How to close the digital divide among scientists

The term digital divide usually describes the troubling gap between those who use computers and the Internet and those who do not (Wikipedia). Many if not most scientists are experienced users of computers and the internet, and use email or public databases such as PubMed on a daily basis. But few scientists regularly use Web 2.0 tools, which would include both general tools such as Twitter, FriendFeed or Facebook, as well as tools specifically targeted at scientists (and this would of course include Nature Network).

Regular readers of this blog know that I am fascinated by technology, especially if this technology makes it easier to publish scientific papers. And like others I sometimes get carried away (Google Wave is a good recent example). Even among those scientists open to blogs, wikis, etc., not everybody wants to follow every technology trend. This could simply be because that would take too much time, but most people probably just don't care that much about technology.

So what can we do about this digital divide among scientists? Science is often very specialized, and sometimes only a few people participate in a discussion about a particular topic. Tim O'Reilly has coined the term alpha geek for people that are the first to use new technologies, and there certainly is a place for science alpha geeks. But Science Online is about science communication, and communication tools that are used by only a handful of people usually don't fulfill their purpose.

One easy solution would be to simply wait 10-20 years until most senior scientists are digital natives (those that have grown up with digital technology such as computers, the Internet or mobile phones), but that seems to be an awfully long time for something this important.

We could build better tools. Good tools simply work and don't need a lot of explanations. For me Papers is such a tool, but strickly speaking not really Web 2.0, because it has no collaboration features. Google Wave could be another example, but only the next few months will tell. What makes a good Web 2.0 tool for scientists? Most importantly, that the tool solves an important everyday problem. Equally important, that there aren't high hurdles in using this tool in terms of cost and learning curve. Another hurdle: some Web 2.0 tools only start to become useful once they have signed up a large enough number of users.

But we also need to do more to communicate the usefulness of online tools for scientists. The original definition of the digital divide has a negative meaning and everybody probably agrees that we should at least try to overcome this divide. Although there certainly is also a digital divide among scientists, the general perception is probably not that those scientists that are not Web 2.0-savvy are at a disadvantage. We should have a much closer look at the tools that are currently available, define the scenarios where they can be useful, and focus on that. We talk too much about the details, technical or otherwise. One example: most scientists probably want to have an idea of when an online reference manager can be helpful rather than the tools they currently use, rather than discuss the subtle differences between the very similar CiteULike, Connotea, and 2collab. Part of the problem is that people want to make money with their Web 2.0 tools for scientists, but forget that collaboration is more important than competition when the market still has to grow and is currently probably too small for viable business opportunities.

This makes closing the digital divide among scientists very much a science education exercise, and I think that science librarians should play a central role in this. Not surprisingly, a seminar last week by our local science librarian in our department and a blog post by science librarian John Dupuis (and the FriendFeed discussion around his blog post) were the inspiration for this post (another FriendFeed discussion started by Bora Zivkovic made be write the post today instead of going to bed early).

Update 06/15/09:
One good strategy to overcome the digital divide among scientists would be a Science 2.0 Cookbook. Similar in format to the O'Reilly Cookbook series for programming problems, the Science 2.0 cookbook would use the format problem/solution/discussion to provide a solution for problems like How do I share references with my coworkers in the lab? This could be started as a Wiki project.

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58 Responses to How to close the digital divide among scientists

  1. Eva Amsen says:

    [Like]

  2. steffi suhr says:

    My PhD advisor resisted for the longest time to use any kind of bibliographic software like endnote (not sure he even does now). I wonder what hopes we have of converting ‘them’? And how? It would have to be an offline conversion, of course – so having librarians involved seems a good suggestion (much more trustworthy than one’s PhD student going on about something, I am sure)!

  3. Craig Rowell says:

    My undergraduate mentor always told me that I should “keep up with the literature”. Now, this was at the beginning of the interwebs and so it was very different (plus my field was Sea Anemones – small field). However, as I advanced and my fields got bigger so did the literature and I learned many programs even though my advisors used none. The reason they didn’t, I think, is because they already had undergraduates, graduate and post-docs keeping them flush with literature. In every lab I was in we were all expected to contribute to the general pool of literature in the lab and for grants and papers. Therefore, the P.I. didn’t necessarily have to have a literature management system. On the point of librarians – these highly skilled researchers have sooo much to teach it is a shame that Universities don’t seem to use them better to educate the faculty.
    Finally, I would like to make yet another plea for changing how literature is represented in search engines. Without details (“see earlier post”:http://network.nature.com/people/U60CB0BD9/blog/2008/10/22/asking-questions-of-research) I would like every scientist to have to define the question that their submitted paper is asking and have that be a searchable field.

  4. Martin Fenner says:

    Steffy and Craig, reference management is a common issue. I also know a few people that tried to get away with writing a paper or thesis without reference manager software. One solution would be a system that manages the references for all members in the lab, so that newcomers (or principal investigators) don’t have to bother with this. This would make a good recipe for the Science 2.0 Cookbook that I proposed in my update to the blog post.

  5. steffi suhr says:

    _a system that manages the references for all members in the lab, so that newcomers (or principal investigators) don’t have to bother with this_
    The advantages are so obvious, surely it shouldn’t be difficult to convince people… yet this kind of information sharing seems difficult to implement anywhere, not just in research/academia. I have to admit that I feel a bit jaded from previous experiences!

  6. Martin Fenner says:

    I’m currently trying to implement a Wiki system in our department. From this and other experiences it is clear to me that it is not the right technology that is important, but rather the social aspect to it: convince people to use something different.

  7. Claudia Koltzenburg says:

    for early adopters (these we need first ;-) the chosen technology must certainly be useful – and time-saving – says a wiki-freak :-)

  8. Jean-Claude Bradley says:

    I agree that having a low barrier to entry is very important for new users. For example not all wikis have the same barriers, which is one reason I favor Wikispaces because it has a decent visual editor that does not require learning a wiki markup (like Wikipedia does). It is also helpful to take a few minutes and set up a wiki or blog (or whatever tool of interest) for the curious party to get them started. Again this is where using free hosted services are mighty handy. Down the road it may turn out that Google Wave is the tool of choice for many common applications.

  9. Maxine Clarke says:

    I agree with your most recent point, Martin. It is very hard “socially” to convince colleagues to use new/different technical systems. Given that these systems inevitably have a range of associated issues, for example password and access, learning to use (training), bugs, clunkiness, internet goes down or slow, system goes out of business, or out of date, and various others, people are relucant to learn and remember to access yet another.
    And although I agree with Craig and others about senior people using less senior people as antennae (by no means limited to the research profession;-) ), I am sure that this lack of desire to learn, use and access new systems is part of it.
    I thought it might be fun (?!) to list the independent systems I use daily:
    * Nature email system
    * Nature/NPG website
    * Nature/NPG staging server (an internal copy of our website for new material, testing, corrections etc)
    * Manuscript tracking system
    * Production tracking system
    * Blogs dashboard
    * JIRA (“job list”)
    * Confluence (NPG project wiki)
    * Editorial shared wiki (confidential to editors of Nature journals)
    * Company intranet
    * Nature Network
    * Pubadmin authoring tool
    * Nature editorial forward planner wiki
    * Macmillan invoicing and budget-tracking system
    * Connotea
    * Basecamp (project definition discussions)
    * Writeboard (project summaries)
    * Grapevine (reader comment moderating system)
    * RSS reader
    * Private company blog
    * Remote access – if I am outside an NPG office, most of these systems have an additional security set-up for accessing remotely.
    Then there are systems that I access regularly but not every day…..mostly external (non NPG) websites but quite a few internal systems.
    So, I can understand why it is hard to encourage people to use a new collaborative system – it sounds simple, but it might just be the last straw that breaks the camel’s back.

  10. Maxine Clarke says:

    Aargh! I knew this would happen when I pressed “post” – I forgot my most recent new daily aquisition – Nature’s new editorial content management system. That requires two more separate log-ons, operative skills (;-) ) etc (Content Station and Adobe Incopy CS3).

  11. steffi suhr says:

    Maxine, you made me giggle: the last company I worked for ended up requiring military-level laptop encryption (don’t ask why – bureaucracy)… you can imagine what that did for logging in to the myriad of different systems and secure websites :)
    Anyway, I hear through the grapevine that the MS Sharepoint (I know, it’s all we had!!) site I put together to get everyone somewhat organized in my previous department has imploded because it was not being looked after. And that’s even with the boss endorsing it. {sigh}

  12. Maxine Clarke says:

    Yes and yes, to your two paragraphs above, Steffi ;-) They resonate with me. Maintenance of these systems is a big issue, in particular, whether the organisation is small or large.

  13. María José Navarrete-Talloni says:

    I really like all those ideas, an dI think it makes collaboration faster and better.
    Unfortunately sometimes I just have to put my feet on the ground and face that here at my institute there is no one who wants to learn any new stuff, because that requires time, and they don’t have any extra-time to spent on “those” tech-things.
    I tried to set up the EndNote at the institute for 3 years now, but… I just got problems and _”No”_ as answers. Now I’m the only one working with it (on the Web based one because the institute didn’t want to pay the license, but the university did).
    Can you imagine that we still use analog photos for fluorescence and also light microscopy?… it is a tradition here to do it the “old school way”, so we have to do everything on _slides_ (reversal films) first, and it takes _AGES_!. Just this year, we managed to start the discussion on a new digital microscope camera… and we’ll get a couple soon.
    I have the feeling that in science many people is afraid of technology just because they think they cannot control it. That is sad, but I hope to help to make things different, if not here then somewhere else.

  14. Eva Amsen says:

    Analog photos for light microscopy? Oh, you guys are going to be SO happy once you don’t have to do that anymore!

  15. María José Navarrete-Talloni says:

    I know!… it will save us *SO MUCH TIME!*… I’m really looking forward it, you cannot imagine! ;-)

  16. Maxine Clarke says:

    While I sympathise with what you write, Maria, and agree with the sentiments, technology has its own problems. For example, there have been more than a few cases of “photoshopped” images being discovered — meaning that journals are having to invest in technology and training to detect these, and in policies to deal with problems. “See here for more information about image integrity”:http://www.nature.com/authors/editorial_policies/image.html. I love technology, don’t get me wrong, but it is not going to automatically lead to faster progress or to solutions to all previous problems. There are always issues with any technology, and sometimes people think that “proof of principle” is the same as “working in a daily environment”. Which it isn’t, of course.

  17. Darren Saunders says:

    _I’m currently trying to implement a Wiki system in our department)_
    We’re trying the same thing here, we’re yet to find a setup that does everything we want but our experience is that it’s actually quite difficult to get people using the thing.
    Great idea on the Cookbook though

  18. Darren Saunders says:

    @Maria… is your lab in cave somewhere? ;)

  19. Craig Rowell says:

    While we are on the topic of “old school” and technology adoption in Science….From my perspective of someone who was once a user of tools and now is making the new tools it is very interesting how many researchers through-out the world like to do things the “old” way. While the reasons for this are varied, it nevertheless speaks to how adoption of any new technologies, even with a low barrier to entry, are disruptive. Likely, it is this inherent change from “normal” that keeps people from changing, regardless of the improvements they would gain.
    Maria – I hope your new microscope lives up to your dreams and more.
    Maxine – I hope you have a very good system for keeping track of all those passwords :)

  20. Martin Fenner says:

    Maxine,
    your list looks scary. But if I think about it, I probably use a similar number of different systems on a regular basis, including two I created myself. And it is telling that I need a special program just to keep track of all those passwords.
    Maria, our university is not too far away from your place of work, and our library is very good in teaching the use of reference managers (usually RefWorks, as we have a site license for it). Maybe you could send some of your colleagues over?
    This discussion makes me realize that the digital divide is not just about the use of Web 2.0 tools for scientists, but computers in science in general.

  21. Maxine Clarke says:

    I agree, Martin – I could add some computer applications to my list but will spare you! I attempted to limit my list above to web-based applications (internal or external), but you’re right that the same “divide” occurs concerning people’s willingness and ability to use any new (to them) technology . Sometimes, but not always, they are right to be sceptical. And sometimes, as mentioned, there are valid boring but essential concerns about training, robustness of the system and support, that people want to know before they commit, even if the new system is promised to solve some longstanding problem.
    One example is the manuscript tracking systems (and similar systems used by, say, funders for grant applications) – when first mooted these were thought by everyone (users and suppliers) to be great time-savers. To some extent they are – some aspects of life as an author or editor have improved as a result of these systems, but others have not.

  22. María José Navarrete-Talloni says:

    @ Darren: my cave is close to Martin’s cave… hahaha! ;-)
    @ Craig: I hope it just makes my time worth it! :-)
    @ Martin: _Maybe you could send some of your colleagues over?_ – Thanks, I think some of them would be interested!. We also have classes here, but as I see it, most of my collegues and profs. are not interested in spending time learning “other” issues that are outside their research fields… that’s why it’s hard for them to understand how important institute web pages, blogs, wikisites, web2.0 and other computational tools are…
    @ Maxine: Great comments Maxine!. About _there have been more than a few cases of “photoshopped” images being discovered_ – I know, and that’s why “BB” (the “Big Boss”) is so reluctant to have digital ones, but that could happen anywhere, also with the analogs. It’s all about scientific ethics, and you cannot keep the “old fashioned” because it’s harder to cheat… right?

  23. Darren Saunders says:

    @Maria: Whether by digital or analogue means, it’s not hard to alter a micrograph or picture of a gel, many of the editing functions in Photoshop are digital adaptations of techniques that photographers have been using for years in their darkrooms. I saw some amazing film on TV not long ago of Ansel Adams in his darkroom… dodging, burning etc etc. I guess the digital form is more accessible? As Maxine points out, there are very clear guidelines on what is acceptable. Having said that, I wish more people took the time to educate themselves and their staff/students on the issue.
    Anyway, you’re gonna love digital microscopy, but having learnt the “old way” will probably have a better sense of how to take a good shot, rather than just firing away :)

  24. Frank Norman says:

    I’m surprised that there are still researchers who avoid bibliog management tools. I started pushing these 20 years ago and they have always been welcomed by our researchers. One person initially insisted on using his own system of Wordperfect plus macros, but eventually came round!
    I think that reducing complexity or increasing efficiency are often the keys to persuading people to use new tools. For example, something that helped authors to navigate multiple funding agency application sites, or multiple journal submission sites (rather than having to become expert in each one) would be useful.
    This is why the BL/Microsoft “RIC”:http://friendfeed.com/scienceapps/cf8bd04d/research-information-centre-microsoft looks interesting, if it lives up to its promise.

  25. steffi suhr says:

    Frank, what did you do to convince the Wordperfect/macro user?

  26. Frank Norman says:

    Actually with that person I realised there was nothing I could do to persuade him, and if he was happy why should I worry? But in time he saw that the new wave of products (Endnote 3) were actually superior to his home-crafted set-up, so he switched.

  27. Claudia Koltzenburg says:

    @María _It’s all about scientific ethics, and you cannot keep the “old fashioned” because it’s harder to cheat… right?_
    hm, maybe with open access to all the versions of a specific scientific image/video we would even top that one: compare them in the open and decide for yourself which one you trust most for including it in your own scientific contribution (which is open access and links to sources that are also open access :-)…

  28. Henry Gee says:

    Great post, Martin. If it weren’t for Maxine’s encouragement (and willingness to give one-to-one tuition) I’d have been very late to the party at Facebook, Friendfeed and Twitter, not to mention Nature Network (Maxine – I’m amazed you have any room left over for Life(TM) v1.0).
    It’s the one-to-one tuition that’s the key. What people need to get into new programs and routines is a very small amount of personal encouragement to get them over the feelings of perceived personal inadequacy, combined with never making the time to get their heads around it all.
    Here at Nature the great Timo Hannay hosts lecturers from those most hip and groovy in the cyber-world. I remember we had a chap from Linden Labs who came to talk about Second Life. Now, I’d _heard_ about Second Life, but had no motivation to explore it, forever putting it off. If it hadn’t been for that lecture, I might never have tried it out at all (I did, and didn’t like it much, but at least I _tried_ it).
    I could tell you a _very scary story_ about how _Nature_ was very nearly spoofed by a photoshopped image on my watch. But I won’t – it would give you nightmares.

  29. Martin Fenner says:

    Henry, you are probably right about the one-to-one tuition and about seminars that present an interesting new tool. But for the latter you need an environment/supervisor that is open to these things and allows to invite these people. And in the academic environment more often than not it is the speaker that talks about the release of calcium from intracellular stores for the 20th time that gets invited. As far as one-to-one tuition goes, I sometimes mention blogs, Twitter, FriendFeed and similar tools to my colleagues, but usually get a blank stare. Usually when I mention them out of context and not to solve a specific problem.
    BTW, today is an important day for all technology geeks, as the latest iPhone software (3.0) will be released. And I have heard from reliable sources that Henry plans to buy a brand new iMac today.

  30. Henry Gee says:

    :)
    I did indeed buy a new iMac, in all its 24-inch, 2.66-GHz, 4-Gb loveliness. I shall be able to collect it when -I get out of prison- the finance arrangements are complete.

  31. Frank Norman says:

    @Henry -you can get photoshop on your *watch*!!!?? Wow. That is impressive.

  32. Henry Gee says:

    What’s more, I can play Scrabble(TM) on my iPhone, and I’ve even got an app that’ll show me high- and low-tide times for Cromer. Ain’t technology wonderful?

  33. Maxine Clarke says:

    Great comments, everyone! Martin, this post has tapped into something, that’s for sure.
    Henry – my secret is that I don’t actually have a life. That’s the only way I survive all this progress ;-)
    Maria – somehow I think that it is more easy to detect a faked Tippexed-out line on a graph than it is a very cleverly doctored gel, but thankfully that is one skill I have not had to learn – though some of my colleagues in our production and art departments are wizards at spotting suspicious electronic trickery.

  34. Claudia Koltzenburg says:

    yes, Maxine, I agree, and I second Martin’s Cookbook idea, let’s just figure out what an O’Reilly Cookbook might be turned into when riding the new ‘Wave’ coming
    btw _”there should be some system of giving people credit for particularly insightful blog comments”_, says Mike Taylor – http://tinyurl.com/nk3syv – and this makes me think of Maxine’s input in this thread, Monday, 15 Jun e 2009 – 08:41 UTC in particular :-)
    OT: _gee, wouldn’t it be great if the digital divide among scientist was also overcome with regards to referenceable blog comments in the nature network – well, being a newbie here, I have just figured out how to reference my own comments, but what do I do to credit Maxine for hers on, I’m sure you know which one I am referring to but how do this properly in tinyurl?_

  35. Martin Fenner says:

    Claudia, the usual (somewhat stereotypical) answer to problems with the Nature Network blogging software: wait until we switch to “Movable Type”:http://www.movabletype.org/ software later this year. In the meantime, use “this link”:http://network.nature.com/people/mfenner/blog/2009/06/14/how-to-close-the-digital-divide-among-scientists#comment-38295 to refer to that particular blog post my Maxine. I don’t know the proper way to create this link, but I get the comment # (38295 in this case) from the _Flag as inappropriate_ link.
    And yes, I think for my next blog post I might try to write a *Science 2.0 Recipe*. I “like cookbooks and recipes”:http://network.nature.com/people/mfenner/blog/2008/12/28/my-personal-plans-for-2009, and not just the ones from O’Reilly. Any suggestions for topics? One idea: *how to distribute a paper you want to present at a journal club?*

  36. Claudia Koltzenburg says:

    thank you for this, Martin,
    re problem/solution/discussion cookbook: yepp, I like your new idea (just as well as the one you mentioned above “How do I share references with my coworkers in the lab?”)
    and this idea of yours I like best:
    “This could be started as a Wiki project.” :-)

  37. Maxine Clarke says:

    Thanks, Claudia!

  38. Helen Czerski says:

    I’m a postdoc and I’m one of the seminar organisers for my department. Each week, while everyone is coming into the seminar room and sitting down I display a brief description of some new Web 2.0 technology. All the descriptions are available online later. The idea is just to bring these ideas to people’s attention so that they can decide for themselves whether they’d like to find out more about them. The problem is that it’s a bit of a struggle to find online tools to highlight. I pay attention to any hint of that sort of thing, and it’s pretty time-consuming to find suitable ideas for each week. I’m persisting, but I think that either there aren’t that many things out there, or they’re doing a really bad job of getting themselves into the world of the scientist. If anyone knows of any good sources of this sort of thing, I’d really appreciate it if you could let me know!

  39. Martin Fenner says:

    Helen,
    this is really neat idea! I’ll add it to my mental list of ideas on how to promote Science 2.0 tools. I currently like the concept of recipes best, but maybe each recipe could be summarized in a slide, and the resulting slideset could be freely distributed.
    The digital divide among scientists is also discussed on the Blue Lab Coats blog. The blog post “Kicking and Screaming into the Online Age…”:http://bluelabcoats.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/kicking-and-screaming-into-the-online-age/ again emphasizes the importance to focus on the simple things.

  40. Troy Sadkowsky says:

    The role of the *Data Scientist* (as described in the report from “JISC”:http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/documents/dataskillscareersfinalreport.aspx and also discussed in an “article at Flowing Data”:http://flowingdata.com/2009/06/04/rise-of-the-data-scientist/) seems like a great concept for *bridging this gap*. When applying the “Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology”:http://www.istheory.yorku.ca/UTAUT.htm to the situation and inserting the concept of a Data Scientist, it would be a great experiment to measure the change in acceptance. My thoughts are that a Data Scientist could increase the performance of technology and decrease the effort required by the other scientists. The key factor is the *distinction of the roles*, it is the Data Scientist’s responsibility to keep up with the literature in web collaboration tools and digital data management so that the other scientists can keep up with the literature within their own specialized field.

  41. Claudia Koltzenburg says:

    Helen,
    good job you’re doing!
    ? which tool to present next: tease product managers into advertising, maybe on an open wiki page that already is an interface between ‘the science geeks’ and ‘the software geeks’ – multilingual, if possible, any suggestion anyone? hm, not exactly sourceforge.org, but maybe something similar to this? where users could rate the product, compare, add own examples… I am sure we do not need to invent this, it sure is out there somewhere already

  42. Claudia Koltzenburg says:

    me again, this might be useful – any new ones in here for you, Helen?
    “free web-based collaboration tools”:http://sixrevisions.com/tools/15-free-tools-for-web-based-collaboration/
    and which ones have you portrayed so far?

  43. Claudia Koltzenburg says:

    oops, yet “another overview, by way of mind-mapping”:http://www.mindmeister.com/de/maps/show_public/12213323, including “Document Sharing – Wikis”

  44. Martin Fenner says:

    Claudia, I’m still thinking about the best way to write down stuff that might be helpful to close the digital divide among scientists. Wikis and other document-sharing sites are great, but they also have to be set up, maintained – and found. For the time being, I will try blog posts (e.g. “Recipe: Receiving Journal Table of Contents Automatically”:http://network.nature.com/people/mfenner/blog/2009/06/21/recipe-receiving-journal-table-of-contents-automatically yesterday). A wonderful example of a blog with practical tips for using technology is “Lifehacker”:http://lifehacker.com/.

  45. Maxine Clarke says:

    The “data scientist” is an interesting concept. Perhaps, upon re-reading this thread, we are looking for people in “research support roles” who can combine the skills of computing, web programming, analytics, librarian, troubleshooter, technician, web 2.0 news and information, IT systems training, documenting…….quite a challenge…

  46. Henry Gee says:

    @ Maxine: _we are looking for people … who can combine the skills of computing, web programming, analytics, librarian, troubleshooter, technician, web 2.0 news and information, IT systems training, documenting…….quite a challenge…_
    Sounds like a gumshoe in one of those modern crime novels you like so much. Add some ill-concealed past personal trauma and a drinking problem, and you’re there. Stir in some mild sexual dysfunction, and Val McDiarmid has probably already done it. :)

  47. Samantha Alsbury says:

    Hi everyone,
    I’m just catching up having not read this blog for a while – sorry!
    Going back to Henry Gee’s post – what is second life?
    I think bridging the digital divide is very important not just in science but in society too. So maybe knowing what works and what factors are important to encourage scientists to use technology we can see if similar ideas work more broadly. I guess the digital divide in society is a whole topic on it’s own but if we can’t persuade scientists (Presumably pre-disposed to thinking technological advances are good – or maybe I’m wrong about this!!) to use the technology then how will we manage to persuade the general public that it’s a good idea and that they should a) fund it and b)use the stuff that’s relevant to them.
    I think the idea of a data scientist is good if I’ve understood it correctly. Having an expert around to ask for advice or some brief one on one sessions should address several of the issues including: the time it takes to learn how to use things; knowing what is available; working out what works well and what doesn’t as well as overcoming the confidence issues.

  48. Claudia Koltzenburg says:

    what an interesting thread! thanks everyone,
    @Samantha:
    good point about _see if similar ideas work more broadly_ – this makes me think we might take a second to step off our usual tracks and reconsider what seems to me an implicit thinking habit: why presume that the best web tools are made for an English-speaking market in the first place? Maybe there are alot of brilliant ideas that already work broadly and we’re just ignorant of them because many developers who tap into English-speaking threads might just not be able to tap into Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese threads maintained by their fellow developers elsewhere? Maybe linguistic gaps help shape digital divides. Take this example: “UN announces launch of world’s first tuition-free, online university”:http://www.uopeople.org/ – with access in one language only…
    @Maxine:
    while the combination of skills for _“research support roles”_ looks quite daunting, my take on this is that we do not have to re-invent individuals – let’s just get clever team member combinations going – any examples?
    @Martin:
    this one might be a hit if you’re looking for a topical wiki-based platform: “The Foundation for *P2P Alternatives*. We study the impact of Peer to Peer technology and thought on society.”:http://p2pfoundation.net/The_Foundation_for_P2P_Alternatives
    For a User account, just mail to “Michael Bauwens”:michelsub2003ATyahoo.com

  49. Claudia Koltzenburg says:

    @Martin:
    use blog and wiki alongside each other to work on the same draft text: “Write to Reply”:http://writetoreply.org/

  50. Maxine Clarke says:

    Indeed, Claudia, I think that many people do develop multi-skills, for example within a team, different members will specialise in one or other of these aspects. An example? Well, maybe our manuscript (primary research) subeditors at Nature, where in the team one specialises on technical systems (eg the production tracking system and MathType), another on the style manual – including adding new links, another on organising staffing issues (eg cover for absences), another on checking the journal website for “conversion errors” in the HTML each week, etc — but they all have the same core job of subediting and proofreading manuscripts and liaising with art, authors, press office and production. That may not be the best example but I do think it shows how technical and web systems have stimulated what Claudia so charmingly calls “clever team member combinations”:-)
    If Frank returns here, he can perhaps elaborate on how the librarian’s role has changed in the light of the web in a multitude of ways. That is very dramatic, from what I have read and heard.

  51. Maxine Clarke says:

    Sorry, an inadvertent strike-through above, I used too many dashes again.

  52. Nicolas Fanget says:

    Hello all,
    to add water to the mill, I am surprised no one mentioned “Zotero”:http://www.zotero.org/. It is a “Firefox”:http://www.mozilla-europe.org/en/firefox/ add-on that basically does the job of Endnote, with the added advantage for cheapskates like me that it is free. It can take care of saving your pdfs and webpage that you then want to cite, and there is an add-on for both Word and “OpenOffice”:http://www.openoffice.org/ (free too!) for when you decide to write a paper.
    The “social” bit is quite basic, but you can set up a “group” on the web with all your references for everyone to see and edit, or just see, or hidden and private. Your references are synchronised with their server, so whenever you edit your list online or on your desktop the change is carried over. You could also export your list as RIS and import that in Connotea/citeUlike/whatever the latest one is.
    And now for the final trick: your can install Firefox on a USB stick (enter “portable firefox _operating system_” in a famous search engine). Download on a USB memory stick (I bought a 4GB one for £14 recently, that’s a lot of pdfs!). This way you would carry all your references with you, as well as all your passwords (anyone remember their Athens password?).
    I mention those free tools because it was the case that at “a place of higher education” I had access to Endnote on campus, but couldn’t get it for home (undergrad). Combine OpenOffice+Firefox+Zotero= £0.00, but it becomes much easier to write decent essays with an almost properly formatted bibliography! It works on Windows, Apple and Linux too (and more probably), so everyone from bog standard PC users to classy Mac users and us geeky penguins can share the love.
    @Martin, Papers looks very slick (as most Mac apps), but doesn’t do the sync ‘n cite ‘n share. Maybe they’ll get around to it?

  53. Martin Fenner says:

    Nicolas, Zotero is a great reference manager and we have discussed it before (“Zotero: Interview with Trevor Owens”:http://network.nature.com/people/mfenner/blog/2009/03/04/zotero-interview-with-trevor-owens and “Test driving Zotero”:http://network.nature.com/people/mike/blog/2009/06/18/test-driving-zotero). We could have a long discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of Zotero compared to Endnote, Refworks, Mendeley, Papers, etc., but I think in the context of this discussion it is more important to pick one reference manager (they are all good) and then do your best that everybody in your lab, department, list of coauthors, etc. knows how to use the program. Which is hard enough, I still meet people that try to write papers without the use of a reference manager.

  54. Claudia Koltzenburg says:

    @Maxine, good idea to ask Frank in re library issues and role updates
    @Nicolas, thanks for your views re Zotero
    @Martin _”Claudia, I’m still thinking about the best way to write down stuff that might be helpful to close the digital divide among scientists.”_ hm, this depends on who you wish to share any applause with, I guess, let me take a metaphor and ask: are you thinking of writing cookbooks as a soloist? as a choral singer? as both with changing roles?
    @general: what entices people to overcome web habits in the first place? curiosity? playfulness? time-savings on the horizon? views of one’s peers? one’s penguins (hi Nicolas)? geeky anyone who sounds clever enough to get me going?
    _e.g., if you are still using a mouse, what would make you use it on the side currently less common to you?_

  55. Martin Fenner says:

    Claudia, I don’t think it is so much about sharing the applause. And also not about having the tools available to build a nice collection of recipes. But rather, what can we do that this resource will actually be used? We already have a large number of Web 2.0 tools for scientists, but many of them aren’t really used as much as they could. Finding good answers to the questions in the last paragraph of your post could really help.
    “Library 2.0″:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Library_2.0 should also be mentioned in this discussion. This is both a new concept for a library service, but also a good collection of resources that teach in the use of Web 2.0 tools.

  56. Claudia Koltzenburg says:

    Martin, right you are, and such questions are already being tackled by quite a few professionals who specialize on finding out about user habits and tech adoption waves and any issue linked to this, including the marketing, of course, so we might benefit from asking them in.
    let me answer my own example questions: _if you are still using a mouse, what would make you use it on the side currently less common to you?_
    yepp, on some of the computers I use, the mouse is still convenient (hm, I would prefer the keys-only luxuries, but not even Ubuntu got round to implementing this full-heartedly, it seems), anyway:
    what convinced me on the mouse position issue was the following geeky question: Which hand do you normally use for scribbling? hm, I said, the right hand. So why would you want to have the mouse on the right competing with pen&paper for the space closest to the machine? Umpf, right she was. So the mouse moved to the left (because switching the mouse side was faster than switching the scribble side). So, in this case, for me it was good arguments re two-handed workspace comfort when in front of the screen.
    now we might switch to Web 2.0 habits – what was it that got us going in the first place? (with me it was my curiosity and my playfulness which made me want to find out what my non-peer geeky contemporaries were up to using wikis)

  57. Nicolas Fanget says:

    @Martin – oops, should have searched for Zotero before posting!
    Your reviews led me to Mendeley too, I had no idea this existed. Go home, download, tinker…

  58. Claudia Koltzenburg says:

    re using and not using and *how choice may not be a matter of mere choice*:
    “_How wide is the world’s digital divide, anyway?
    New broadband penetration data shows that the majority of the world has almost no home access to high-speed Internet access… By Nate Anderson, July 1, 2009 2:35 PM CT_”:http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/07/how-wide-is-the-worlds-digital-divide-anyway.ars