Virtual communities and online social networking sites are clearly providing a powerful and extremely popular medium for human connections. In a new report, independent market analyst Datamonitor (www.datamonitor.com) said it expects global active memberships in social networking sites to reach 230 million at the end of 2007. Most of the recent media coverage and market interest have focused on the very large, generalist social networking platforms like MySpace and Facebook. (See last week’s NewsBreak assessing their platform computing developments at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=39928.) Last week, Microsoft invested $240 million in Facebook for a 1.6 percent stake, which values the company at $15 billion. This week, Google and an alliance of companies said it would introduce standards for writing applications for social networks.
But there are numerous specialized and niche options for making connections. And, more importantly, we’re starting to see some interesting projects emerge that provide Web 2.0 approaches for serious research applications.
Elsevier said that its newest social networking initiatives are designed to support academic library communities and their researchers with advanced "Research 2.0" tools. Two new resources—still in beta release—from the STM publisher create social spaces in which researchers can work together. These new tools offer platforms for shared knowledge to be leveraged for information discovery and evaluation.
2collab, an online platform for scientific collaboration, supports researchers by working as a community to filter information and enhance information literacy. Scirus Topic Pages is a Wiki-like online resource for the scientific community that provides authoritative summaries of specialized research areas and offers a platform to facilitate scholarly debate.
Hilda Nassar, medical librarian at American University of Beirut, said: "It is important for publishers, librarians, and researchers to work together to develop tools that serve the needs of the scientific community. Librarians need to stay informed of the latest developments to be able to guide and educate their users. Librarians have effectively become teachers; we are no longer just custodians of books and journals."
For Scirus Topic Pages, experts create topic-centered pages with links to journal and Web scientific content. It’s designed to provide a way for researchers and anyone interested in a topic to discover the most relevant scientific literature as recommended by expert authors. Sample pages are available at http://topics.scirus.com.
For information about the debut of Scirus Topic Pages, see the NewsBreak from late June (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=36744). Stephen Cawley, the marketing manager for Scirus, said the projected launch for Topic Pages is 2Q 2008. Cawley said that since June, Scirus has provided a new user interface based on user feedback. The Scirus team is also working to develop a formal structured policy for involving experts in the Topic Pages. "We’re learning as we go, taking our time to deliver the best service we can."
Brant Emery, marketing manager of 2collab (www.2collab.com), said that networking is just one element of the new Web 2.0 tool—it’s really about collaboration. "What takes place in the offline world can now take place in the online world—we’re building on what’s already there."
Emery said that Elsevier’s Scopus and Science Direct teams wanted to provide researchers with an aggregated tool that provided best-of-breed applications that would let them connect with others in their fields, share information with their groups, discover new research material, and collaborate without email. Users can bookmark any item of interest, such as Web sites, articles, references, news, blogs, and share with a group—whether it’s a research group, colleagues, friends, or students. Members of groups can evaluate these resources (by rating bookmarks, tagging, and adding comments) or add their own bookmarks. Groups can be private (with invited people only) or public (open to wider use by the scientific community). Users can browse and search through 2collab to find interesting new topics, research ideas, or new people.
2collab was developed in conjunction with Elsevier’s usability labs and its development partners, which included 37 research organizations. Emery said the product will officially launch at the end of November. The development team is working now on a new user interface and will work to introduce more tools for evaluating information, and additional features for the personal profiles.
"Research tools, like 2collab and Scirus Topic Pages, can help librarians guide their users towards further scientific discovery and collaboration within their fields," said Jay Katzen, managing director of academic and government products at Elsevier. "By developing these types of applications now, we are sharing our expertise with customers, advancing the cause of information literacy, and bringing Research 2.0 tools to a wider audience."