How researchers use Web 2.0

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A report just came out from RIN.ac.uk that is relevant to the aims of this website (more details on the project website). I will tweet out some of the more interesting factoids on @techczech but I think the results can be summarised roughly in three points:

  1. Very few researchers use Web 2.0 services. Case in point: the study had to define frequent users as someone accessing some Web 2.0 service at least once a week. (My definition would be someone who would access these most days in most weeks and frequently multiple times.)
  2. There are few differences in frequency and type of use across age groups, positions of seniority and academic disciplines.
  3. Even infrequent users and users who’ve never used Web 2.0 are mostly positive about its potential.

So, unsurprisingly, the research community is probably not that much different from the rest of the population.

This means we have a long road ahead but there’s hope something like the community I envision here might be possible in the long run. Assuming, the addressees of the report’s recommendation pay at least some attention:

if experimentation and innovation are to be encouraged and supported, and not stifled, universities, funders, and members of the research community will need to:
  • encourage open-ended experimentation, and avoid the risk of stifling innovation by attempts to impose particular systems or concepts of how they will be used;
  • establish mechanisms through which researchers can share information about useful developments in services and tools;
  • undertake further research to understand the ways in which use of web 2.0 develops;
  • consider how policy and practice might be developed to ensure that innovation takes full account of – and does not undermine – the long-established key functions of the scholarly communications process, including registration, certification, and preservation. (p. 51)

And hopefully university “computing and information services” who can be unpredictably innovative and forward looking or conservative and risk-averse will pay some heed:

Information professionals should not seek to re-establish centralised provision, which might inhibit the dispersed processes of innovation and experimentation. Instead they may need to rethink their current roles and organisation, and to broaden their agendas to include effective support for web 2.0.

And finally, something I’ve been hoping for for years:

University policies and service frameworks may thus need to foster a differentiated information infrastructure in which users can select environments appropriate for their types of research (depending, for example, on the weight attached to data security as against ease of communication) and which provide space to experiment with new tools and services.

Perhaps, I can conclude by suggesting a generative metaphor that universities start thinking about themselves less as corporations and more like federations.
(BTW: That this seems to correspond to my suggestion for a federated academic identity is purely serendipitous coincidence.)
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