Mind to Market

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

VIVO: Social Networking for Scientists

With the wide spread adoption of Facebook by the general public social networking has hit the main stream. Facebook's strategy of keeping their interface as simple as possible has made it easy to use and accessible to many but has limited its usefulness in expressing and transferring knowledge about its users. This has opened the door to social networking products that hope to target niche markets that Facebook has underserved.

Jive has entered the enterprise market for social networking, while Sermo has targeted physicians. Ning offers a platform for building social networks. ResearchGATE, Nature Network and sciencestage.com have all targeted the scientific disciplines. And now there is VIVO: Enabling National Network of Scientists an effort to create a social network for scientists. VIVO is a project in late stage development/implementation by University of Florida, Cornell and others and funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that will offer scientists a way to quickly scan for potential collaborators, bridge domain silos and see what their colleagues have been up to.

But unlike many of the other offerings, VIVO has an underlying benefit that the other social networks do not: Semantic Web technologies. In order to support a semantically rich and machine processible environment, the developers of VIVO have created a formal ontology for the academic domain. This ontology now provides semantic interoperability across a university domain and between university systems.

Will we now be hearing from scientists a complaint that's grown louder in the general public: that they couldn't meet the grant deadline because they were messing around on VIVO for several hours? Undoubtedly. But collaboration is a valuable goal and will pay off in the long run by reducing the barriers between scientists and disciplines that have slowed the spread of ideas in the past.

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