If you are busy building a professional career and want things to get done, it’s time to forget MySpace, Facebook or any other social networking 1.0 sites, that are focusing on friendship, love, spam whatever with a general membership. What you need is social networking 2.0, which is based on the special profession you’re in, or is centered around a special topic. Ning, for instance, is a tool for creating your own social network for anything specifiable.
For the business and technology (mostly IT) sector LinkedIn is a more and more frequent destination. And, at last, there is a social networking starting point for every English-speaking (natural) scientist called the Nature Network (NN), which went global in February, after 7 testing months in the local hub Boston. It is still in Beta, just like all good “web 2.0 and more” apps.
First, I was informed about the plan of Nature Network Global from a comment of Corie Lok, main editor on NN, in the comment section of a Nature Blog in January. Corie was kind enough to share with me some recent initial stats on NN: We have more than 1800 registered users. When we relaunched in mid-February, we had 400. We’ve been growing steadily since February by about 100 to 150 new users registering every week. We’re now at about 100,000 total page views across the whole website. We had about 20,000 in February.
According to the numbers, Nature Network is currently a very small but organically growing strong online community. This is exactly the most exciting period in the life cycle of every forming network, so it is a guaranteed experience and challenge to join and participate – now at least – for people like me, who are eager to test and modulate every flexible beta product.
To get the key parameters and shed light on the prospects standing before NN, I’ve made the following table, which is a comparison of NN with relative and rival professional networking site LinkedIn:
As Gavin Bell neatly summarized the core architecture and aims of NN while writing on Nature Network Boston launches: “Some of the key features of the site are the groups, which allow individual communities to have their own spaces within NNB. Each user has a public profile, which tracks their activity on the site and each user has a corresponding page to track the activity of people in their social network….Tagging is a core feature, virtually everything can be tagged and this allows for discovery of new content and bookmarking of existing content…Giving scientists a persistent public profile, which lets them find their own voice, we hope, will raise the visibility of individual scientists and encourage early collaboration and information sharing.“
Let’s briefly examine here 2 questions concerning Nature Network out of the many issues arising:
What are the benefits and pitfalls if the (premier) social networking site for scientists belongs to one of the biggest Scientific Publishing Group, namely Nature Publishing Group (NPG)? What about would-be competitors?
As far as I know, it is a real unique and brand new phenomenon that a major (scientific) publishing group like NPG launches its own social networking site. It is like as if New York Times launched a social networking site for its readers and subscribers…From Gavin Bell comes the information: “The application is built in Ruby on Rails, it is from the ground up, all new. We did look at a range of technologies and products, but wanted to build something tightly integrated with nature.com identity and incorporating tagging at a high level”….
Most readers might know that Nature, and consequently Nature Publishig Group, is one of the strongest, if not the strongest brand in science publishing worldwide. And they’ve discovered the market niche in time. Therefore, NPG has the first mover’s advantages. It wouldn’t have been a smart move not to fill in such a gap, as NN is a real market and commercial opportunity for NPG: it is a way for getting more satisfied readers, even new ones in the long run. Momentarily, NN is a good advertising surface for all kinds of NPG products (flash banners on the right side). How much ads are tolerated by potential users is a question of time: there can be people who are fearing of “commercial spam” and are not really advertisement tolerant, like the 4th commenter in this post.
From the user-scientist point of view, NN is good for scientists hungry for all level of scientific information and contacts. After all, the NPG products are excellent filters (in regenerative medicine for instance definitely) in many fields of the natural sciences.
With a critical number of users and information change it could have a galvanizing effect on the science job market, especially for postdocs. Just like LinkedIn on which Glenn Gutmacher Microsoft headhunter said: “LinkedIn is a very efficient tool when you’re trying to target passive candidates, people who aren’t actively searching for a job.”
Additionally, there is the chance to form an excellent public forum amongst all sorts of scientists and science journalists, opinion leaders, decision makers – and the publicity of NN could grow wider than that of the scientific blogosphere. After all, scientists behind the science blogs are just one tiny fraction of scientists (Bora of A Blog Around The Clock guessed their number of sciblogs is 1000 to 1200 in the Cell), and there are a lot of researchers without the energy, time, motivation, or talent to run a stable blog, yet they also have much to share.
On the other hand, it raises the question whether there is a danger of filtering science information through exclusively the NPG channel. We may suppose, if people become neophyte and addictive members of an online community, they will spend far too much time in their newly chosen webspace and ignore others. Fortunately, there are powerful tools (feed readers, individual blogs, podcasts, science videos, Google Scholar) available for every web-active scientist to keep this one-channel scenario theoretical. In light of Gavin Bell’s statement that the technology behind NN is “tightly integrated with nature.com identity,” what if one day the users of NN will be more interested in some form of divergence, and not ‘tight integration.’
The online social networking market is massive, so we may as well start guessing about who could be the possible competitors of Nature Network in the future domain of scientists’ online networks. Think about the constant Google, Yahoo, Microsoft chase.
I am really speculative at this point without any further knowledge, but I am thinking about rival science publishing groups (always mimic the market leader), academies, and LinkedIn, even little startups coming out of nowhere. For instance, in LinkedIn, which is a professional neutral platform, there are 1,500+ users with the tag ‘Biotechnology industry.’
There is a general, almost philosophical problem conceptualized by tech blogger Om Malik in his post Are Social Networks Just a Feature? arguing that “it is time to rethink the whole notion of social networking, and start thinking of it as a feature for other online activities”. The question is: Is NN only a feature of NPG’s online activities or can it stand independently in its own feet continuously re-generated by its users?
To sum up, I don’t think that Nature Network will be the ultimate word in social networking for scientists, but it is amongst the first ones, and right now happens to be the strongest.
At this point I am strongly supportive of NN as I embraced its core mission a long time ago: “Connecting scientists at a global and local level.”
I owe much for this little report to Michael Copeland‘s article on LinkedIn, Corie Lok and Anna (who is actually more of a co-author of this post, as we went through every paragraph in details after the first draft and modified a lot).