Peter Krautzberger · on the web

Why academic societies should start fully fledged social networks

The Joint Math Meetings 2013 ended with the AMS's 125th Anniversary banquet. One of the things mentioned there was that the AMS is working on some form of online communities. That's great, but doesn't go far enough.

1. It's their nature

Academic societies have always been social networks. Online, social networks look different from conferences, book ordering and membership areas.

A lot has been done already. Take the AMS. MathsJobs has solved the job search problem, MathSciNet has solved publication research.

But what is needed is true social connectivity. Or in other words: conferences, workshops and seminars. The net connects everyone, all the time. Why leave it to people not caring for the community? The big social networks are important, but they will never help smaller communities like the mathematical one, never provide the tools we need.

2. The ultimate appeal

Nobody should trust a social network paid through ads. You may trust it a bit more when you pay for it (e.g.,

But a network run by a society (or a joint venture of societies) would have the ultimate appeal: trust and oversight.

Because societies are democratic, they could establish transparent, democratic oversight over a key technology for the community.

3. It's their mission

But let's take it at least one step further. Diaspora and other decentralized social networks are a beautiful idea. Societies could move such tools forward, thereby empowering distributed social networks.

On the one hand, members could easily connect across different societies, on the other hand, members could choose to fully control their data on their own servers.

A society that serves its members and community would not be opposed in principle. Which other social network could say the same?

In addition, the underlying software would naturally be open source -- both for transparency and scientific reasons.

This would enable everybody to take this important step -- a bit of internet enlightenment if you will.

4. It's forward thinking

Social networks are the new publishers. It's interesting to read this post at the Scholarly Kitchen which looks at societies from the reverse angle, the fact that PeerJ is moving publishing more towards a membership model is important.

Publishers should fear societies since they will always be able to offer something fundamentally different -- a self-governing community.

5. It has consequences

Right now, the majority of users are on at most one social network, usually Facebook (though mathematicians have sometimes skipped that and followed all the cool kids playing on google+).

I expect the majority of users to soon get comfortable to have multiple networks. This is why I also expect to eventually have better connectors between networks. Granted, this has to do with a lot of major internet issues (net neutrality, walled gardens etc), but I prefer to be optimistic about the future.

But the real consequence is: this will cost money. And members should be ready to pay for it. Just as we should for publishing.

Note (2015): The link to the Scholarly Kitchen was not present in any WordPress revision of this post. Browsing The Scholarly Kitchen's archive, I still don't know which one I may have meant.