Nature 451, 1024-1025 /(20 February 2008) / doi:10.1038/nj7181-1024a
A crop of websites is making networking among scientists easier than ever
Compared with crafting computational expertise or sharpening gene-splicing skills, networking is one talent many scientists are slow to hone. Luckily, a crop of new websites is encouraging even the most reclusive researchers to rendezvous with colleagues without leaving the lab.
The success of social-networking websites such as MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn shows the power of the Internet not only to cultivate, but to capitalize on, friendships. Although online networks may seem impersonal, they can do something for scientists that a handshake cannot: highlight common research interests without leaving the comfort of your desk. Say goodbye to name tags and awkward introductions — say hello to profiles and blogs. In the search for jobs, mentors, collaborators or data, these cyber-social mixers are revealing new ways to gain career advice, create collaborations and share resources
and Chemical Forums
are coming online to meet more specific needs. Although these sites reach out to a broad spectrum of disciplines, scientists can create more focused forums, groups or blogs to spark more specialized discussions. [snip]
Scientists with common interests can connect across long distances and disparate scientific cultures. [snip]
With increased funding for cross-disciplinary science, many networks are experimenting with ways to help members collaborate.[snip]
Building A Critical Mass
Within3 [https://www.within3.com/] charges only those hospitals, charities or medical schools that use its service to create a networked sub-community, called a channel. Within3 provides tools for channel partners to document their work as well as conduct polls and surveys or share documents.
Some sites do more than just bring people together; they let researchers share data, methodologies and protocols. MyExperiment.org [http://www.myexperiment.org/], funded by the UK government, lets users share workflows: the customary protocols for standardizing data, running simulations or conducting statistical analysis on large data sets. Standardized protocols for manipulating large data sets can be tweaked for specific purposes. Users can comment on their usefulness and link to other work-flows of interest.
Tag Along With This
Better yet, tagging — assigning a keyword or rating to a bookmarked online workflow or data set — allows myExperiment to connect users with similar resources that may be of interest. NanoHub [http://www.nanohub.org/], part of the NSF-funded Network for Computational Nanotechnology, lets users rate the courses and simulation tools it hosts. [snip]
On NanoHub, tagging uses the collective wisdom of the community to introduce you to appropriate simulation software," says Noshir Contractor, director of the Science of Networks in Communities lab
at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. He says scientists can expect more such sites streamlining their ability to find the right tools and algorithms.
Networking may get more efficient, says Contractor. Its unrealized potential is the ability to take data from networks that currently reside separately, and mash, or merge, them. He says users will soon be able to collectively mine the data of projects funded by several US agencies to see who is collaborating on what topics.
And of course, networking sites have their limits. Although they can facilitate connections, blogs aren't likely to become a wholesale substitute for a few beers after work any time soon.