Innovations

Welcome to Virtual World Innovations – Dave Taylor’s blog on Web 2.0, Social Media and Virtual Worlds for Business Efficiency, Collaboration, Public Engagement, Knowledge Transfer, Education, Research and Communication

For more about the author please click here to visit my LinkedIn Profile.

And for an interview see this article on Linden Lab’s website.

My aim is to help the public and businesses to engage more effectively with science and technology communities in Universities and elsewhere and to help scientists and technologists to communicate, collaborate and to transfer knowledge more effectively between themselves.

There is no substitute for experience and over the years I have worked with new and emerging technologies to improve collaboration and communication in businesses of all sizes and specialties. Virtual Worlds and Web 2.0 technologies are the most powerful and useful technologies yet. So for the past 5 years I have managed the development of virtual world communities, blogs, podcasts, documentary videos, wikis, enhanced events, collaboration workspaces, extended networks and virtual exhibitions. Explanations of these terms and links to each of these can be found throughout this blog, including links to other examples of emerging best practice.

I have devoted several sections to the virtual world of Second Life and especially the Science and Technology continent called the SciLands. This is because it represents the next stage of evolution of the World Wide Web and is a model for the ‘metaverse’ a powerful new public commons for work and leisure where communities that would never have emerged in the real world are able to form and work together.

Blogging the Future

The nature of communication and stakeholder engagement is changing, not just in technology fields but everywhere there are communities who share common interests. The portfolio of knowledge transfer products is expanding and new ideas will continue to emerge as new opportunities arise.

In this blog I will document new and emerging best practices, using the latest social networking, virtual worlds and new media tools. Here I will collect together information about the way businesses and Governments are using these tools and provide you with the know-how you need to exploit them in your own communities. Since a lot of the information is already out-there in the ‘blogosphere’ and virtual worlds (especially in the public commons of Second Life) I will point out the best sources of information and instances of best practice from which we can all learn.

Blogging for scientific communities

Networks are simply people who talk to one another.

Scientific communities are networks.

Blogs are a communication medium well suited to networks.

Other media including eMails, eMail lists, letters and Journals have a closed circulation whereas Blogs are completely open with the potential to support a much wider community. They are therefore capable of making a significant contribution to knowledge transfer within and beyond the scientific community served by the more traditional media.

There are several ways in which scientists may use Blogs:

  • A ‘Group Blog’ – an extended conversation within a group of peers, on a specific area of expertise or a scientific topic. One example would be a conversation around a Good Practice Guide, as an alternative to collecting and publishing case studies (thanks to Hannah Edmunds for this idea). Another example would be a specific area of expertise where a group of experts can co-publish their methods, thoughts, examples and links for the scientific community at large. Note that the Group Blog does not need to contain all the information itself, but should be used to annotate, elaborate and point to the other sources of knowledge.
  • An ‘Extended Network’ – serving to help disseminate information from a scientific project or programme. One example is ‘OTM Backnetwork‘, this Web 2.0 site based on emerging ‘microformat’ standards enables this extensive community to communicate and ‘network’ between and during their real world events and meetings. The site automatically aggregates information from members’ own blogs, pictures from Flickr and other information relevant to the community.Other examples:
  • Photoncount, an International community of small businesses and researchers working in the specialist field of low-photon detectors which underpins diverse fields such as quantum cryptography and space research. The community use this site to exchange information about their research interests, events, news and products. Offline they meet for an international conference every two years.
  • Minet, an Interdisciplinary European network of people interested in the measurement of complex properties of products (naturalness, appearance and other psych-physical properties). This network includes neurophysiologists, physicists, cognitive scientists, mathematicians and product development technologists and will also benefit from the use of virtual worlds to aid collaboration and information dissemination between themselves and the wider communities that can benefit from their knowledge.
  • An ‘Open Lab Notebook’ – for example detailing experiments you are considering, including details of your intended setup, intermediate results and even results from failed experiments that would never otherwise be published. By sharing information of this kind and inviting contributions and suggestions from others in the community you can harness the power of networks to improve the likely outcome and encourage serendipitous discovery. {example}
  • ‘Reading Lists’ – Social networking sites such as Connotea and CiteUlike enable scientists to share their reading lists and to discover other scientists with overlapping interests and the papers that they are reading. Although not strictly a Blog – this would be a good introduction to the characteristics of online social tagging prior to starting a full blown Blog. We are developing techniques to automatically aggregate this kind of information so as to bring it into the Blog type of conversation.

Web Conferencing

The Interwise online conferencing platform is part of the DTI’s Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) infrastructure. KTN members are able to hold virtual meetings to which they can invite other members of the network.

Open Lab-book

This is an intriguing application for a blog described by Jean-Claude Bradley of Drexel University who uses a simple Blogger account as a research notebook. In a podcast entitled ‘Peer Review in the Google Age’ (transcript and podcast available here) Bradley describes how he Blogs openly about experiments he intends to, or has, carried out and how this has led to serendipitous discoveries and collaborations. Here is the group blog describing a failed experiment that would otherwise never have seen the light of day. But the information nevertheless proved useful to another researcher.

Bradley also runs a project, called Useful Chemistry, which he describes as “An attempt at open source science in chemistry.” He invites anyone to post a specific problem in chemistry that need to be solved or to execute a suggested step and post the results.

Wikis are most suitable when there are many authors who need to collaborate on a single document (or website). Two great examples are OpenWetWare which is a comprehensive collaborative website “to promote the sharing of information, know-how, and wisdom among researchers and groups who are working in biology & biological engineering” and Bradley’s UsefulChem which includes several projects and links to the blogs that support them.

Rosie Redfield who runs a microbiology research lab in the Life Sciences Centre at the University of British Columbia also keeps an open lab-book style blog that attracts helpful comments from her readers.

Enhanced Events

Many organisations have attempted to use Blogs, Wikis or regular websites to expand the footprint of an event to offer additional opportunities for attendees and others to network – before, during and after the event. Very few have succeeded. I believe the secret lies in the choice of mode for networking, which clearly needs to suit the audience, and in the use of Web 2.0 aggregation to collect information submitted by event attendees from their own blogs or elsewhere, rather than requiring them to enter information to a specific site for the event. I will write more about this as NPL experiments further with this approach.

Another event enhancement possibility is to run the event simultaneously into Second Life, or to use a workshop in Second Life or a web conference to follow up on specific topics covered in the original event. This enables attendees to meet virtually sometime after the main event, leading to further collaboration and networking activities.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that the views expressed in this Blog are mine, and do not necessarily represent the views of Imperial College London (my present employer) or of NPL Management Ltd. (my previous employer). Nothing in these Blog postings shall bind Imperial College London in any contract or obligation.

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