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I saw an article posted to Slashdot yesterday about how scientists are using Web 2.0 tools to facilitate collaboration. The original piece, published in Scientific American, offers some food for thought around these parts. The article is pretty basic, but it covers several of the key pros and cons of using these technologies from the science community’s perspective.
I’ve recently been reading some articles about e-research, e-science, and e-social science. Essentially, scholars in science and technology studies, sociology of science, computer supported cooperative work, and other fields have been discussing new communications technologies and their impact on scientific advancement and discovery for some time. The crux of the matter is the tension between benefit and management. The technologies allow for rapid collaboration, and that can be great, but if it’s not properly managed – and if users don’t have the right tools and policies to engage in productive collaboration – all kinds of problems can result. From simple inefficiency to disputes over credit for discovery, use of these collaborative tools in the scientific process is not a simple matter of getting people accounts and convincing them to use the wiki, or the blog, or whatever.
Finding and solving these problems is an interesting space for research and development. How might scientists benefit from the use of social media tools? What types of research are the best fit for online collaboration? How can we build and design tools and collaboration environments that allow scientists to pursue their research without having to spend a lot of energy in managing the technology? Some of the relevant research questions in this space have been addressed in last year’s special issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication on e-Science and at past CSCW meetings. There’s been plenty of work at the Oxford Internet Institute on e-science as well, ranging from general questions on collaboration in the social sciences to specific questions on infrastructure and policy.