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GS on Facebook (update)

211 (and counting). That's the number of users that have joined the Geochemical Society group on Facebook, almost exclusively through word of mouth, in just over six months. There were two primary reasons we decided to experiment with GS on Facebook: 1) to reach out to a large number of people--particularly students--interested in geochemistry regardless of their membership status, and 2) facilitate networking between members and discussion of relevant issues. So far, with over one person joining a day, I'd say we can look forward to reaching many more as the GS presence on Facebook continues to expand. To put this in perspective, AGU—a much larger society—only has 122 members. And it's not just students that we're reaching; many faculty members and others outside academica have joined up with us as well.

Unfortunately, the second goal is still a major work in progress. It seems people are willing to join but not take advantage of what the group offers. The reason for this is not entirely clear. It could be that people are cautious about what they say/do online because of the high visibility of their comments. If you've ever 'googled' your name, you probably understand that there is a lot out there on almost all of us. And on a site like Facebook, there is a blurry line between your personal and professional life.

A more likely reason that there is lack of activity on the GS Facebook page is that people really just aren't ready. Personally, I believe that online networking will become a ‘must' for any scientist in the future. Not only is the technology amazing, but if one simply considers the rising costs of traveling to scientific meetings and the environmental impact of such travels, it will become necessary to network online. Sites like Facebook, Nature Network, etc. represent a new means of scientific communication like e-mail did twenty years ago. Back then, professionals argued that they simply didn't have the time for such trivialities like e-mail, but now I bet these same people spend a good bit of their time in front of their computer sifting through their inbox. E-mail has undoubtedly revolutionized the way science is done, at least in terms of collaboration, publishing, and overall access to information.

But what about networking sites? How will they revolutionize science in the 21st century? Imagine online conferences complete with talks and poster sessions. Imagine discussing a new idea with a physicist and biologist in an online forum and starting up a collaboration with them. Imagine having access to all of your colleagues favorite and/or most-read papers available with the click of a button. These are already a reality with today's technologies. However, there is very little benefit to participating in such activities if you are the only one in your field doing so. Afterall, twenty years ago, what was the point of e-mailing someone if they couldn't send you an e-mail back? Eventually we, as in scientists, will catch on to these new online communication tools and when that happens, imagine the next wave of technological advances that will benefit science. Twenty years from now, will we look at Facebook like we now look at e-mail?

Think of the GS on Facebook experiment as simply a trial period. I doubt it will be the final form of whatever sort of networking presence(s) GS has online, but it provides an entry-point for us to connect a little more online. It will be interesting to observe, from the inside, the evolution of these online tools in the coming years. For example, the American Chemical Society just started it's very own online networking site (ACS Member Network) where ACS members can post their publications, join groups related to their research interests, and discuss a wide range of issues in chemistry with experts in the field.

As always, the success of these online tools—Web 2.0 they call it—is proportional to the number of people using it and how much each user participates. I encourage everyone reading this to explore these new tools and see what they have to offer (for a primer, read my last commentary here). Additionally, if you have concerns/comments on this topic, please e-mail them to me at wigginto@vt.edu (or join Facebook at make a comment on the GS page!)

Nick Wigginton