All 13 entries tagged Social Networking

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April 10, 2013

Am I really interested in Naymz?

Follow-up to Which tools monitor your social media influence & impact? from Library Research Support

The quick answer now I've investigated a bit, is "no", but I would like to explain:

1) I don't want to maintain another professional profile there when I already invested in my LinkedIn profile, and all the people I could ever want to network with online are on LinkedIn but not on Naymz.

2) I had a look at my repscore on Naymz: the Leaderboard picks up on people who declare themselves as Jedi knights, so I can't take the network or the score too seriously.

3) The repscore dashboard would be interesting if I did use Naymz for networking, and if I connected all my relevant social network profiles to it. I can't actually do that, because I use some networking sites that Naymz doesn't monitor.

I could use Naymz to watch just Twitter and LinkedIn, and I could make some more effort to use and link up Facebook or other social networking sites that it does measure. What does it tell me about other networking sites? It gives me numbers for:

- Contacts: "The number of contacts/followers on this network". This is interesting, to see where I have the maximum potential reach. But it's not actual reach if the people I'm linked with on this network aren't active users of it and will never see my posts or activity there.

- Posts: "Your recent posts on this network". I'm not sure how recent: I don't recall ever posting on LinkedIn, yet it can find 9 posts. I post a lot on Twitter, but it can only find 35 posts.

- Replies: "Replies/Comments on your posts on this network". Since I don't make any on LinkedIn, then I can't compare the level of interaction of my network members on these two networks, but it would be a potentially useful measure if I did want to compare.

- Likes: "Likes/Shares of your posts on this network". As with replies, this could indicate the actual reach of my presence on a network better than merely the number of contacts I have. I'm not sure how it counts them, though. By putting scores for all of my network profiles into one place, I could compare the networks and decide which one represented best value for my efforts.

The Naymz dashboard gives a percentage rank too, but as this is only in comparison with other Naymz members, who I am not interested in, then it's not so useful for me.

There are other measuring tools than Naymz (I mentioned a couple of others in my blog post that this follows on from), and they might count the interactions in a way that you prefer, if you're looking for a tool to do this.

However, I think that my main reason for not wanting to use Naymz or one of the similar tools, is that I'm already convinced that Twitter is a good route for me to reach the people who I want to reach. If I wasn't sure that the people I wanted to reach were active on Twitter, or I wanted to reach more people who might prefer one of the other networking sites, then I'd be glad to use Naymz and its like, to make comparisons.

April 02, 2013

Which tools monitor your social media influence & impact?

Twitter is the main social media tool that I would recommend to researchers, when it comes to influence and impact. Ideally, I think it should be used alongside blogging in some way: either your own blog if you want to build an online identity and audience for yourself, or as a guest on others' blogs. Guest blogging is a great way of benefitting from others' hard work in gaining audience!

If Twitter is my main social media tool then any tool for measuring online/social media influence and impact will need access to my Twitter account. A quick look at the "Apps" section of my settings on Twitter reminds me of tools that I've once thought might be of value to researchers for the purpose of increasing, measuring and demonstrating the impact of their research. I've not had time to investigate these properly, but I thought that it might be worth sharing which ones I'm interested in, which are:

Naymz - "Manage and measure your reputation. Get rewarded!"

Klout - "Klout finds the most influential people on every topic"

Crowdbooster - "Measure and optimize your social media marketing."

I had a quick look back at these three and found that Crowdbooster now charges a fee: this might be worthwhile, if it covers the social media channels that you use, though it has different pricing mechanisms for different numbers of social media channels.

Naymz - wants to co-ordinate my Google account, Yahoo account, email, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. These are big hitters but not specific to academia.

Klout - lots more options here than there were for Naymz, but none specifically academic.

There are actually lots of tools for measuring social media influence out there, but to find the right tool for you then you need to know what you want to measure. I'm interested in Twitter, website visitors and my blog, but not necessarily combining the scores for them, since they serve different purposes. I do need to investigate more...

For those interested in reading more, this piece from Imperial College has a great summary and table comparing the tools available for measuring and monitoring, in terms of the social media sources they monitor:

There is no substitute for trying things out for yourself, though, and finding out not only which aspects of your social media activity can be monitored by which tools, but also how they produce their scores and what this means for your own work.

January 08, 2013

Some Twitter tips for the New Year

I've heard it said that:

You get the Twitter feed that you deserve!

The key to using Twitter effectively is to know who you want to listen to and be in discussions with. There is nothing inherently frivolous about Twitter itself, it's just that you do need to be brief and that can lead to spontaneity and frivolity but equally, you can spend a long time crafting a perfect 140 character tweet to express your idea in as brief a way as possible.

Twitter is a great way to get a summary or overview of what's going on in your field, if you follow people who do craft their tweets carefully. Twitter is not only a great way to listen to those people but also to interact with them: you can publicly tweet at people who you want to reach and you can tweet directly at people who follow you, for a private conversation.

If you can't find the right people then you could always start tweeting on your topic yourself, and others will find you. It's worth investigating the profiles of people who follow you on Twitter, to see if you might want to follow them back.

And if you find you're not following the right people after all, well you can clear out your twitter feed and unfollow people here or there. It's up to you to create and curate your own experience of Twitter!

June 28, 2012

Scholarly social media use

A couple of articles have come to my attention lately, documenting researchers' use of social media. One is about early career Victorianists:

Amber K. Regis (2012) Early Career Victorianists and Social Media: Impact, Audience and Online Identities, Journal of Victorian Culture. Online at:

This article compares a tweet to a postcard!

Regis says that social media are important because "they are able to create and sustain inclusive communities", i.e. communities with reach beyond academia. I like this because it relates very much to the work we are doing with the Wolfson Research Exchange and the PG Hub with their digital presences and emphasis on peer support. We use blogs, Facebook and Twitter and websites for both facilities and their communities. And of course it relates to the research impact agenda, as Regis goes on to discuss.

Regis picks out some particular researchers and their blogs:

And Regis describes the changing academic landscape, where job adverts ask for candidates to demonstrate "imagination in terms of the dissemination of research findings", and for a "modern portfolio of research skills". Employers will be thinking of the REF exercise and the priorities of research funders, and googling the names of candidates.

According to Regis, the REF panel criteria only mention social media as a general term once, and blogging gets a mention as a potential citation source beyond academia, but in the matter of public engagement and impact of research, Regis says that "social media haunt the spaces between the lines." What a lovely turn of phrase!

Regis explains that "comments, replies, tweets and retweets are an immediate source of 'third party engagement' and 'user feedback or testimony' as required under the REF" and she quotes Warwick's own Charlotte Mathieson, who says "...public engagement is something that occurs while research is taking place and not simply after the fact." Charlotte has written some good blog posts and guides on the topic of impact, whilst working for us.

I find the Regis article important because of the disciplinary focus it has. It discusses the role of social media with examples from those researching a specific field, that of Victorian culture. However, the points it makes could be widely applicable to other fields of research. A few years ago I was writing an internal report for our library and looking for examples of researchers' blogs, and I found it difficult to identify research blogs by individuals. But perhaps if I had been a researcher within a particular discipline I would have been more likely to find the kind of examples I was looking for, as the author of this article was able to do. Finding good blogs and engaging with social media relevant to your field requires an immersion in and awareness of your field, just as with keeping up to date with research papers and articles.

The other article on the theme of researchers' use of social media that came to my attention lately is on the LSE Impact of Social Science blog, which is one also mentioned by Regis, but which I've been following for some time, latterly on my RSS feed reader and lately via their Twitter feed. It's a blog which covers lots of the themes I'm interested in. In particular the blog post of interest is: Scholars are quickly moving toward a universe of web-native communication

This blog post has multiple authors and a very academic style: it is a taster for a conference paper soon to be delivered. It deals with the theme of altmetrics, which might become important in the online, social media research era, just as bibliometrics have become important in measurement of research through the formal publication channels.

The authors state: "But before we can start to seriously examine scholars’ personal altmetrics, we need to get a sense of how wide and established their presence on the social Web is..." and they go on to describe how they measured the work of a sample of 57 authors who presented at a Science and Technology Indicators conference.

Of their sample, 84% had homepages, 70% were on LinkedIn, 23 % had Google Scholar profiles and 16% were on Twitter. I don't know if they also looked for the authors on other profile sites like or ResearchGate, but I do like their methodology and perhaps other researcher samples could be taken and assessed in this way. I think that their sample might not be representative across the fields.

Another aspect of the work the LSE blog authors carried out was to source activity relating to the researchers' papers, on Mendeley and on CiteULike, and to correlate this activity with the number of citations for the papers on Scopus, and they found some significant correlations. I am interested in that these researchers may or may not have had their own profiles on Mendeley and CiteULike, but that's not the point, because their work can be bookmarked on these sites in any case. They conclude their blog post by saying " It’ll take work to understand and use these new metrics – but they’re not going away."

Having read these two articles in quick succession, I am minded to believe that researchers' use of social media is growing and that these two articles describe two different ways to survey that growth and the significance of it. Regis has investigated blogging within a particular speciality, whilst the LSE blog's authors investigated online presence more broadly.

My next interest is in how researchers keep track of the social media relating to their field, and indeed share that current awareness tracking with others. There were once RSS feed readers but nowadays there are tools and sites like, storify, pinterest and pinboard and the stacks feature on Delicious, Bundles on Google Reader, Bundlr, and Mendeley and Zotero and CiteULike no doubt offer similar features, etc, etc, etc! These allow you to not only keep track for yourself but to also share your tracking with others: there have always been tools that did this, but there is an abundance these days and I wonder which ones researchers use and why...

June 18, 2012

ResearchGate is growing

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I've noticed a growth in activity on ResearchGate lately, so have investigated it a bit more thoroughly.

Warwick researchers

Back in January 2012, I blogged that there were 313 researchers from a search for "university of warwick". Now it just tells me that there are "1000+" researchers.

One recent e-mail from ResearchGate told me that that "over 65" researchers from warwick had joined in the last month. That seems like quite fast progress, and ResearchGate has introduced the facility to navigate by institution. When navigating this way, there are 380 University of Warwick members of ResearchGate. Perhaps the other researchers in my search results have mentioned Warwick in some way but are not currently members of the University. This seems like a much better way for me to keep track of Warwick researchers' engagement with the site.

Discussions on ResearchGate

I'm also interested in the activity on ResearchGate in the discussion forums. I'm following a handful of topics, including "Academic writing", "Digital Libraries" "Science 2.0 and open access". I get an e-mail every now and then to tell me about a new question or answers to a question that I am following: there is activity there, and from time to time it is useful to me.

ResearchGate's topics are similar to way I use jiscmail mailing lists, although more efficient because I only get notifications of discussions once, and if it's not of interest then I don't get notifications of further engagement on that topic. Also, the community is different: there are more researchers on ResearchGate and more librarians on jiscmail. LinkedIn offers similar functions in terms of groups where discussions can take place, but perhaps I am not on the right LinkedIn groups because I'm not seeing so much interaction happening there: for me it is more of a useful place to keep up with news than to watch or take part in discussions.

Another difference in the way I've used LinkedIn and ResearchGate is that I can find more people on LinkedIn who I am connected to, whilst on ResearchGate I haven't used the "follow" function very much, for researchers. I don't regularly check what my LinkedIn contacts are doing anyway, so I suppose it's natural that I haven't used the similar feature on ResearchGate. I just selected a few people from the University of Warwick to follow, so will see if that function becomes more interesting to me.

More about the Warwick researchers on ResearchGate

Most have not uploaded photographs. Some have used jokey pictures and a few I recognise as PhD students here. One or two are names of established researchers here, and a few are from our IT Services or from central administration departments. The Departmental breakdown offered by ResearchGate tells me that there are researchers from 18 departments, but it isn't simple to see how many are in each department.

ResearchGate is now displaying an "impact points" score for the institution and for each department. Today, Warwick has 17,028.13 points. The department with the highest number of points is the Department of Chemistry, with 2778.64 points. I can't see any more information than that about the department: ResearchGate displayed a message that they are "still crunching the data" for this department and that I could request that the data be processed for one department only, so I should choose wisely! I requested Chemistry and was told that there are now 2 requests, and that "Once we're done, you'll be able to see stats that visualize this department's research output." I look forward to it!

Publications on ResearchGate: a literature source?

So what are those impact points all about? It appears that they are something to do with activity around publications on ResearchGate. Warwick has 7,185 publications on ResearchGate today. Researchers can upload publications, with citation and abstract information displaying on ResearchGate: it is another place where researchers can search for articles, and it takes data from the likes of PubMed and RePEC and CiteSeer: it claims to have data for over 35 million documents. Which is great, but as a librarian, I don't much like the simple search features: even the "advanced search" is way too simple for properly filtering quite so many documents, in my view. I like to use lots of limits and criteria. I didn't try the "similar abstracts" function out, but I did note that the search tips are helpful in explaining how to do boolean logic based searches with keywords.

I liked the journal title record, when I did a "journal finder" search: lots of valuable information there, including impact factors and SherpaRoMEO data. I might recommend it as a source of journal information in my "Getting Published" workshops, because it brings lots of information together in that way.

There is also a function to bookmark publications in ResearchGate. I bookmarked a couple easily enough, and I notice that there is a function to share an item on Twitter too, so these are features that I ought to investigate further.

I just quickly added three of my publications that ResearchGate identified for me to my profile: I could have uploaded a file from EndNote or tried other methods, but this was enough for now. I now have the option to upload the papers themselves, but I won't do that because they are freely available online already. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the source data for this was Warwick's Institutional repository, WRAP, which is great because Warwick researchers who use WRAP will find it easy to create complete profiles on ResearchGate.

My ResearchGate profile looks pretty poor and I probably ought to invest in it a bit more, especially now that there is so much more going on there. I wish I had time to investigate more thoroughly, but perhaps I will come back to it!

June 08, 2012

Unpublished papers: what happens to them? How do we tell a quality paper?

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Researchers are discussing some interesting topics on ResearchGate. I have linked to a discussion on what happens to papers that they don't manage to get published. I like the answer that they keep refining papers until they are good enough to get accepted for publication eventually. Academic authors need to be persistent and resilient, and published content needs to be of high quality!

However, there is a hierarchy of publication quality out there, and as well as improving their articles, authors can approach less selective or rigorous journals, if their aim is simply to get their work published and out in the public domain. The discussion on ResearchGate was started by someone who has established a website for "Unpublished Articles In Science" ( It's a new site and I didn't find any content. I am also not sure if they want any kind of article or only review articles, and they are asking for donations so I will wait and see if it takes off in any way.

This is not a new idea, to provide a "mop up" place online for academic work that would otherwise not be discoverable. Some institutional repositories were set up as places to make all kinds of research outputs available, including unpublished work. I guess that some authors might just get frustrated enough that their work cannot be published in any other way and put their article(s) somewhere like that, but I wonder what the value is in doing this? Perhaps some really important scholarly works are being missed by the world, but perhaps some works are just not of high enough quality and so should not be publicly available: they might even be misleading.

Surely the peer review and editorial processes of journals exist for a reason? If the work is not of high enough quality to be published, then should it really be in the public domain? Would it not damage an author's career, to have lesser quality work attributed to him/her in such a public way? It is possible that a particular piece of research is just too different for there to be an appropriate journal or publishing outlet, even though it is of high quality and importance. The "differentness" of the output could be that it is in an unusual format or that the subject is highly unusual, and the researcher might be glad of a place that simply makes the work publicly available.

Institutional repositories which accept any kind of output, whether published or not, rely on their academics' judgement about what is a good output. In a way, there is a quality filter of some sort because the author must be employed by the institution, so there is some likelihood that s/he will be able to select what should and should not be in the public domain and associated with his/her name. Some institutions even introduce internal peer review in some way, for unpublished outputs.

At the same time, publishers are introducing new journal titles which appear a little less selective. I am thinking of their author-pays open access (OA) titles, since authors' letters of rejection from their journal of choice sometimes include a suggestion that the article could now be submitted to the publisher's open access journal. The concept of the author paying a publication fee has always been an argument against the open access model of publication, because it interferes with the quality filters in the existing reader-pays model. Of course, the article could still be rejected from the OA journal and there is no reason why peer review could not operate just as rigorously in OA journals as in any other journals.

New, online journals or article collections are not bound by the same format and issue restrictions as traditional journals, and that does allow them to accept more "different" content. The selectiveness or otherwise of an online journal need not be dictated by the amount of print space and paper, but it can use selective criteria based on quality alone. That sounds like a "good thing"!

OA journals can still be of very high quality, as evidenced by the PLoS journals' high impact factor. (I have blogged about these kinds of publication before, and of course I know that impact factors are not infallible measures of quality.) PLoS ONE is the largest, most inclusive journal from PLoS and it has some really interesting features and filters, to enable people to discover high quality research outputs.

With online journals and collections of academic outputs, as with all online materials, the reader needs to be more aware than ever of the features that indicate the quality of the work s/he is reading. Hopefully, the reader will read widely and so be aware of the field, when reading academic content, but beyond the readers' own expertise and academic insight, websites and online journals have features to help readers to assess quality.

Here is a little list of clues on academic quality, including traditional as well as new online features:

  1. place of publication: eg journal title, or special collection within a wider collection like PLoS ONE
  2. information about the authors: institution employed at, membership of organisations, etc
  3. information about who funded the work - they value it, but you might also want to ask why.
  4. when the work was published: this might be recent or it might be before a defining discovery altered academic understanding, so dates are important clues!
  5. whose work is referenced and acknowledged, and therefore this work builds upon
  6. news & media coverage
  7. reviews or comments by other readers, either on the collection site or on readers' blogs.
  8. ratings/scores by other readers
  9. tweets about the article (or other social network discussions)
  10. number of "likes" or bookmarks by other readers
  11. number of views or downloads of an article
  12. citations of the article by others (NB citation sources might matter, i.e. who is citing the work)

Publishers can help readers to access these clues, and providing trackback URLs and ways for readers to bookmark articles in their tool of choice, in a way that the publisher can monitor and publicise are important contributions that a publisher can make. And bullet points 7 onwards in my list are numerical scores, and as such should be taken in context. What is a high score for an article in one discipline might seem low in another discipline: publishers could also provide that context, if they want to help readers to appreciate the quality of the work that they are publishing.

Sites like the UNAIS, institutional repositories and even authors' own sites need to be as good as publishers at providing clues as to quality, if not better, since their quality filters are less well known and understood. And readers do need to be aware.

August 02, 2011

ePublishing and ePublications – social media and scholars

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One of our Academic Support Librarians, Emma Cragg has a great blog and she's written about a recent conference on this theme, in two blog posts. I've linked to part one, from where you can link to part two as well. Topics covered at the 5th Bloomsbury Conference on ePublishing and ePublications include the Virtual Research Environment; executable papers where you can add your own data to a paper which applies the same methodology and generates a new paper; academics who blog; libraries in this digital, connected world; PLoS online journal features; Mendeley.

Read all about it on Emma's blog!

March 01, 2011

Registering accounts

When you register your account with EndNote Web or some other online tool, make sure that you associate it with an enduring e-mail address or that you remember your username and password!

A recent contact lost stored references in EndNote Web after changing institution and therefore e-mail address and fogetting the password to that account so that the e-mail address associated with it could not be changed.

February 25, 2011

Social media: a guide for researchers from the RIN

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I really like the "links and resources" pdf associated with this guide, listing lots of sites of potential interest/relevance to researchers, in categories. It sometimes seems difficult to get a grip on all the many different sites and tools available online, and how they can all be used (there are lots of overlaps and quirky differences), so a simplified guide is very handy, and this single sheet also makes a great handout for our workshops!

The main guide itself explores some of the complexity. It uses case studies of researchers' uses of social media: researchers like to learn from other researchers, so this is a good approach. It often seems that the academic community is ideally placed to use social media tools, precisely because they like to learn from each other, but in my opinion this could also be a hurdle since there are many collaborative and networking practices out there already, just not using social media tools.

The guide is worth a read if you are a researcher who is new to social media, or a new researcher. My notes below might be a useful summary if you just want the gist of what it covers.

The guide offers to show the reader "how social media offer researchers an opportunity to improve the way they work" in its introduction. It reports that researchers use social media "to bridge disciplinary boundaries, to engage in knowledge exchange with industry and policy makers and to provide a channel for the public communication of their research."

In explaining what social media are, the guide puts social media tools into functional categories (as used on the linked resources sheet) and then into three higher level categories which seem to me to describe the strengths of social media: Communication, Collaboration and Multimedia. Criticisms of social media are acknowledged and answered with the perspective that there are so many tools with so many different possible uses, and that beneficial use can be made of them, with an awareness of pitfalls.

The guide describes four stages of the research cycle, around collaboration and that it is the many to many nature of social media that makes it different to other communication channels, and so potentially useful in each of these stages.

Stage i. Idenfication of knowledge
"Social media can help you to both discover more and to filter more effectively". This could be done through connections with a network of other researchers, whose reading you can see. The quality of your filter all depends on who belongs to your network!

Stage ii. Creation of knowledge
In this stage there are risks, such as jeopardising publication chances (journal publication agreements state that you have not previously published your research elsewhere) and providing people with "ammunition to criticise your work". It is important to be careful what you share when and with whom, but there are still opportunities to use social media to your advantage at this stage. My advice would be to consider only sharing with a discrete group of collaborators, rather than with the whole world. The guide suggests that you might wish to be open because you will get feedback as you go rather than waiting until the formal peer review stage. It summarises the sensible approach to this stage of the research journey very neatly: "Managing the balance between openness and disclosure requires you to think carefully about how you work and what you are trying to achieve", which seems to me to apply regardless of whether or not you are using social media.

Stage iii. Quality assurance of knowledge
Social media allow anyone to publish anything, but they also offer you the chance to filter what reaches you (and where it reaches you, although the guide doesn't mention that at this stage) and communities can recommend and comment on quality. The guide draws a parallel that I often describe myself, with social media activity being comparable to conversations at a conference: you can't take part in them all (nor would you ever want to!) but you can only take part in those of interest, if you are at the conference. You could view this networking site or that one as the conference, or you could view the whole social media, online world as the conference.

The guide has a wonderful quote on page 19, from Ruth Fillery-Travis, PhD Archaeology

I am attempting to get a paper published in an academic journal, but the really long lead time from first draft to publication is very off-putting as is the completely opaque process and the lack of any useful guidelines. I think traditional academic journals are really difficult to access for the first time because they tend to come across as more of 'who you know' than 'what you know'. 

Stage iv. Dissemination of knowledge
"Social media are above all about communication and are therefore ideal for researchers who wish to make their research more widely available." The guide poses a number of questions that researchers should think about when considering social media use at this stage, and it suggests that researchers are best placed to provide their own answers.

Section 4 of the guide considers actual tools, in each of the functional categories. I'm not going to summarise this part because the linked resources sheet is such a summary. I will add that there is really no substitute for just getting started with one of these tools and really exploring what it can do for you. Some of them have functions that are not entirely social, but which are also useful to researchers, such as storing web links and references just for yourself. You could even keep a blog for your research notes, and only allow yourself to read it!

The guide goes on to consider the problem of information overload, with the neat question: "If you feel that you have fallen behind in reading the core peer reviewed journals in your area, why would you want to start looking for new sources like blogs which are, by their nature, less reliable in quality?" The guide doesn't quite state that social media are in fact a good way to keep on top of traditional publications as well as more ephemeral content, but I think that that is what is meant and it is certainly the answer I would give. I read other people's summaries of reports and publications, in order to decide whether I want to read the whole thing myself or not!

A simple approach to reading is described, that researchers need to decide whether to read, park or discard a resource and the guide describes that social media can be used in this process. The example given is that social bookmarking and social citation tools allow you to park and retrieve content, and description of RSS feeds is then given. It is only a brief description, and it seems to me that we're moving beyond the need for descriptions of RSS itself and we need a lot more description of what those feeds are doing. There could be a whole guide written on the uses of RSS feeds by researchers.

We have our own brief guide to RSS feeds for researchers, under the heading "keeping up to date", although they can be used to do a lot more than that:

The RIN guide goes on to consider some elements of network theory, because the power of social media is  in the way you develop and use your networks. If you're going to choose to join a networking site then you will want to look at who else has joined it and what their interests are, and whether it is worth your while joining.  If you share a lot online anyway then people are more likely to include you in their networks (this might mean that they "follow" you or that they actively get in touch with you), and if you follow other people through social media then you will recognise people whose work interests you, who you will want to network with. You might use social media just to listen to others' work, or you might want to use such tools to broadcast about your own work, and the shape of your network might vary depending on your purpose. One very good piece of advice the guide offers is: "Being a connector between two networks can be invaluable, but being a connector between twenty can be exhausting. Therefore, thinking about the shape of your network, and how you manage your place in it, is vital." (p39)

The final thought of the guide is that: "...if you really want to understand what social media can do for you and your research, you need to start experimenting". I couldn't agree more!

February 23, 2011

Blogging for researchers: an event held in the Research Exchange

On Monday this week I attended an event on Blogging, led by Mark Carrigan who is a Sociology PhD student at Warwick. I was very impressed when I saw the flier advertising it so decided to attend, to get his perspective. I was certainly not the only one interested: there were at least 20 others at the session and there were plenty of questions and interactions.

Mark set up a Wordpress account live, to demonstrate how easy it is to set up a blog, and to show some of the features which make Wordpress a well suited blogging tool for researchers. Of course there are other blog hosting tools available. Like Warwick blogs which I use here, or Blogger which I used in my days as Chair of the UK Council of Research Repositories. I have never used Wordpress myself although I have heard many good things about it from those who do, and having seen it in action I do agree with Mark that it is the tool I would recommend to researchers starting a blog.

My own reason for using Warwick blogs is that I can easily restrict entries to just University of Warwick staff or to staff and students, or indeed to just Library staff or to any particular Web Group. I like this facility and some University of Warwick researchers might like the convenience of these pre-set permissions groups as well.

There is a difference between what you get from Wordpress for free and what you can get if you pay for an account, and this might influence a blogger's choice: if you have money, you can also pay for your own domain name for your blog. Mark showed what could be done for free, and one feature that I like was the assignment of blog entries to categories. I try to do the same thing with this blog in the careful allocation of tags, but I am yet to explore properly how to display the content under those tags on this blog, or elsewhere with RSS feeds.

What categories do so simply in Wordpress is they allow you to present collections of blog postings under set headings/links, so that readers can find not only your most recently created postings, but also past ones of interest to them. Many Wordpress blogs don't appear to the reader like blogs at all, but as websites where each "category" is a page under which there is content. I have blogged here before that there is potential for researchers to use blogging technology to build a simple collaborative website for their project, and this is how it can be done.

Mark spoke about the importance of allocating appropriate tags to Wordpress blog postings as well: these tags appear in the metadata for the entries and will help Google to index your content appropriately. It's handy to separate out tags and categories in the way Wordpress supports because you might allocate a lot more tags than categories.

Mark and researchers in the audience discussed the possibility of sharing contribution permissions and blogging as a collaborative activity. There are many ways a blog could be used by researchers: to engage with the public, to stay in touch with colleagues, or, with contributions from the community you are studying, as your actual source material. We looked at examples of research blogs already out there: I found the Sociological Cinemavery interesting as it offers video clips for sociology tutors to use, and a blog called Inequalities seemed to me to be very close to a postgraduates' journal, with guidelines on how to write "articles/posts".

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