Monday, October 22, 2007

Networks and Academic Research

The Chronicle reports today on a newly created Humanities Research Network. The site has been developed by the already existing Social Science Research Network. I'm not sure yet what I think of these kinds of sites. On the one hand, it's obviously a good thing to have access to papers that one might not otherwise have access to. On the other, I have this feeling that many people doing cutting-edge research already do this informally. They have a blog, post works in progress to that or another web site, and they're connected via various social software apps to many other researchers. I vaguely knew about the SSRN, so I poked around the site for a little bit. It didn't exactly knock my socks off. It's certainly not very Web 2.0. And, according to the CHE article, there will be some gatekeeping, with volunteers making sure that the uploaded papers are scholarly. The academy is so obsessed with the gatekeeping thing. But the site seems popular and maybe these networks are necessary. But it still strikes me as somewhat behind the times. Let me explain why.

RSS has changed the way I get information. I can quickly scan hundreds of blogs and other feeds and see what might be important. It really makes finding and reading information more efficient. But many journals don't have RSS feeds, so I have to go to the site and keep checking to see if something new has happened. Even journals in a technical field don't have RSS feeds. How crazy is that? These networks are also still functioning on email subscriptions rather than RSS. Maybe many people don't want to use RSS, but those of us that do should at least get the option. I really think RSS can form a backbone for research networks. It can help scholars connect and keep up with important work in the field. Currently, what we have is fragmented network. If people would move themselves into the 21st century, we could mend that, but until then, we'll be wasting all our time digging around looking for information.