In time for the start of the new semester, I have a bit of a tech update, in which I’ll be discussing two online tools that might be of interest to researchers and students.
The first site I want to mention is Buzzdata, a data-sharing site that first came to my attention when Dr. James Colliander (@colliand) invited me to view NSERC data that he and others had already been posting at their “hive”, nserc.buzzdata.com. Each “hive” is like a separate space that can be shared by multiple users, and the hives contains various themed “datarooms”. For example, one of the datarooms in the NSERC hive is dedicated to NSERC postdoctoral fellowship application rates and outcomes; another focuses on NSERC’s Research Tools and Instruments (RTI) program consultation.
When I saw how the site was being used to highlight the trends in NSERC research funding, I suggested we start adding SSHRC data as well. I asked Dr. Ian Milligan (@ianmilligan1) if he could take a look at the numbers, since my facility with statistics and graphs is very limited. He kindly did so, and blogged about some early results here.
From my point of view, the site’s only significant problem right now is that you have to make a different profile to view each hive, rather than being able to create one profile and view different hives from it. However, the site developers have assured us they’re working on this, so I expect it will be resolved in good time. While Buzzdata is still very much in development, it was great to learn that the site developers are taking suggestions directly and providing help in realtime through the site (which has a chat feature for this purpose), and through emails and Twitter. The data that have already been uploaded show how much promise there is in a kind of crowd-sourced compilation of statistics about education and research funding. This is also a great way to organise for political effect; among the participants in the group is Kennedy Stewart, Official Opposition Critic for Science and Technology.
The other site that’s been drawing my attention lately is Academia.edu. I saw a blog post about the new analytics they’ve made available, and because I’ve gradually been using the site more over the past 12 to 18 months, I decided to check out the changes. When I looked at the blog post and then the site, I realised they were starting to make significant changes that could be quite useful to academic users. So I shared the link through my Twitter account, recommending that others take a look.
Academia.edu, a social networking site specifically for academics, researchers, and students, has already been providing some interesting and unique statistics to its users. These include a kind of tracking system in which the site shows you a list of recent profile views including Google searches in which your profile has come up as a result, and also shows where the views came from (geographic location). Each view shows up with an ID number so that you can tell whether pageviews are “unique” or not; this is a small but important detail. The site can also send an email notification each time your profile comes up in a Google search.
Like LinkedIn, Academia.edu has a spot where you can upload your CV. It also has a section where you can list academic talks and presentations and add slides or a link to Prezi, and a similar section for sharing academic papers (which can be tagged with keywords). While I’d been thinking about posting some older papers online, what convinced me to put them up on Academia.edu was a new feature that tracks “views” of one’s papers, including which other site users have viewed them.
After my tweet, I was surprised to receive an email from the site’s community manager, Helen Sparrow, who asked if I’d be interested in providing feedback on how I used Academia.edu. We had a phone conversation in which we discussed various aspects of site use including whose research I “follow” and why, and what features might be useful for users. One of the things I recommended was to increase available Twitter link-ups to Academia.edu, including the capacity to search users by Twitter handle (there’s already a “share on Twitter” button added to the analytics pages).
They’re working towards adding a commenting feature for the academic articles, which is intended to facilitate discussion and feedback in a way that the current peer review (for publication) process doesn’t tend to allow. Of course, there are risks with that, too–one can only begin to imagine the grief that could be cause by academic trolls!–but it’s interesting to see a potential tool for constructing a kind of networked online academic profile, where you could re-work and re-post papers after feedback, then track the number and location of views. At a time when many scholars are becoming frustrated with the restrictions of traditional academic publishing, and while universities are demanding “evidence” of academic performance, this could be an experiment worth trying out.
In fact both Academia.edu and Buzzdata are providing means of connection that could facilitate academic collaboration in research and in other aspects of professional life. While much of the debate about “disruption” is focused on technologies that fragment the university, we’re also seeing tools that reflect the potential for coming together (again) in new ways.