Do scientists use social media? Considering that the Web was conceived as a medium for scientific communication, it seems to make sense that they would. Yet, evidence has been scarce.
BioInformatics LLC conducted a survey in November 2007 that found some interesting trends:
- 77% of life scientists participate in some type of social media
- 50% see blogs, discussion groups, online communities, and social networking as beneficial to sharing ideas with colleagues
- 85% see social media affecting their decision-making
- Discussion groups and message boards are still the most-used types of sites, but online communities are gaining fast
- User-generated content is not completely trusted for product information, but it is more trusted than information in printed trade magazines, editorial web sites, or online portals
More evidence was recently released by Elsevier’s 2collab team. They conducted a survey of 1,894 randomly selected academic faculty and government contacts derived from their Science Direct user database. The results may be surprising, especially given some recent thinking about the utility of social media in academia:
- Over 50% of respondents envision social applications “playing a key role in shaping nearly all aspects of research workflow” in the next 5 years
- Over 25% currently use social applications
- Nearly 25% (23%) believe social applications will have a major influence on grant application and funding within 5 years
- More than 25% believe social applications will have a major influence on finding jobs
Elsevier’s survey went a little further than the earlier survey, asking respondents to name sites. This generated a Top 11 list of social media sites in the sciences:
- Nature Network (36%)
- BioMed Experts (35%)
- Facebook (35%)
- MySpace (34%)
- LinkedIn (33%)
- ResearcherID (19%)
- CiteULike (18%)
- 2collab (18%)
- del.icio.us (15%)
- Connotea (14%)
- Digg (14%)
One of my normal conceits around what works and what doesn’t is “workflow.” Things should fit into a user’s workflow. This leads to faster adoption, better integration, and long-term utility. It makes sense in a lot of ways.
So, it’s tempting to think that workflow is a major requirement for scientists. New offerings have to fit into their workflow, or they won’t be adopted. Hence, the best social networks would fit existing workflows.
What is surprising to me is that social media designed specifically to “socialize” traditional workflow functions aren’t used as much. In fact, Connotea, 2collab, and ResearcherID rank lower than most.
These results actually make me question the workflow mental model. Nature Network isn’t about workflow. BioMed Experts is about browsing social networks and connecting, so isn’t much about workflow. Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn? I don’t care how much you force-fit those into workflows, they aren’t about work. (LinkedIn can be about finding a job, but not about doing a current job.) Each one is about social connections. Even the respondents who agreed that social networks will factor in to research workflow could be envisioning the social aspects of research. In the BioInformatics research, only 2-10% of respondents agreed that social media, “[s]implifies my lab workflow.” Wikis did the best job (10%), while blogs, aggregators, discussion groups, communities, and podcasts all registered 6% or lower.
Here we have a mixed list of top sites for social interactions. The less used ones are those geared toward professional activities. The most popular ones are more social.
Maybe scientists find these things fun and interesting in a purely social sense. Connecting during their downtime and building a network of friends and colleagues with relative ease may be rewarding, diverting, and interesting. It may help their research indirectly.
Maybe it’s not about workflow per se.
Maybe it’s about people.
Maybe social networks are really about socializing.
(Shout out to Daniel Pollock at Outsell Inc. for reminding me of the 2007 survey and pointing me to the Elsevier infromation. This entry was inspired by a write-up he distributed recently connecting the two (Outsell analysis [paid content]).)