[The following piece was written by Markku Roinila at the University of Helsinki (firstname.lastname@example.org).and is published for the first time here at NewApps. --ES]
Web 2.0 is said to provide new ways of sharing information and generally socializing in the internet as compared to the static web 1.0 applications like web-pages. The new interactive web is supposed to be a simple, rich and immediate experience which seduces one irresistibly to participate. But is it any good for a philosopher? Take Facebook and Twitter, the most well-known web 2.0 applications. They are simply not appropriate platforms for serious philosophical discussion – more likely a waste of time and energy (this, of course, depends on your FB-friends). What Facebook is good at is general networking. Twitter, the 140 digit communication wonder is surprisingly popular amongst philosophers, but using it really requires a serious addiction. A quick one-liner or a quote in Twitter, however, can occasionally save the day.
There are some social media applications especially designed for research purposes. Academia.edu has been launched as a sort of Facebook for academics. The idea is to encourage people to add whole departments which eventually would form a consistent network of researchers in different universities around the world. While such a goal remains illusive, the number of members is impressive (150,000+) and Academia.edu can offer a lot of goodies for networking: one can add to one’s profile research interests, papers, cv, forthcoming talks and follow other scholars. There is a search engine, message service, job board, possibility to follow journals and one can see the keywords by which one’s profile or papers were found in Google. A novel feature is the possibility to ask questions and give answers to other’s questions.
Academia.edu is a valuable social media for research networking. It has been dogged, however, by constant changes which are not always improvements (much as in the case of Facebook) and the fact that, on a day-to-day-basis, there is not much to see. Research interests are important to any philosopher, but life, the whole fat rich experience is better represented by the more general social media such as Facebook. So while it is nice to pop in once in a while, Academia.edu does not lure one into prolonged stays, which is the leading idea of a web 2.0 application. Therefore the concept of an academic Facebook fails.
A better alternative is PhilPapers, which is more strictly designed to be a place for sharing papers. The recent months have seen lots of useful upgrades from the possibility to follow an author to an Amazon bargain finder innovations, which have increased the web 2.0 elements of the PhilPapers although it is still more of a directory of papers than a real social media (there are now over 330,000 items available from 20,000 registered users). An important advantage of PhilPapers, however, is the fact that it is developed by philosophers for philosophers and is edited by a large group of professionals, who take part in a large-scale categorization project which is supposed to be helpful for finding material. PhilPapers is more popular among well-known scholars than Academia.edu (although the gap diminishes each day) and the co-operation with publishers is growing. In October 2011 PhilPapers will publish an event service which probably is a so-called killer application.
Although Academia.edu provides a better platform for networking, PhilPapers is the best social media for a philosopher. Or what more can one wish for than to share papers, follow other scholars and have an event service? Well, discussion. Although some discussion areas such as philosophy of mind in PhilPapers are active and there has been a little discussion around questions asked in Academia.edu, the two sites are rather thin on interaction despite all the tools available. One downloads a paper and can read it or follow a scholar, end of the story.
In Academia.edu one has to look for questions by keywords which is far too complicated – it should not be so difficult to create a rudimentary index. PhilPapers is better organized: one has the possibility to follow discussions of one’s own interests, discuss papers, search topics and one receives a notification of replies by email. However, the long time between replies in discussions does show that they are not very fervent. Perhaps the possibility to create closed discussion groups with active moderators would work.
At the moment, the best and most popular social media can be found in your email inbox. Mailing lists such as Philosophy-L or HOPOS and blogs like Leiter or New APPS are where the action is. The ease of replying to a mailing list and the certain target-group-intimacy of a blog, which is in fact a simple combination of web 1.0- and web 2.0- elements, continue to be the most attractive ways of philosophical interaction among scholars. But it is nice to have directories where the contact information is easy to find.