December 16, 2008

Social Networks that make me scratch my head

Sometimes things just don't seem to make sense to me. Social networks seem to sprout like mushrooms on a damp log and I wonder if they're used, useful and sustainable.

Nature Blogs

Take Blogs as a first example. It's supposedly a place where users can keep up to date on what's going on in the science blogosphere, but to my mind it's not very good. It mostly features Nature's own blogs with only cursory coverage of everything else. At least on the home page. The Browse Blogs and the Top Stories pages are a little better, but not much. Really, the other two Nature blog aggregators, Scintilla and Postgenomic, are both way better. It's hard to imagine them needing two, never mind three. You can also log in with your Nature Network password and suggest new blogs or moderate new blogs that others are suggesting.

What were they thinking? Fortunately, they have let us peak into their inner workings.

First, a post on Nascent:

We launched a new blogs portal on earlier this week. It's part of a general overhaul of blogging at NPG which amongst other things involves link backs from articles to the blog posts writing about them (bloggers get traffic, our readers get conversation around papers - works for us both) and improving the blogging experience for users on Network.

It also seems that they use Scintilla as the engine. They also point out that the list of blogs in moderated by the community and that it is connected to Nature Network, something that is new and interesting.

Also, there are a couple of conversations on FriendFeed (1,2):
As Euan says:
Yeah, Nature Blogs should eventually match Postgenomic in functionality. Essentially NPG IT can't support Postgenomic for various reasons. Nature Blogs is a cleaner rewrite anyway (and more stable: needed for the link backs work). IMHO we should open source the code, but we'll see.

Also from Euan:
We'll be using it to put link backs on our papers - if you write about a paper publishing in an NPG journal on your blog and you're in the blogs index then you get a link back from the article itself. The blogs index is open to other publishers too to use as a spam free whitelist.

Overall, it does seem that the Nature folks have interesting and useful plans for the new site, that it does and will have functionality and integration that will surpass and perhaps replace both Postgenomic and Scintilla. I just find it odd that they didn't make that more clear from the beginning and more obvious on the Nature Blogs site itself. This is a transitional life form, in a way, and we are just waiting for the right features to evolve. Really only a little head scratching involved.

Library Networking Group

Considerably more head scratching involved is the case of Library networking Group, a kind of join venture of the Ontario Library Association and Networking Groups, Inc that is being promoted quite heavily by OLA (I've gotten at least 4 or five emails from OLA about this).

From their promotional emails:
Welcome to Canada’s newest online community for Library Professionals - the Library Networking Group.

The Library Networking Group is a collaboration between Networking Groups, Inc. and the Ontario Library Association to bring full social networking to library staff, library trustees and those who support libraries of all kinds everywhere. It is a new meeting space in which you and your colleagues initiate and join in dialogues and other collaborations through forums, blogs, articles, podcasts and more. It is a straightforward and easy way to share ideas and practice with your fellow subject matter generalists and specialists in the library community.

Share ideas and ask questions while establishing new contacts and increasing your networks. Membership is free.

What’s in it for you

The Library Networking Group gives you instant access to hundreds of individuals with a passion for libraries. This professional networking site can unlock new opportunities for you and your colleagues to further your knowledge, to meet developing attitudes and trends that are shape our outlook, even improve skills through the sharing of best practices.

It looks really interesting. It has blogs, forums, podcasts, groups and even recent articles by well known authos from various publications. In conception, it reminds me of Nature Network or even the Palinet Leadership Network. In a very good way. Here's a place that librarians can gather and share their experiences.

What's the epic fail? It's all behind a registration wall. Sure, registration is free and appears fairly painless if somewhat intrusive. But nobody can read any of it unless they're registered.

I had a brief email conversation with a couple of people involved in the LibraryNG project and here's what I had to say about that:.

These were my intial thoughts:
Just to let you know, I did go to the site and was extremely disappointed that none of the content is available without registration. I would never join a site like that or recommend it to anyone else.

The profession needs to be open and transparent and the bloggers and others that contribute to the site deserve to have their thoughts be part of the open professional record, both to be part of the larger professional conversation and to be recognized for their contributions.

You should take a look at the Nature Network site as I think it has a better model for participation. Anyone can read but only the registered can blog, comment or participate in forums.

Walled garden professional social networks are the wrong path and I don't think that they'll be attractive enough to be sustainable.

My second email was in reponse to someone from Neworking Groups, Inc, who emailed me back to mention that some of the other communities they've designed are fine with the restrictions. This is what I had to say:
First of all, to compare to the other community sites you have might not be applicable. Although I don't know those communities that well, I suspect that your site wasn't an entry into a community with already many hundreds of active bloggers and commenters. Check here for a list of *active* library community bloggers.

And just one of the FriendFeed librarian rooms.

This is an open, vibrant community with lots of back and forth and discussion. Taking a librarian and putting their ideas behind a wall, any wall, will hurt their "brand" and "reputation" building because the most important thought leaders in the field are already out in the open. Being behind the wall means that far fewer people in the community will be able to read them and comment.

Same with articles and forums. Your article writers and other contributors will want the broadest audience possible.

As for the fear of spam and email pirates, access to personal information can still be behind the sign-on barrier and subject to the privacy profile of the members.

I think two good examples of mostly open communities are Nature Network for
scientists and the Palinet Leadership Network, which is a librarian community.

In Nature Network, anybody can read anything, but you have to be signed up to blog or comment.

I have to admit, the thing that surprises me the most about this is that OLA didn't see the problem with having this kind of closed social network and that it would not be as advantageous to the careers and reputations of their members as an open one. Many of the arguments for open access apply to this case as well. So the arguments we would use to promote open access to faculty have to be the same arguments we would use to advocate for open discussion within our own community.

Needless to say, I haven't signed up for LibraryNG yet. If any of you out there have, I'd be interested to hear what you have to say.


Anonymous said...

nope, I haven't signed up for lng for exactly the reasons you posted...and I, too, am surprised that ola didn't foresee this problem!

John Dupuis said...

Thanks, Anon. It's too bad OLA won't be able to quantify the people that *didn't* join.

Eva said...

I was interviewed about NN recently, and I also mentioned (when asked to compare it to Facebook) that I liked the openness of it, that everyone could see everything. But I was severely incoherent, so I'm not sure they got that from my rambling.

Eva said...

Oh, and Nature Blogs is not a social network. It's an aggregator. I can even submit someone else's blog, and the author of that blog would not have to sign up for anything and still have their blog be part of the aggregated collection as long as the people who *did* sign up for an account there approve. The only advantage of signing up is that you can claim your own blog and edit its description and have some control over it. Otherwise it's just a giant blog roll.

John Dupuis said...

Thanks for the comments, Eva.

I agree, I'm probably stretching it (more than) a bit to refer to NB as a social network. I think I was thinking of it in context of the Nature suite of products, integrated with NN and all the other bits.

In any case, consider the post retitled "Web 2.0 sites that make me scratch my head."