Friday, November 03, 2006

academic social networking

have you ever tried to navigate a professor's web site? or connect papers between people, and figure out who's working on what? or tried to figure out if a professor is around, working on X, or completely incognito?

academic work is very public, as it should be. these days, you can find most papers online, as well as many courses and teaching materials. yet there is little sense of presence online. furthermore, the online academic world is supremely disorganized.

now, don't get me wrong: there's lots of academic work available online (google scholar is quite a good source, as well as various publishers). but what about the connections? between the works, between the peoples, through time... and what about evaluation? that seems hidden.

here are some questions you might ask of an academic: what are you working on now? who are your students? what are they working on? what do you think of paper P? can you give me a list of reading material that would provide sufficient background for your paper on doodads?

it's unlikely you would get a timely answer. you might eventually get a good answer.

so i was wondering why there isn't a good network site for academic information, and for academics and researchers? it could be a social networking site, but it would also be a public place for browsing and searching, because after all, academic production is supposed to be public. furthermore, much academic data is online, just waiting to be surfaced more effectively. for instance, if we think of the social networking possibilities for a moment, consider that many academics have a web page, where they list all their publications, as well as their students. couldn't we build a resource that simply effectively connects these pages, people, and papers? and what if we let people contribute directly to this resource? what if we tried to build a community around it? there's a cite called rexa that's supposed to do some of this for the computer science community (their slogan is "Research * People * Connections"), but i can only tell you how poor it is because to find out for yourself would require signing up and logging in, and who wants to do that?

what about a service for effectively publishing, detecting, and supplementing the act of doing background research on a topic? building communities around papers and people? there's some work in tagging for the academic domain, see citeulike

why haven't many academics got in on the online video craziness? are they that far behind?

i tried to see if others had commented on the lack of such spaces online. i found one blog post, with some good ideas.

i have a whole 2 or 3 pages of notes of ideas around this... as a graduate student, as an observer of research getting done (and not getting done), i can see the potential for something in this space. anyway, i may do something about this if i get riled up enough.


Adam said...

Hey Omar... I couldn't agree with you more. I actually know a guy that wants to build a site just like that. He wanted to work with me on it but I just didn't have any time. Get in touch for more details.

twm said...

Hi! Just read this post and it makes so much sense. Its really annoying (to me at least) that you have to be in the circles to really find out whats going on. Especially for people who have left academia and are wanting to get back in.

Richard said...

Hi Omar,

Grant Schoenebeck, a friend of mine, sent me the link to this post. I've been a graduate student for the past few years and have had the same concerns as you.

I've been building an academic networking site for the past three months. We will launch soon. It would be great to chat and have your input. My email is richard.price [at]


Anonymous said...


A site just like you have described has recentrly been launched. It's called
I think they only launched it last week, but it is growing very fast.

From all the academic networking sites that I've found this one seems to be the most technologically advanced one. It has all the features that you describe and a lot more.

It seems like, membership is by invitation only, but for a promotional period only they've opened the gates for anyone.