August 2007
The Coming Revolution in Scholarly Communications & Cyberinfrastructure
Timo Hannay, Nature Publishing

Social software

If a cornerstone of the Web 2.0 meme is the web as a global, collaborative environment, how is this being put to use in perhaps the most global and collaborative of all human endeavors: scientific research? An irony often observed by those of us working in science communication is the fact that, although the web was originally invented as means for sharing scientific information,4 scientists have been relatively slow to fully embrace its potential. Blogging, for example, has become undeniably mainstream, with the number of bloggers somewhere in the high tens of millions5 (among a billion or so web users6). Yet among a few million scientists worldwide, only perhaps one or two thousand are blogging, at least about science,78 and most of these are relatively young. By contrast, academic economists,9 for example, even very distinguished ones, seem to have embraced this new medium more enthusiastically.

Scientific blogging is still a niche activity, and what data there are suggest that it is not yet growing fast. For example, Alexa reports10 that ScienceBlogs,11 where many of the most prominent scientist-bloggers post their thoughts, has shown little traffic growth over the last twelve months, and the scientific blog tracking service Postgenomic.com12 (created by an employee of Nature Publishing Group) shows the volume of posts from the blog in its index holding still at about 2,500 posts a week.13 Similarly, scientists appear reluctant to comment publicly on research papers.1415 The blogging bug, it seems, has yet to penetrate the scientific citadel. This is a shame because blogs are a particularly effective means for one-to-many and many-to-many communication, and science no less than other spheres stands to gain from its judicious adoption.

Yet the participative web is about much more than blogging and commenting. Figure 1 below summarizes the manifold types of social software that exist online, all of them relevant in some way to scientific research.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Categories of social software.

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Reference this article
Hannay, T. "Web 2.0 in Science," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 3, Number 3, August 2007. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2007/08/web-20-in-science/

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