Is Web 2.0 failing in Biology?

David Crotty, the Executive Editor from CSH Protocols, last month wrote a provocative blog post called Why Web 2.0 is failing in Biology. He did an informal poll among scientists and found that none of them read science blogs or use social networking sites for scientists. His arguments why that is so?

  • Time. Scientists have little time, and rather spend this time in the laboratory or reading papers
  • Trust. Web 2.0 sites for scientists haven't (yet) build a reputation. For important decisions (e.g. a critical protocol for an experiment), they rather ask a colleague they know.
  • Inappropriate Tools. The requirements for scientists are very different from the typical Facebook or Digg user.

I believe that David is right in his analysis that the big majority of scientists (at least in the life sciences) don't read science blogs or participate in social networking sites like Nature Network. This could mean two things: a) Web 2.0 is not working for biologists or b) we are just at the beginning and need to be patient. As a science blogger I like to believe in b). Fortunately or unfortunately, the success of any Web 2.0 project depends on a large number of users.

As of 2008, I think that Science 2.0 (or whatever you want to call it) has had a good start. But it is very important that we stay focused on where we want to go and not get distracted by the possibilities that the technology offers. One goal I've set for myself and have written about in this blog: Web 2.0 should make the process of paper writing much easier. This includes easy access to papers needed for your manuscript (including open access), online writing tools such as Buzzword or Google Docs, online tools for managing or sharing your references (e.g. Connotea or Refworks) and tools for collaboration and coordination (e.g. Basecamp). Right now, the different pieces don't quite fit together, but the potential is there for tremendous savings of time and money. And that is attractive.

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7 Responses to Is Web 2.0 failing in Biology?

  1. Henry Gee says:

    I read David Crotty’s post – or tried to (it was very long, _way_ too long for easy on-screen reading: doesn’t that tell you something?) and was intrigued by two comments.
    First, He quotes physicist Sean Carroll as saying that “[a] blog raises your profile, but it raises your profile for something other than research.” Quite so. I write “my blog”: largely as off-duty entertainment. It is very difficult to discuss things that are explicitly work-related, because some things are confidential, and other things I might say be at variance with my company’s policy. If I do discuss work-related things, such as science communication, it’s in a very general way. Otherwise I confine my comments to matters of relatively little consequence such as what my chickens are up to; the life and opinions of Beelzebun Demon Bunny of *DOOM*; rock’n’roll; what passes for humor; and issues which are entirely uncontentious anyway, such as religion and politics [_shurely shome mishtake? Ed_]. I imagine that most scientists are in the same position – they wouldn’t want to blog or append comments for fear of giving away important information, and so the residuum, being unimportant, is thought by the potential audience as not worth reading.
    Second, he notes that “the main purpose [of the internet] appears to be posting cute pictures of cats.” And there was I thinking that the purpose of the internet was for the posting of pictures of naked ladies in provocative positions. Doh!

  2. Bronwen Dekker says:

    The chemists, however, *do* seem to be doing the whole blogging, networking thing.
    “Chemical Forums”:
    “Useful Chemistry”:
    “Org Prep Daily”:
    “The Half Decent Pharmaceutical Chemistry Blog”:
    …and the list goes on and on… so it definitely is possible!
    There is an insight at C&EN that might be of interest (though it is on the old side…)…
    “Bloggers Anonymous
    Personal-journal-style websites usher in a new age of chemical communication”:
    I doubt very much that Web 2.0 is actually failing in biology – there must be quite a few excellent blogs in the biological sciences, perhaps there is a biologist-type reading this post who could suggest a few good examples.
    This one looks quite nice (for example):
    “Twisted Bacteria “: :)

  3. Bob O'Hara says:

    Web2.0 is a failure for biologists? “Surely not”:! I think biologists are just using it in a different way, one which suits their needs.
    The tools for paper writing could be useful, but they need to be actively promoted. Without that, most biologists won’t see why they should shift their working methods. Without this a lot of Web 2.0 initiatives could become hopeful monsters.

  4. Martin Fenner says:

    Of course I agree with you. But the Petra Test fails. I can’t convince my wife, a microbiologst and much better scientist than I am, to get involved in these web 2.0 for scientists things. Of course she is using Genbank and Journal Table of Contents per email, etc. But that is Web 1.0. The day she finds a compelling reason to regularly read blogs or join Nature Network, I declare the Petra Test successful.

  5. David Crotty says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, and yes, the title is somewhat deliberately inflammatory. The point I’m eventually reaching is that there’s an awful lot of “web 2.0 for the sake of web 2.0″ out there, rather than a lot of focus on really high quality tools that are likely to become part of mainstream biology research. Much of what’s being done right now is doomed to failure, but the whole concept is certainly not going to disappear.
    I do agree with you that efficiency-increasing tools are much more interesting and likely to succeed than a lot of the tools that seem to be there just to demand time from the user. I’m giving a similar talk at the end of this month, this time to scientists, rather than to publishers. I’m hoping I’ll be able to point them toward useful tools (and there are a few) rather than just tell them that things are pretty lame right now, so wait a while before investing your efforts. I’ll post that at the blog, but I’ll warn you that it will likely be a long article as well. I’m not sure the best way to put up the content of a 30 minute talk online so suggestions would be welcome.

  6. Martin Fenner says:

    thanks a lot for your comment. I completely agree with you that the efficiency-increasing tools are most important. I’m looking forward to look at the slides of your next talk. “SlideShare”: would be a good tool for your talk, but you probably know that. Talking of talks and meetings, that is another area where science could greatly benefit from Web 2.0 tools. This includes blogging about a conference, putting the slides online or even putting the presentations online as podcasts.
    When I wrote my blog entry, I missed at least two other blog posts on the subject (probably more): “this”: post by Anna Kushnir on the JOVE blog and “this”: post by Noah Gray on the Action Potential Nature Neuroscience blog.

  7. Cameron Neylon says:

    There’s another obvious problem. Web2.0 thrives on networlk effects which need to be driven by sufficiently large and interconnected networks. Without enough people (and people with the right skills and connections) it won’t take off. This probably has implications for the collaborations group as well. Are there enough (active) people on Nature Networks? Actually its an interesting question. How many people are there? Are the numbers available?