Social networking has gone academic. The Web 2.0 principles were already introduced in the field of science and innovation by the iBridge Network. Facebook brought social networking to the university, but it’s main goal was not exactly academic in nature. LinkedIn brought social networking to the professional sphere. Recently there have been some initiatives that bring social networking to academic life: Researchgate and Graduate Junction.
The Graduate Junction was established by Daniel Colegate and Esther Dingley, graduate students in respectively Chemistry and Education at the University of Durham, in the United Kingdom. They set up The Graduate Junction because they were – in their own words – frustrated by a feeling of isolation in their own research projects and wanted to know who, if anyone, was doing similar research. I have had a quick look at it and it looks good and has the potential to be a valuable tool for graduate students. Much of its success obviously depends on the number of participants it will attract. If I still were a student I would definitely sign up and become member of groups like this.
Researchgate targets a larger community. It is meant as a networking tool for all academics and researchers. It is set up by three students from Germany (one of them now being at Harvard). Two of them in Medicine, one in Computer Science. The concept is backed by a world wide network of experts and advisers. Researchgate has big aspirations. Next to a networking tool, it sees itself as the start of a more profound change where researchers take more and more control over their publications and research findings.
So where will all this lead? Well…my experiences with these new tools for – often conservative – academics have not always been positive. Nevertheless I’m positive about these new tools. Graduate Junction has the advantage that it targets a younger group of people and probably more open to these kind of innovations. In addition, I think that the need of these tools might be more substantial with graduate students than with researchers in general. This is simply because the ‘normal’ channels such as journals and conferences are not so readily available to them and don’t provide that many opportunities for direct interaction.
Researchgate on the other hand has a more professional look and already is backed by a large network of academics. It also seems to provide more advanced technological opportunities like importing endnote libraries and linking with databases such as PubMed. I would love to see a further expansion to enable more interaction and maybe new opportunities for open peer reviewing.
I hope both initiatives will succeed. It’s about time for the academic community to start using the technological opportunities available. Both might turn out to be great new opportunities for inter-organisational, interdisciplinary and international cooperation.