Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Web 2.0 in Science: Success or Failure?

Timo Hannay recently gave a talk "Scientific Researchers and Web 2.0: Social Not Working?", which is reproduced in this Nascent blog post.

This is a sobering review of the state of social software in science and he lists several roadblocks to its widespread adoption. It is important to counterbalance the almost unavoidable hype that emerges from the enthusiasm of those energized by a movement.

However, it can be a tricky endeavor to attempt to define success or failure, especially within systems that are evolving rapidly.

Are you a failure if you only get 10% of your proposals funded? What about a telemarketer who has a 95% failure rate of making a sale from dialing the phone? Are you a failure if you send a paper to Nature and get turned down 90% of the time?

The way I see it, Web2.0 technologies are just communication vehicles and should be measured using similar metrics to the telephone, email, lunch meetings, conferences, talking to somebody during a flight, etc.

You don't decide to use a telephone based on an analysis of the number of people on the other side of the line - you use it when you need to communicate. And sometimes that communication may be intended primarily for your future self. I absolutely agree with Ben Good that you should blog even if there is a chance that nobody will read it:
Well, as one graduate student that continues to blog even though only 2 or 3 people read most of my posts (namely my Dad and occasionally, if she is bored, my wife), I feel compelled to say that yes, some people and even some scientists will continue to blog even if no one ends up listening at all.

For me, keeping a blog is a very convenient way to write-up my annual reports and keep track of my progress. But, as a bonus, if others read it and give me feedback or collaborate, all the better. And this is where the sweetest part of the icing is found. As Rich Apodaca mentions, it comes down to jobs, funding and collaborations.

I have personally experienced very good examples of that. My recent trip to the UK (generously funded by Cameron Neylon) would have never happened without my active participation with Web2.0 tools. The same goes for the last paper (submitted to JoVE - Precedings version here) and proposal that I submitted.

The best reason for blogging is self-interest.

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At 12:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The best reason for blogging is self-interest."

That's the best way I can think of to sum it up. Self-interest is also, ironically, the reason most peer-review publications happen.

Self-interest is also the reason that many collaborative services for scientists will fail - the participants don't have a personal stake in making it work.

At 2:02 PM, Blogger Jean-Claude Bradley said...

Thanks for the link to that sins post Rich. I like to see discussion about that aspect of being a scientist. Too bad sloth is N/A :)


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