At the #web2untangled Lucy Power (Oxford Internet Institute) talked about Scientific social networking and open notebook science today. The conference is organised by COFHE and UC&R and takes place in Wolfson College, Oxford.
She said that scientists are using the existing Web 2.0 tools to practice open science, communicating with the general public, and to interact with each other. She mentioned the use of Friendfeed (which enables you to aggregate RSS feeds), where there is a group (for example) called The Life Scientists. Within this group, the scientists have very specific discussion about their work. Participants report using the Friendfeed group for things like: securing research funding, writing grant applications, collaborating, reporting on conferences, publishing, solving problems and searching for information. The scientists report that they are able to build up rapport throught the more "lightweight" conversations, as well as having more heavyweight exchanges, and both are valuable. They are also able to expand their networks (e.g. to include librarians!)
Lucy identified one scientist (Cameron Neylon) who she felt was using Web 2.0 to its limit, with an open lab notebook, by publishing about everything he was doing in his lab, on his blog at http://biolab.isis.rl.ac.uk/camerons_labblog. The second example was of the Open Notebook Science awards run by Jean-Claude Bradley (who I recognise, because he is also active and famous in the science community in Second Life!). The third example was of an academic who had his first year Physics students do open lab notebooks: example is here.
To summarise - why are scientists using these technologies? One thing is that they get fast answers from a global, expert audience. Also it is open and informal, and enables them to network and form a community. Friendfeed in particular is seen as useful because it allows you to aggregate feeds from all sorts of social fora (Twitter, Facebook etc. etc.) so you don't miss anything.
Involvement from librarians might include: using Friendfeed groups to get into an academic community, and helping in archiving/ accessing the discussions. Questions afterwards also included issues to do with promotion (can you put this on your CV, as an academic) and the relationship with formal publishing.
Photo by Sheila Webber: Grounds of Wolfoson College, Oxford, this morning.