GLOBAL: Facebook for researchers promotes collaboration

We all know about Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace. These social utility websites allow us all to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, exchange messages, post pictures and play silly games - such as throwing a digital sheep at someone or giving them a pixellated hellraiser cocktail. But now a new website has been developed for researchers, allowing them to exchange papers and comments about their work. It is called ResearchGATE.

This interactive Web 2.0 Internet service is free and allows registered researchers to tell other members of the global research community about their interests and projects. It allows members to self-publish papers and seek constructive comments from their peers, as well as exchange know-how, request and seek collaborators, and create a network of researchers interested in a topic.

ResearchGATE was founded by Ijad Madisch, of Harvard University, in the US, Soeren Hofmayer, of Germany's Medical School of Hannover, and Horst Fickenscher, of the University of Passau, also in Germany. Writing about their new service, the founders said: "With this new platform we want to change the world of science by providing a global and powerful scientific web-based environment, in which scientists can interact, exchange knowledge and collaborate with researchers of different fields."

Members already include academics from universities and research centres in Australia, Britain, Austria, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, Switzerland, and the United States. The service - launched in May - has also been adding functions. Last week, it started offering a smart file-sharing tool for research collaborations, called REstoRY, designed to help members exchange computer files with co-researchers, from research papers and grant applications, to charts or presentations.

ResearchGATE notes the benefits of storing such material on a remote server, safe from computer breakdowns or viruses, where they can be accessed from any computer, at a "conference, in your hotel or at home."

A note on a self-promotional blog set up by the service says: "REstoRY supersedes constant emailing of documents between colleagues and makes version chaos an issue of the past." It claims to be more efficient than many university servers, noting that current and previous versions of a file are available, helping track input from collaborators. As with Facebook and its brethren, ResearchGATE also offers tools allowing members to restrict access to material posted onto its server, maybe to authorised group members.

The initiative is the latest example of open access publishing that has been shaking up the long-established publishing procedure of regular printed journals and associated peer review processes. While some researchers are happy with the old journal system as a means of maintaining research quality, unsurprisingly, ResearchGATE is an unabashed supporter of open source interaction.

In a note, its founders say: "Instead of disseminating scientific results in regularly scheduled and printed journal issues, now a continuous release of articles in online format will change and expedite the way new results are spread. Without anonymous review processes, open access journals or wiki-like concepts will assure the quality of science." and