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Social Sharing Networks: Home

A number of web services exist which can help scientists work together

General Characteristics Of Science Social Networks

Just as the Web made possible the creation of numerous platforms intended to help individuals locate and stay connected with persons with similar interests and preferences, so have a number of such packages emerged to help research scientists do largely the same things.

The guiding notion was to create something like a "Facebook for Science" or at least for particular disciplines. Moreover the current sentiment is that the era of individual brilliant innovators and discoverers has passed. Progress will come more easily with group effort.

There was an initial surge of interest in the formation of such networks, and the later ones learned from and improved upon the earlier ones.

The field has proved rather volatile. Many of the original products are no longer active, have changed sponsorship or ownership or have simply been suppressed.

Original sponsors may have lost interest or been disappointed at the outlay involved in maintaining the service. Other platforms may have been overtaken by newer services which are technologically more interesting. And the membership may simply have become bored, disaffected or been too distracted by other concerns to support the network.

At the risk of some over-generalization, It can be fairly said that these services were combinations of the features found in document management software and the social interaction networks proliferating on the Web in general.

Advantages Of Using Sharing Networks

Social networking software is advantageous in some respects because:

  • the platforms are generally freely available without charge, but see below
  • desktop access to PDF files and other documents is a great advantage when writing papers and grant proposals
  • citation manager functions are valuable
  • sophisticated indexing and search allow rapid retrieval of stored documents, with good specificity
  • working with collaborators and sharing information can be extremely stimulating and beneficial
  • some programs have excellent 'recommender' applications which can save time in seeking new  papers
  • personal reputations for expertise can be enhanced
  • the needs of serious researchers are understood and addressed by program designers
  • 'discovery' can be enhanced, as awareness of trends, insights or problems is often rapid.
  • programs can combine function's previously based on separate software: calendar, task list, email,etc

These statements are specific elaborations of the general principle that it is better to know what's happening than not to know. Serious researchers are the 'market' for these programs. Designers do attempt to help their users and pay attention to suggestions or criticism.

Note on "free"

Social networking programs are usually available at no charge, at least for the desktop module. Some services provide storage in "the Cloud", and a basic level of this is often available free. More advanced storage plans may require paid subscription.

Drawbacks Of Using Social Networking Software

Some possible drawbacks include:

  • security concerns or firewall problems might exist
  • products differ and there is a 'learning curve'
  • versions and updates may require the user's attention
  • networking is yet another thing to do, and should be done frequently to take advantage of the system
  • some programs are open-source but others are proprietary
  • efficient and rapid sharing of documents has drawn suspicion about copyright infringement
  • acquisition of a platform by some commercial interest may lead to changes users find unwelcome, or programs can simply go out of existence, as sponsoring organizations lose interest or decline to support the outlay needed
  • users must in fact use the product. Use cannot be devolved onto support staff or students. Time budgets are already very tight
  • "Cloud" storage means materials are loaded at some remote site. This may alarm some users.

Simply put, the use of sharing software does not solve all problems. It allows very effective and efficient performance of some tasks, but its use can introduce other problems. Users must decide if the advantages outweigh the drawbacks.

Features Commonly Found On Sharing Services

Scientific social networks have several common elements. They:

  • allow importation and retention of various document types, including PDF files
  • offer indexing and search capabilities
  • can format references into bibliographic styles required by scholarly publications
  • allow creation of sub-files, sometimes called 'libraries', which reflect topic interest or are project-specific
  • can ease the burden of file management of personal references
  • facilitate the location of researchers with similar interests and the creation of online interest groups
  • aid discovery of useful materials in the 'libraries' of other researchers
  • allow sharing of documents between collaborators
  • can search major scholarly discovery tools such as PubMed directly from the platform

Not all services have these features to the same degree. Some more recently launched platforms are better or easier to use than some of the earlier ones.

Examples Of Scientific Sharing Sofware

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