So many interesting articles, so little time to blog…
Here’s a quick roundup of some items of interest, before I forget them:
The Many Challenges of the Social Media Industry
Great article that really sums up the issues facing Web 2.0, most are directly applicable to science on the web, particularly the lack of revenue generated, the low barrier to entry causing multiple entrants for every niche, excessive noise, the difficulties in spotting expertise, and the influx of marketers and spammers.
The Importance of Being First
The Scholarly Kitchen looks at the ways scientists are gaming the arXiv system, and submitting their papers at specific times to ensure a higher listing in e-mailed announcements, which results in more citations. This is something very worrying about switching from our current editorially-supervised system of publishing papers to an open system. Sure, the current system isn’t perfect, but things like arXiv and social networks are very open to manipulation. A switch from one to the other may just be a lateral move in terms of bias and favoritism. Note that most of the proponents of Web 2.0 for science are all well-networked and well-versed in how things work, so adoption of these technologies would give the evangelists a distinct advantage over everyone else.
When Google Owns You
One man’s tale of not being able to access his Google account, where he keeps his e-mail, his documents, his photos, and does his instant messaging. It points out the issues with putting all your eggs in one basket, and more importantly, the flaws in relying completely on cloud computing. I may be something of a luddite, but having control of the vital tools and data for my research or business is always going to take precedence over being able to access them from the web. The same goes for online backups, as many have reported files disappearing from Apple’s MobileMe backup system. I don’t want to have to shut my business down, or repeat experiments if some company’s servers are down or they have a problem with one of their hard drives.
Who Will Digitize the World’s Books?
Speaking of Google, an interesting article on how locked-down and closed Google’s book digitization program is:
However, it is important to clarify what Google is offering: it is not a digital text that the library will be able to share unconditionally with others. In its contracts with the nineteen libraries now in its consortium, Google has stipulated that the “Universal Digital Copy” of digitized books it provides must be protected from non-Google Web software; and that the number of downloads from texts digitized by Google will be limited. Only Google can aggregate collections of different libraries in order to create the larger digital database that is the most valuable part of the consortium project.
Put another way, Google has strictly limited the “computational potential” of digitized books, that is, the possibility of their being used for various kinds of digital analysis.
The Web’s Dirty Little Secret
The passionates vs. the non passionates
This is a series of articles (well, one article and a response and a response to the response) talking about early adopters and how difficult mainstream success is to achieve. This is something that’s been eating away at the back of my brain ever since I dove into the science blogosphere. The people who write about science and Web 2.0, the people creating all of the new tools are the “passionates”. Despite the great enthusiasm generated in the self-reflexive online world, these tools are not yet catching on with the mainstream. These articles give some reasons why:
The Web’s Dirty Little Secret
That’s why I find the debate over the business model for the Social Web to be so intriguing. The reason that people are finding it so difficult to monetize these products has nothing to do with whether they are good, it has everything to do with the fact that it’s really hard to get normal people to pay for a product when the need doesn’t yet exist for them. No one needs Twitter or Plurk or Friendfeed, I love them to death but if they all disappeared I’d be none the worse for wear. Even if you manage to get into the wallets of every early adopter (a notoriously difficult task), there just aren’t enough of us to matter and unfortunately our numbers don’t scale quickly enough to follow a product’s growth curve.
All of this mainstream appeal that we chat about here in the techosphere is a carnival act we put on for ourselves. The companies that have managed to make the largest profits on the web, aren’t non-contextual social conversation tools. The ones bringing in profits have found ways to tap into the needs of the mainstream — Amazon, Google, eBay, Craigslist et al. Few of the cool widgets that we salivate over solve the concrete problems that these services did. None of them, as far as I am concerned, do so for a broad sector of the market.
Convincing non-passionate users to try something is really difficult.
Some things that I’ve noticed about late adopters (er, non-passionates) and how they use computers they really are much different than the passionates who I usually hang out with. They really don’t care about 99% of the things I care about. FriendFeed? Yeah, right, they haven’t even heard of it, and if I try telling them about it, they say “why would I do that?” See, most people just want to work their 9 to 5 jobs, go home, pop open a beer, sit on the couch, watch some movies, play with their kids, etc.
Stay up all night talking to strangers? No way, no how. Most of the non-passionates I know are just barely trying out Facebook (90 million users). Twitter? Yeah, right. (Two million).
The activity is the thing to focus on, not the technology. Technology enables the activity, and people will get excited about the technology if they’re excited about the activity first and the benefits of the technology has been explained to them. But you don’t make passionate photographers by showing them lenses, you make passionate photographers by showing them pictures that rip your heart out.
What scientists are we talking about?
And one further thought, a great point brought up by Richard Gayle. When we talk about science on the web and the future of web publishing, it seems the conversation centers around the needs of academic researchers. But they’re only a small minority of the science community, if one looks at the numbers (from 2006):
22 million scientists/engineers in US
18.9 million actually employed
69.4% work in the business sector
11.8% work for the government
8.2% work at 4 year institutions
9.7% work in the business/industry sector for a non-profit
Perhaps we’re focusing on the wrong group here, and if you’re really looking to build community to the point where it can be monetized, a focus on industry might be a better way to go.