Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Last night, I retweeted Genomic Repairman’s request
for the twitterverse to sign up for an account at LabSpaces. He wanted users to join in on the discussions he was having in the group
he created. We were greeted moments later by a tweet from DrugMonkey
saying that THE Facebook for science is dead. Considering I just wrote a blog post
on that exact topic, I found his tweet Ironic. The emphasis in that previous post being that there probably will never be ONE single social hub for scientists, but that doesn’t preclude the formation of multiple niche venues. Please excuse me while I get this out of my system:
(rant)What exactly is a FaceBook for science anyway? Is any site with a science spin, groups, a forum, and/or user profiles a “FaceBook.” If that’s the case, then there are hundreds of FaceBooks for science out there. I’d argue that the term is deprecated. Many sites employ social tools, and there’s nothing wrong with that. So can we please get away from the “Oh, that’s just a FaceBook for X” nonsense.(endRant)
Since there still seems to be confusion about what LabSpaces is, I’ll try to explain it once again.
What I’m trying to do with LabSpaces is create a community centered on discussing science, ideally composed of scientists and those in the public interested in science. My idea goes well beyond what the standard blog networks currently do. The model employed by Science Blogs
et al. is to group bloggers together in one place to increase the visibility of the bloggers and sell ads. There’s a main page that lists all of the most recent blog posts and/or a side column on each page with featured posts. The goal is that readers will visit the site to read their favorite blog and then maybe click on a few other related posts in the sidebar or on the main landing page. In this model, the hope is that the bloggers with the highest number of visits will trickle their traffic to the bloggers with fewer hardcore followers. This slowly builds up the user base of the lesser known bloggers and enriches the user experience (and pageviews, and ad clicks, etc). This is obviously a successful system, and I can’t knock it because it’s the first layer of what goes on here.
However, I originally coded LabSpaces as a social network, so we have the ability to take things a step further. We give visitors the option of creating a permanent profile on the site which allows them to interact with other users in the forum or in user created groups. My point is, I’ve already coded in all of these additional features. If people want to use them, that’s great, they just have to make an account to do so, which seems to be the crux of the argument. It takes approximately a minute to sign up for an account (Name, email, password, captcha, wait for an e-mail). In the past I had thought about enabling twitter/facebook/openID logins, but if my goal is to build a community, then letting people login cursorily as if the site were a revolving door, wouldn’t generate the desired community experience. Further, there was a suggestion
late last night that I offer teaser accounts using openID and then come down with an iron fist and force users into making an account at a later date. I feel like the dual system that the site already employs does just that. Users can comment all they like on the blogs and news articles with a guest account, but to be a part of the community, they have to become a member. Maybe if I was only in this game for pageviews and selling ads, I’d enable logins through other website portals. Then people could make hit and run posts in the forum or in the groups, never to be seen again. I would much rather develop a community that’s dedicated. Forcing users to take a minute out of their life to register isn’t asking too much. I also think it provides a great primary filter for quality users. Registering is just annoying enough that users will only do it if they plan on staying around for more than just one forum troll. Those are the users I really care to have in my community.
Finally, my main question out of all of this is: Why am I being chastised
for trying to add value to the user experience? Science Blogs and Scientopia are great, but I think they focus too heavily on individual bloggers. Sure, guests can comment on the blogs (just as easily as they can here), but then what? There’s no other interaction beyond that point of contact, there’s no true “community.” I think it’s great that BiochemBelle
, Jade Ed
, and Genomic Repairman
have taken it upon themselves to set-up groups where they are not the stars of the show, where they let their dedicated readers and others in the LabSpaces community interact with them in a way currently not offered by the other two aforementioned networks. If that makes LabSpaces a FaceBook for science, then call me Mark Zuckerberg.