Magazine article Information Today

Of Social Media and Science Publishers

Magazine article Information Today

Of Social Media and Science Publishers

Article excerpt

Tim Berners-Lee, the British physicist inventor of the World Wide Web, recently inveighed against social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, calling it a threat to the open culture of the web.

The world of social media indeed resembles the mid-1990s online world that was contemporary with Lynx and Mosaic. Remember CompuServe and America Online? Today's Web 2.0 world, dominated by Google, Facebook, and others, is often populated by online walled gardens.

The Economist devoted its front cover and main article (Sept. 4, 2010) to what it called the "web's new walls." It spoke of the internet's openness being under threat from governments, such as in China; from IT companies, such as Facebook, Google, and Apple; and from network operators prepared to abrogate the principle of Net Neutrality in order to strike deals with content providers that are prepared to pay a premium for an internet fast lane.

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While the internet emerged from the U.S. military, the web came from CERN in Europe via a scientific community committed to the free exchange of scholarship within a commons. And it has enjoyed an uneasy but productive relationship with the community of STM publishers. How then are Europe-based scientific publishers reacting to and exploiting existing social media, as well as developing their own social networking? How have they adapted to what, until recently, was called Web 2.0? And what are they doing in the face of the flood of social media content that has washed over the internet in the last 2 years?

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Fundamentally, the world of wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter has forced traditional publishers (scientific or other) to shift from a mode of broadcast to one of dialogue. This is well-captured as a wider social and business phenomenon in Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Forrester analysts Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. They describe the groundswell as "a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other instead of from companies."

Here, social networking sites figure as part of the democracy of the web. Indeed, as The Economist argues, "Any young company can build a device or develop an application that connects to the internet, provided it follows certain, mostly technical, conventions. In a more closed and controlled environment, an Amazon, a Facebook or a Google would probably never have blossomed as it did."

Nevertheless, when Berners-Lee says that Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites betoken threats to its future, respect is due. In a Scientific American article that hit the headlines in the U.K. media (www.scientificamerican.com/ article.cfm?id=long-live-the-web& amp;print=true), Berners-Lee argues, "The web evolved into a powerful, ubiquitous tool because it was built on egalitarian principles and because thousands of individuals, universities and companies have worked, both independently and together as part of the World Wide Web Consortium, to expand its capabilities based on those principles....

"[But] some of its most successful inhabitants have begun to chip away at its principles. Large social-networking sites are walling off information posted by their users from the rest of the Web. Wireless Internet providers are being tempted to slow traffic to sites with which they have not made deals. …

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