Time to add a few links, as some recent articles on online tools for scientists are worth visiting. These include an article on career networking, a warning about the corporate forces behind social networks and an interesting piece by Peter Murray-Rust.

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Nature Jobs has published an article on networking and the tools available. It strikes me as something of a “puff piece”, a bit of advertising for the Nature Network, but does have a couple of real-world caveats buried within:

Even computer-savvy investigators can find it difficult to kindle an active community. Peter Brantley, executive director of the Digital Library Federation in Washington DC, created a Datanet group on Nature Network to publicize a National Science Foundation (NSF) call for proposals to establish cyberinfrastructure centres of excellence internationally. “I developed the forum as a way for people to communicate outside the bounds of institutional affiliations,” he says, but adds that it has been hard to achieve a critical mass of participation.

Unfortunately, some 90% of social networking sites won’t succeed, says Contractor. “For every MySpace and Facebook, hundreds of others have failed,” he says.

Again, this points to analysis I made in my previous blog posting on the subject. Despite the promise and the continued evangelism, participation is low, and very few of these companies jumping on the bandwagon are likely to succeed. Again, don’t believe the hype.

Inside Higher Ed has an article on the huge corporate forces behind your favorite social networks. It is perhaps a bit politically radical for my tastes, but it does make one realize an odd phenomenon that’s happening in the scientific world regarding online tools. Usually those most enthusiastic about Web 2.0 and such are also those heavily involved in the Open Access, Open Data and Open Science movements. While they decry the policies of the big corporations and publishing conglomerates, they seem to be very willing to jump into bed with them for the creation of new online tools. Why the willingness to trust your data and your time-consuming efforts to for-profit corporations in this arena? Is it just that the big corporations are the only ones with enough cash to fund big experimental sites?

Peter Murray-Rust has an editorial out in Nature looking at online tools in the world of chemistry. He makes some great points in the article. The first is that making primary data sets available would be a very valuable thing. I’m not sure I see this as an either/or situation with the current state of science publishing as he does. Rather than tearing down the current system, perhaps a better approach is working towards the full release of data-sets as results are published. He does seem to gloss over the issue of storage space though. Perhaps the research to which he refers does indeed only generate a few megabytes of data, but I know imaging labs where 20 students/postdocs are each generating terabytes of data on a weekly basis. He notes that Google is willing to provide storage space, but again, that gets back to the questions asked above about private corporations controlling supposedly open data.

The article details some interesting tools being developed to overcome one of the biggest barriers to participation in such systems, the vast amount of time and effort required. By automating as much of the process as possible, you’re much more likely to get buy-in from users. I like that he at least tries to address the question of giving incentives for participation, although his solution, some huge government-funded program is vague and unlikely to occur any time soon in this era of reduced funding.

I think he over-rates the usefulness of Second Life (which is pretty much a dead end these days) and his comments on science bloggers in chemistry seem in line with what we’re seeing in biology (it’s still practiced by a very small minority).

I’ll also point out that in my last posting, I stated that science blogs are mostly read by other science bloggers, and most comments on science blogs are made by science bloggers. Please note who left comments on the post.