Hands on: Labmeeting’s social networking for researchers

Social networking is arguably one of the biggest Internet development over the past few years. From sites purely for fun like MySpace and Facebook to career networking like LinkedIn, new social networking operations are springing up to serve smaller discrete communities. One of the latest of these is Labmeeting, designed specifically for scientists. HangZhou Night Net

The site describes itself as being there to "help with those things that make doing science needlessly difficult," such as finding collaborators or competitors, rescheduling meetings, and sharing publications and protocols. Personally, I've not found any of those things needlessly difficult, but maybe that's just me.

You'll need an academic e-mail address to register, and the site is only really useful to those of us in life sciences; physicists, social scientists, et al need not apply.

The site lets you search for colleagues in the "search for people" text box. Trial and error revealed that some keywords also work in this box—by entering the names of my current and former institutions I was able to find a few people from both (although no one that I know), but it might behoove the site to disambiguate this a little.

The Papers section of Labmeeting

It feels like it could still do with some work in other areas. Although I was able to search for publications in PubMed, and eventually upload a file, the endnote library importer wasn’t working at the time of writing. If a publication you find has an author with the same lastname and first initial as you, Labmeeting allows you to identify yourself as one of the authors, and the paper is uploaded to your profile.

Finally there are tools that allow you to share documents and calendars with other lab members, but since there were only five individuals from my institution (including me) and none of them are from my lab, I was unable to put this to the test. While it's a nice idea, I'm a little dubious that it will really see widespread adoption. Firstly, you would need to have a Principal Investigator (PI) that knew about it, and then made sure everyone in the lab signed up; in reality, it's a lot easier to just e-mail everyone.

The online paper management seems more useful, although as a Mac user I'm an avid supporter of Papers, which might not store things online but is the best way to manage a literature collection I’ve come across.

Assuming Labmeeting can do a good job of making itself known to the scientific community, it might become more widespread. TechCrunch notes that the site has plans to offer its services to drug companies, biotechs and other industry types, for which it will charge a fee—although presumably only if they can make a case for being better than an intranet. There is stiff competition out there though, with sites like Nature Networks, SciLink, Epernicus, and even old timers like Web of Sscience. As with much else in science, peer review will make or break them.