Social networking sites for scholars are emerging, I was pleased to discover in reading the Nov 9 issue of The Wired Campus in The Chronicle of Higher Education. I am absolutely certain that what for many remains only a curiosity for now will be the mainstay of scholarly communication and collaboration in the future. I checked out Pronetos: Professor's Network, which advertises itself as a home to communities of scholars of every academic discipline.
The purpose of Pronetos is to get people who are or could be working in the same disciplines (or across disciplines in similar areas of interest) to find each other, to share informally through discussions and more formally through posting papers, and to collaborate. "Recent Discussions," "Recent Articles," and "Most Popular Disciplines" lists are on the front page.
I filled out a profile, posted my CV (though in PDF form, and I wonder how accessible such documents will be to others eve if posted), and signed up to be member of one of the listed disciplines, "Digital Rhetoric." I even posted my photo--a good idea, I think, to help people know each other as, well, people. When I click on that discipline, Digital Rhetoric, I'm taken to a page where members of that discipline are listed/shown, and there is a space for articles and for forum posts. Nothing is there yet, and the whole site is barely populated, but I will be interested to see where it goes. Maybe I will post my article in progress there about evaluating digital scholarship and see where that takes me/us. In the spirit of Web 2.0, I know I should be posting my preliminary work for peer input and potential collaboration before my work is officially "published" conventionally.
But before I do, I want to compare Pronetos to the Humanities Research Network (HRN)--the subject of a separate Wired Campus article from Oct 22, 2007. According to its official announcement (as a spinoff from a social science network):
HRN will provide a world-wide, online community for research in all areas of Humanities,
following the model of the other subject matter networks within SSRN (http://www.ssrn.com).
We expect HRN to become a comprehensive online resource for research in humanities, providing scholars with access to current work in their field and facilitating research and scholarship.
That's very ambitious. They intend to combine three exiting research networks already up and going on the SSRN site in Classics, English & American Literature, and Philosophy. I'm not a social scientist, but I'm impressed by the SSRN. The idea is that scholars in the humanities can post their conference papers and articles as the social scienists have done with SSRN. That model is worth considering. According to the Wired article, SSRN has since 1994 posted the work of 82,000 authors, 131,000 papers, and has received 12 million downloads in the last year. Meanwhile, too many in the humanities stay in the backwaters of the digital realm, their work far less known than it could be if circulated in this manner (see the fascinating report by Martha Brogan on this topic, A Kaleidoscope of Digital American Literature).
I'm also wondering how the disciplinary models (Pronetos or HRN) will work relative to institutional repositories. Will IRs only include papers that have been peer-reviewed, leaving to the disciplines the in-progress web publishing that precedes the more official sort? Are IRs just archives, while research networks like these are the living organism generating scholarship? Something to watch.