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The social network for scientists

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A few weeks ago I wrote about a fascinating project undertaken by Harvard.  They wanted to take an innovative approach to diabetes research, and attempted to open up the entire process to people outside of the usual field of researchers.  They did this throughout the process, from idea generation all the way to assembling the team of people to work on it.  It was a fantastic example of the possibilities that can arrive when research is opened up and people can collaborate widely.

So I'm really excited by the German based company ResearchGate.  They raised $35 million this week in venture funding, with backers including the likes of Bill Gates.  The site has nearly 3 million researchers already signed up as members, and aims to offer them a cutting edge facility to network and collaborate.

It's been a tough journey for the site.  Research is notoriously competitive, and those pressures don't always lend themselves well to open collaboration with the kind of people you often view as your rivals to fame and glory.  ResearchGate believe they're beginning to knock down those barriers however.

The key is their novel approach to encouraging sharing.  Rather than asking researchers to share information from successful research that will hopefully be peer reviewed, they instead ask researchers to share their mistakes and failures.  They contend that there is as much to learn from failures as there is from success, and this data therefore is invaluable, especially in fields such as medical research, where knowing what doesn't work is often as important as knowing what does.  When that information is hidden for instance, you can imagine the duplication of effort down futile avenues.

The real value of the site comes from the way it can connect up scientists from around the world so they can collaborate on important issues.  Ijad Madisch, founder of the site, has been targeting the younger base of academics and researchers from around the world who are already comfortable with the notion of networking online, and in particular with the notion of sharing what it is they're working on.  He has found that a much more effective use of his time than trying to convert naysayers to the cause.

The $35 million will help the site improve its level of functionality, whilst also helping them develop ways to monetize the site.  Whilst plans on how to do that are not in the public domain as yet, one has to hope that they don't dilute the ability of the site to attract the finest minds to collaborate on projects of real value to society.


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