Science 2.0: Social networks and online applications for scholars.

Lluís Codina

Citación recomendada: Lluís Codina. [en linea]. "", num. 7, 2009. <> [Consulted: 31 ene. 2010]. undefined.

  1. Introduction
  2. Web 2.0 + Science = Science 2.0
  3. Social Networks
    3.1. Components and Functions
  4. ResearchGATE
    4.1. Context
    4.2. Document management
    4.3. Other characteristics
  5. Other academic networks and similar initiatives
  6. On-line applications
    6.1. Lumifi
      6.1.1. Context
      6.1.2. Searches
      6.1.3. Management
      6.1.4. Other characteristics
  7. Conclusions
  8. References

Lluís Codina
Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
Communication Department. Library and Information Science


Professor of Journalism and Visual Communications. Dr. Codina also participates in the Master's in Advanced Social Communication Studies. He also coordinates the Research Group on Digital Documentation at the UPF. His research interests currently focus on the social web, web 2.0, the semantic web, digital publishing, on-line research and science 2.0. He is co-director of the Online Master on Digital Documentation and the Online Master on Search Engines.


1. Introduction

The Web 2.0 is responsible for the greatest changes the Web has experienced since the mid-2000s and it is surely responsible for the relentless increase in Web audience (in classic terms) relative to other media or channels of communication. It seems that it was just a matter of time before these changes affected academic and research activities.

First of all, without a doubt, social networks are one of the most characteristic elements of the Web 2.0. In fact, if we follow what is considered "public opinion," it seems that for the majority of citizens, to say Web 2.0 is to say social networks; and surely this association is justified.

Online applications (or cloud computing) are surely the "other" side of the web 2.0. As we know, they consist in services or applications that up to just recently only worked locally. A "classic" example would be the group of on-line office applications offered by Google Docs.

Here we will focus on cases of web 2.0 for scholars and researchers. Each example seems to be a good representation of the best, or at least the most representative of what the Web 2.0 has to offer to different activities. Specifically, we have selected ResearchGATE (as an example of social networks) and Lumifi (as an example of on-line applications).


2. Web 2.0 + Science = Science 2.0

In general, there are two basic underlying ideas in the extrapolation of Web 2.0 to the sciences: (1) science is communication; (2) science is collaboration. It seems obvious that both things may improve with the use of instruments like social networks. Both of these ideas are very well expressed by the founders of ResearchGate:

The vision of Science 2.0 is promising: Communication between scientists will accelerate the distribution of new knowledge. [...] Science is collaboration, so scientific social networks will facilitate and improve the way scientists collaborate. Cooperation on scientific publications can be facilitated through Wiki-like concepts (ResearchGate, 2009)

There is a third element that refers to the idea that the Web 2.0 may provide not only new forms of disseminating science, but also new methods of evaluating articles and scientific reports. This third component is very controversial, since it includes proposals like eliminating anonymity in the review process of scientific publications known as peer review.

We will not discuss this aspect within this article, mainly because of its polemic nature, but also because it its matter to could discussed by itself.


3. Social Networks

Naturally, the concept of social networks precedes the Web. This is a social structure that may adopt many forms and characteristics. For example, for decades in Documentation there has been the idea of invisible colleges. This consists of a de facto network made up of authors of documents working within the same academic field or discipline and who tend to cite each other in their scientific productions.

For sometime in sociology there has been the concept of "six degrees of separation" (figure 1), also known in academic terms as the small world phenomenon. In short, these theories claim that between two different random people from anywhere on the planet, for example, one in Los Angeles (person A) and another in Stockholm (person B) there are a small number of inter-connections between them via other people. For example, let us say that the person in Los Angeles (A) had a Swedish grandfather (a1), and that the person in Stockholm (B) had a neighbour (b1) who worked with the brother (b2) of the Swedish grandfather (A). So we get three degrees of separation:

A > a1 > b2 > b1 > B. Or visually:


Figure 1

Whether or not the maximum number of degrees of separation is six (or 8 or 10) is the not point. Instead, even though there are many components in the example (in this case the planet Earth, some 6 million people) there are a surprising small number of degrees (people) of separation between any two of these people. From which, we can deduce that "small" does not refer to the world, but to the separation. But in laymen's terms, the expression still holds true: It's a small world. So we can assume that this has always been popular knowledge...

The point of the matter is, with or without philosophical support, social networks are, without a doubt, the most popular aspect of the Web 2.0. Good proof of this probably consists not only in the number of affiliates it already has, but the simple fact that it is the only element that has become part of mass media.

3.1. Components and Functions

Table 1 attempts to summarise the components and functions of the networks applied to the field of science and academic activities. We have divided the table into two columns. The left column corresponds to the components that we can find in generic social networks like LinkedIN or Facebook. On the right we have the specific components of academic networks-like ResearchGate or ResearcherID-along with generic components that present distinguishing aspects academic networks.

General (Web 2.0) Specific (Science 2.0)
Component Description Component Description
Homepage This page shows the network when we login. It includes any updates (messages, visitors, new incorporations, etc.) and access to the basic network functions. Document management This component may have three variants: (1) Personal manager: maintains the list of our references, either hand written entries or automatic imports from other databases or digital repository. (2)Search databases: This allows for document searches by topic joined from different external sources. This usually includes the option to add references that may interest the library's personnel. (3) Semantic search: Some systems may search documents from the analysis of other documents or from our profile or our publications, etc.
Profile The information that we have decided to publish about ourselves. This may be very basic or comprehensive. Academic profile These profile networks are usually very suited to academia. For example, they usually include personal publications or data on research projects.
Messages A file of the message history with members in our personal network. Groups Of course, the groups in these networks always refer to those in academia.
Searches A function allowing one to search the network for names and people or topics to find new contacts in the network or groups of interests. - -
Groups Access to groups we are a part of, and options for searching for groups, to request becoming a member and to create them. For academic networks, these are obviously academically minded. - -
Communication Collaboration A variety of tools that enable communication for collaboration between groups and network members. - -
Preferred Some social networks allow you to have a list of sites, pages and preferred resources that other members in the network can view. - -

Table 1: General components of social networks in an academic context.

A simple glance of the functions on the previous table shows us that, at least in theory, members in an academic group, not only researches and university professors, but also master's degree and doctoral students may benefit from becoming part of these networks.

However, the majority of the groups mentioned that would most benefit from these networks are those researches hoping to improve their chances of collaboration.

For documentation professionals working in universities and research centres, this may be an enormous data resource. The right knowledge may allow them to provide many improved services to their users (or clients, as many like to say), without mentioning all of those who frequently or occasionally carry out R+D+i projects.

Below we will briefly present the characteristics, while still provisional, that may be found in three of the most characteristic Science 2.0 networks. All three present most or all of the services that a general social network provides, so we can focus on those discussed in Table 1 as academic networks.


4. ResearchGATE


Figure 2. ResearchGATE

4.1. Context

May be the first to note on ResearchGATE (figure 2) is that it is European, even though it has successfully entered the US market. Like so many other Web initiatives, ResearchGATE was founded by three young researchers that met in German universities, and in just a brief period has expanded greatly.

Currently, it has headquarters in Boston and Hanover, and various other scientific societies have adopted ResearchGATE as their communication platform: the International Academy of Life Sciences, the European Science Foundation and the Max Planck PhDnet (Max Planck Society doctoral student network).

It also has the Global Advisory Network, which is an international network of network consultants and advisers consisting of professors and researchers from various countries. Some countries are very well represented, like USA and Germany with dozens of advisers, but other countries less so. Spain, for example, only had two in March, 2009. The whole African continent also only had two, and countries like France were at intermediate levels with four advisers (all data refers to March, 2009).

4.2. Document management

It offers the three possible dimensions or varieties of what we have called Document management in Table 1, including a semantic search, but all with some limitations.

The automatic data import by loading files works with Endnote and Reference Manager. It also accepts the generic formats BibTex and RIS, but only when encoded in XML. This limited, for example, being able to properly import some RefWorks registries (some of the fields had to be edited manually) even though this is one of the current top bibliographic managers.

The bibliographic file is very limited, and even though it properly completes the professional profile in terms of recognising their works, it can not be compared to those that a specialised manager provides, like those previously mentioned. It provides an option to send our bibliographic information to other researchers.

The search for information is also limited, since currently it only works with six sources, all digital repositories: arXiv, CiteSearch, IEEE Xplore, NTRS, PubMed and RePEc. It has a total of 30 million documents, but without barely any representation of the humanities and social sciences, and without any European repositories (despite its origins), nor are there any documents in languages other than English. If we compare this with the 400 million documents that Scirus offers, with hundreds of sources from around the world and in all disciplines and dozens of languages, we can confirm that this is a very limited option.

In terms of its semantic search, the tests performed (not systematically) did not provide us with good results. It was always more effective to search via key words. This did not surprise us, since semantic searches are still in their early stages in any context, and more so in a general context.

4.3. Other characteristics

What most stood out with ResearchGATE was its overall elegant interface and the way it presents its specific network member profile, distributed in six tabs: About me, Publications, Library, Contacts, Groups, Network graph (figure 3).

Finally, we must note: This is a visual way of viewing information from different parts of our network: contacts, publications and groups. The following illustration shows the presentation of the author's incipient network.


Figure 3. A ResearchGATE network represented visually


5. Other academic networks and similar initiatives

Besides ResearchGATE, there have been a number of other academic networks or similar initiatives. Some of them, like ResearcherID, are associated to important groups like Thomson Reuters (even though we did not focus on this page since it does not present as much of a Web 2.0 profile as ResearchGATE does, as of now). Table 2 includes a small list of academic social networks.

Name / Observations URL
LinkedIN This is not specifically an academia network, but it is a network used by many professionals in general, including a large number of university users throughout the world.
EXITThis is a Spanish directory of communication, information and documentation professionals. Associated to the magazine El Profesional de la Información (a publication indexed in the ISI)
ResearcherID A network associated to the powerful company Thomson Reuters, the creators of ISI databases.
SciLink A social network founded by Brian Gilman, a scientist and inventor, after the creation of a company
Scholar Universe A social network of another large creator and distributor of databases, Proquest, which also manages RefWorks databases.
Academici Belongs to a private English company of the same name, and is the only social network that includes both free and pay services (Premium).
LalisioA German company that also belongs to the German-US company (Q-Sensei) with headquarters in the United States. However, Lalisio's headquarters is in Germany. Founded in 2001, it may be one of the oldest academic networks. This network's executive management is compose of scholars and doctoral students from the US and England. Somehow they have obtained the membership of key scientific figures like Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, along with Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins. It appears to be experiencing a strong expansion.

Table 2: Other academic networks and similar initiatives


6. On-line applications

Without a doubt online applications are going to change (or revolutionise) office software in upcoming years. In other words: The future version of Office (MS or Open) will no longer be executed locally. Instead we will connect to a web server and execute it from a browser. Of course after having identified ourselves and having entered into our personal space. We will only occasionally use the corresponding offline version, the opposite of what we do now.

If this seems strange, think of the way other applications like bibliographic information managers, content managers or blog managers routinely work.

Table 3 is a summary of characteristics of both types of applications (online and offline).

Characteristics Off-line Online
Application maintenance Final user's responsibility Service provider's responsibility
Use of the application Local mode from a computer with the necessary pre-installed and configured application From any computer from any part of the world, without the need of installing an application previously.
Data storage On a hard drive on a specific computer only accessible locally ("one at a time") A web server's hard drive, accessible from any browser and by various users. A user hard drive if desired.
Safety Typical of end users (weak and contradictory) Typical for professional organisations (strong and systematic)
Potential speed Very high (only limited by the user hardware) High/Medium/Low (limited and depending on the type of internet connection)
Functions Without a priori limits Limited due to logistical problems

Table 3. Off-line vs. On-line

The previous table shows a list of advantages and disadvantages of the off and on-line applications. Except for speed, for end users it seems obvious that on-line applications are increasingly more attractive, and surely speed will be losing importance.

In the field of Science 2.0, there is a wide variety of available applications. In the following section, we will focus on an application that specially coincides in what probably is a universal problem in academia: the search and management of bibliographic information.

6.1. Lumifi


Figure 4. The Lumifi's dashboard is where we can organise projects with a high data load

6.1.1. Context

Lumifi (figure 4) is a U.S. company established in 2006 by a group of technologists in the semantic search sector and executives in the business consultancy sector. Lumifi is a search engine and a new array of search services aimed directly at people, as the site describes: "whose job, hobby, or academic interest requires a lot of reading, research and collaboration." Therefore, their target audience is made up of university students and academic faculty in general.

In fact, Lumifi's homepage offers a search per target audience including the following:

  • Students

  • Faculty

  • Law, finance or medicine, or any job requiring intensive information resources (Professionals)

Business is business, and despite such a clear market segment, Lumifi adds a fourth sector, called Everybody Else, which the company justifies by referring to any professional who may require "difficult to find or in-depth information."

In terms of its business model, its services to end users are free, but there is a payment version for corporations (Lumifi Emergence).

Finally, it is worth noting that, according to the company, its users are from around the world, and come from companies, research centres and universities. In the latter sector, they note that up to 144 universities in the United States and 72 throughout the world use Lumifi for searches and collaboration.

6.1.2. Searches

With Lumifi you can not perform anonymous searches, like with Google for example, since to use any of its functions you must identify yourself, which means having an account (free).

By default, each search is registered in the user's account, since it is supposedly a topic that will be revisited often.

The results page is divided into two parts: The majority of the screen is taken up by the list of resources found; the left margin presents a browser based on the categories made automatically from the results obtained (figure 5).


Figure 5. The Lumifi results page, with their categorization on the left

6.1.3. Management

The dashboard is where Lumifi presents its search results. It supposes that we make a search within a project, that this project will develop throughout time and that it needs a variety of information sources. This is why Lumifi's dashboard has six sections:

  1. Searches

  2. Documents

  3. Websites

  4. Notes

  5. Medium

  6. People

It is worth noting that this initiative frames the idea that searching for information is part of a more extensive context. Stated like this it seems obvious, but until now nobody in the web search business has shown signs of having known this.

Besides that of Documents, Lumifi is capable of performing an analysis of the content of each of them and propose a categorisation of its contents.

6.1.4. Other characteristics

As we have been arguing, Lumifi is not just a search engine. Through its dashboard it provides a series of tools to organise the results obtained in every search, within a workspace that is coherent with other resources, which may include related websites or documents that we want to add to the project.

Besides, it allows us to open collaboration spaces with other Lumifi users (for example, our company colleagues or project partners). In this sense, Lumifi also provides collaboration tools via a series of options that are within what it calls Notebooks.

Therefore, upon a first glance, compared to the web 1.0 search, it provides many more options. Now, Lumifi's weak point is that it uses a "weaker" search. In this case we are referring to Gigablast, a search engine that has a relatively small index compared to search engines like Google or Yahoo.


7. Conclusions

Scientific and academic activity is without a doubt a minority activity, but a number of initiatives have established it as its aim so as to benefit the academic community and professional community in general.

On the other hand, it is worth noting that with this modest initiative (compared to colossal ones like Google) Lumifi is showing us how some search engines like Scirus or Scholar should be. Since it is not the same to search for leisure or electronic commerce than it is for developing an information intensive project.

It is surprising when one compares these because other academic search engines (Scirus and Google) have not thought of incorporating web 2.0 elements in a world where exchanging information and cooperation are absolutely essential.

It is impossible to know, given the general market uncertainty and volatility of web initiatives, if in the next five years these two initiatives discussed will continue to exist. But it is almost certain that they are showing us the way for new web 2.0 social networks and search engines in the academic world.


8. References

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Krosky, Ellyssa. 2008. Web 2.0 for librarians and information professionals. New York: Neal-Schuman.

Monistrol, Ricard, and Lluís Codina. 2007. "Los navegadores de la web 2.0: Firefox, opera y explorer". El Profesional de la Información 16, (3) (Mayo-Junio 2007): p261.

Porter, Joshua. 2008. Designing for the social web. Berkeley: New Riders.

Sagrado, Marcos (dir). 2008. Redes sociales. Madrid: Axel Spinger.

Schoeffel, J. P. 2008. Web 2.0 revealed. Innovative Marketing Solutions LLC.

Shuen, Amy. 2008. Web 2.0: A strategy guide. Sebastopol: O'Reilly.

Warschauer, Mark, and Douglas Grimes. 2008. "Audience, authorship, and artifact: The emergent semiotics of web 2.0". Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 27, : 1-23.

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