A discussion broke out recently on Friendfeed about online commentary on scientific articles. The discussions were interesting because, for the first time in recent memory, there was disagreement about something fundamental. I view this as an extremely positive sign that out community is starting to grow and incorporate people outside of our core group. In fact, if there’s no disagreement, it’s probably a sign you’re doing something wrong.
The disagreement went in two ways in the two different comment threads. In the second one, genereg promoted the idea that PLoS comments would be more abundant if there was true anonymity afforded to commenters. The other side of the argument, argued by Cameron Neylon(Friendfeed) (LinkedIn), Deepak Singh(FriendFeed) (LinkedIn), and Neil Saunders (FriendFeed) (LinkedIn), was that Real Names™ are important and desirable for online comments. The threads of so many different tangential discussions are running through here that I needed to take a second to write out the background ideologies in play. Continue Reading →
My colleague David Crotty has a rant at Bench Marks wherein he suggests that Nature’s blogging advocacy is just a shallow attempt to get more content for Nature Blogs, and that scientists blogging is just a fad that can’t replace mainstream media coverage of science and won’t amount to much otherwise. He’s certainly entitled to his opinion, but I think there’s another way to see things and I’d like to present a counterpoint to his Nicholas Carr-ying on.
Continue Reading →
- If it’s just hosting you need, I’ve got way excess capacity in my dreamhost account. I’d be happy to set you up… re: http://ff.im/ZB7T #
- Twitter Updates for 2009-02-15 http://ff.im/14tNd #
- Nice summary! re: http://ff.im/14eMe #
- Wow. I understand wanting to avoid eye-strain and all that, but it is an electronic device after all. How hard… re: http://ff.im/12PKx #
- The main difference is that a quiche is made from egg custard, whereas a fritatta is usually just egg, without… re: http://ff.im/14kHk #
- Liked “Genetic Future : The 1000 Genomes Project is holding back genetics!” http://ff.im/14cTx #
- Will it take the media as long to realize they lost the speed battle as it did record co’s to realize they lost the digital content battle? #
- Twitter Updates for 2009-02-14 http://ff.im/13I0x #
- Liked “Econbrowser: Tribune reports that 28% San Diego County owe more on their mortgage than the house is worth;” http://ff.im/13IqJ #
- I’m only surprised the number isn’t higher. re: http://ff.im/13IqJ #
- Richard, doesn’t the WSJ logic, as you explain it, only work under zero-sum conditions? To get a smaller… re: http://ff.im/13EsR #
- @sdbn Digg for medicine has been tried: http://tinyurl.com/b7crd6 in reply to sdbn #
- That’s only sometimes, and xp had the same behavior. It is annoying. #
- @kejames I don’t know of a client that threads replies, but Troy’s Twitter Script for greasemonkey works if you click through from client in reply to kejames #
- RT @sdbn: Protip: you can quickly look up San Diego Biotech companies by typing the SDBN URL followed by the first letter: http://sdbn.org/c #
- RT @sciam: Now up: Steven Benner. LiveScience’s on his talk yesterday on 8-nucleotide (rather than 4) genetic code http://is.gd/jB6M #AAAS09 #
- RT @psiquo: Science news in crisis http://ff.im/-14ec9 (mrgunn:Throwing down the gauntlet for @sciam @alexismadrigal @BoraZ to get audience) #
- I hope you don’t have an EPOCH FAIL today! http://xkcd.com/376/ re: http://ff.im/12U0Y #
- Liked “It works. I put “resisting salty snack chips” into http://gopproblemsolver.com/ “The solution to your…” http://ff.im/12U5B in reply to jayrosen_nyu #
- Could this be the Science Social Networking killer app? http://ff.im/12Ud1 #
- @Barbarellaf If you use Tweetdeck, you can do the categorization yourself. in reply to Barbarellaf #
- @gregaustin1 You as well, Greg. in reply to gregaustin1 #
- @GregorMacdonald Shall we call them the Globe and Fail? in reply to GregorMacdonald #
There are tons of social tools for scientists online, and the somewhat lukewarm adoption is a subject of occasional discussion on friendfeed. The general consensus is that the online social tools, in general, which have seen explosive growth are the ones that immediately add value to an existing collection. Some good examples of this are Flickr for pictures and Youtube for video. I think there’s an opportunity to similarly add value to scientists’ existing collections of papers, without requiring any work from them in tagging their collections or anything like that. The application I’m talking about is a curated discovery engine.
There are two basic ways to find information on the web – searches via search engines and content found via recommendation engines. Recommendation engines become increasingly important where the volume of information is high, and there are two basic types of these: human-curated and algorithmic. Last.fm is an example of a algorithmic recommendation system, where artists or tracks are recommended to you based on correlations in “people who like the same things as you also like this” data. Pandora.com is an example of the other kind of recommendation system, where human experts have scored artists and tracks according to various components and this data feeds an algorithm which recommends tracks which score similarly. Having used both, I find Pandora to do a much better job with recommendations. The reason it does a better job is that it’s useful immediately. You can give it one song, and it will immediately use what’s known about that song to queue up similar songs, based on the back-end score of the song by experts. Even the most technology-averse person can type a song in the box and get good music played back to them, with no need to install anything.
Since the reason for the variable degree of success of online social tools for scientists is largely attributed to the lack of participation, I think a great way to pull in participation by scientists would be to offer that kind of value up-front. You give it a paper or set of papers, and it tells you the ones you need to read next, or perhaps the ones you’ve missed. My crazy idea was that a recommendation system for the scientific literature, using expert-scored literature to find relevant related papers, could do for papers what Flickr has done for photos. It would also be exactly the kind of thing one could do without necessarily having to hire a stable of employees. Just look at what Euan did with PLoS comments and results.
Science social bookmarking services such as Mendeley, or perhaps search engines such as NextBio, are perfectly positioned to do something like this for papers, and I think it would truly be the killer app in this space.