A bit of a discussion got going at http://friendfeed.com/cameronneylon/af959943/really-interesting-inside-perspective-rt, in response to this blog post about Nature Network. I moved my response to here as it was getting a bit lengthy!
Brian, I agree that scientific social web is not a good domain for the VC guys at the moment. I’m not sure that it ever will be, simply due to the size of the market, if we’re talking about free access to social online services (the tight demographic might make per-click ad returns greater but my gut feeling is that scientists will reject ad-driven sites). However, academia has the benefit of not being quite so constrained by the profit-driven requirements of the commercial world. If there’s a clear demonstrable benefit then funding by research funders is conceivable. I very nearly got a year’s salary for a developer to work on researchpages from a large UK-funded research programme because they could see the benefits. Beaurocracy put a stop to it in the end, but it nearly happened!
Making things specifically for science is also not necessarily a good thing – we should be able to take advantage of free open services that cover a broad spectrum of activity. Funding bodies are keen that we should engage with the public (and personally I think it’s a fundamental part of what we do) so it seems obvious that we should be sharing online social space with commercial, political, journalistic and personal users. A good healthy mixed of integrated services must be the way forward.
I think it’s the individual scientists who need to be won over. And that’s a battle that can be won one person at a time. I’ve been banging on about Mendeley for a while to my colleagues and slowly but surely they are signing up and taking their first tentative steps into having an online social presence. Some of them are getting hooked and evangelising themselves. Mendeley is just the tip of the iceberg of open social online science, but its a good acessible way in. One thing that has helped my colleagues to take the plunge is being able to sign up using their facebook accounts – really lowers the barrier to entry (for some reason – I’ve never found having to sign up to things to be a very taxing process).