Despite this fact, the latter have been “breeding like rabbits,” as Cameron Neylon noted in this 2008 post. At that time he counted about a dozen contenders for the title of “facebook for scientists” (including, Laboratree,Research Gate, Epernicus,LabMeeting, Graduate Junction,Nature Network). But none of them, not even Nature Network, have been able to dominate the field in the manner of a Facebook.
So, they still cater to a minority of scientists; to those who enjoy that kind of online interaction for its own sake. They haven’t made themselves indispensable to the broad mass of scientists. And it is unlikely that any one site could serve such a diverse market as “scientists” in all disciplines.
ResearchGate, founded in 2008, is currently getting a good deal of publicity. I have had several emails and a couple of phone calls from them in the last few months. The dreaded FB phrase has appeared in some press coverage. A New York Times article about open science devotes quite a bit of space to ResearchGate, and The Economist just published a short piece.
ResearchGate has been growing rapidly in terms of membership, numbers of staff and has some serious investors. It is based in Berlin and Boston, established by a medical researcher at Harvard Med School, Ijad Madisch. The NYT piece says:
Dr. Rajiv Gupta, a radiology instructor who supervised Dr. Madisch at Harvard and was one of ResearchGate’s first investors, called it “a great site for serious research and research collaboration.” [It has] profile pages, comments, groups, job listings, and “like” and “follow” buttons can pose and answer questions… Users can create public or private discussion groups, and share papers and lecture materials. ResearchGate is also developing a “reputation score” to reward members for online contributions.
Nature Network has a similar range of functions and also has an app platform, or workbench, but it has seemed a bit neglected in recent years. When I first looked at ResearchGate a year or two back I thought it looked nice enough but it was hard to know whether it would really take off. My impression was that it was quite international, with many users from non-Western countries – not just the usual suspects. Other competitors include LabLife, Scientific Advisory Board and Academia.edu
Here is some advertising blurb from ResearchGate, to give you more of a flavour of what they aim to achieve.
ResearchGate www.researchgate.net is the world's largest professional network for scientists and researchers with over 1,300,000 members worldwide and it is completely free.
As a member of ResearchGate, you can:
- Ask questions and get answers from fellow specialists within your field
- Find and download unique publications easily by
searching through 45 million abstracts. Numerous papers available include negative results, which can only be found on ResearchGate
- Download full texts uploaded by the authors for free
- Follow Topics that match your research interests
- Share current articles, publications and other content with your colleagues
- Search through over 5,000 scientific conferences
- By having a profile on ResearchGate members
are able to present their work to the wider scientific community as well as sharing their research aims, and academic pursuits.
Find out more about ResearchGate (see this article) from one of the founders Ijad Madisch, himself a Scientist:
"The pre-existing scientific community was conducted in a vacuum," Madisch said. "I was encountering problems with my own research during medical school and at a fellowship at Harvard."
I used to get excited about all these wonderful new sites, all shiny and new. Now there are so many I can’t help but suspect that some (most?) of them will go the way of BioMedNet. In 1995 it was briefly the most exciting place on the biomedical web but a few years later seemed to lose its way. Eventually, in 2004, it closed down.