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The digital scholar
The digital scholar

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1.3  Social networks

A drawing of the logos of several social networks including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Figure 3 Social networks

The use of social networks to form research teams is still rather tentative, with well-established practices still prevalent. Kroll and Forsman (2010) stress the importance researchers place in personal contacts:

Almost all researchers have created a strong network of friends and colleagues and they draw together the same team repeatedly for new projects …

Everyone emphasizes the paramount importance of interpersonal contact as the vital basis for agreeing to enter into joint work. Personal introductions, conversations at meetings or hearing someone present a paper were cited as key in choosing collaborators.

This perhaps indicates something of a closed shop – successful researchers have established personal networks which have been built up from years of attending conferences and previous collaboration. As financial pressures begin to bite in research funding, competition for grants becomes more intense, with success rate decreasing from 31 per cent in 2000 to 20 per cent in 2009. The average age of first-time principal investigators has increased over the same period (Kroll and Forsman, 2010). Both of these factors may suggest that having previously successful teams will become more significant, thus creating a research funding spiral, where a greater percentage of the smaller funds goes to a decreasing set of researchers.

The picture we have then of research is one where scholars are exploring the use of a number of different technologies to perform certain functions individually, but the overall uptake and attitudes vary enormously. This is partly because ‘research’ is such a catch-all term which encompasses differences in disciplines, widely varying research methodologies and, of course, many different personalities and attitudes. The engagement or uptake with new technologies is less than might be expected or found in other communities. As Wu and Neylon (2008) put it:

The potential of online tools to revolutionize scientific communication and their ability to open up the details of the scientific enterprise so that a wider range of people can participate is clear. In practice, however, the reality has fallen far behind the potential.