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 Many of the original products are no longer active, have changed sponsorship or ownership or have simply been suppressed.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.
Social networking software is advantageous in some respects because:
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.
Some possible drawbacks include:
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.
Scientific social networks have several common elements. They:
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.