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Report from the InSight Initiative Summit: Imagining the Ideal Social Networking Site for Collaboration and Sharing

Submitted by Richard Gallagher, Annual Reviews; Linné Girouard, AHIP, Library, Houston Methodist Hospital, Houston, TX; Steven Heffer, Wolters Kluwer; and Rich Lampert, Doody Consulting, Philadelphia, PA

The MLA InSight Initiative provides a forum for MLA leaders and participating organizations to engage in high-level, high-value dialogue on issues of common interest that impact the health information profession. Much of the time at InSight Initiative Summit 1, held in March, was devoted to small-group discussions of issues that both librarians and vendors regarded as challenging, with each group consisting of equal numbers of health sciences librarians and industry representatives. This is the fourth of four articles that synthesize key points from the discussions.

Whether users are researchers, scholars, clinicians, or students, virtually all work regularly with other individuals, and many look to digital solutions to facilitate whatever collaborations they engage in. Summit participants described a wide range of interactions, including sharing of data and code; collaborating on work products such as papers, grant applications, and presentations; and engaging with the broader academic or medical community as well as people outside the specific community.

At many institutions, social media sites or chat sites are blocked based on Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) issues or simply general security concerns built into firewalls. This presents a significant obstacle to any social networking site, no matter how focused or functional. On the other hand, some institutions are finding that Twitter is a useful platform for facilitating journal clubs, as long as community clinicians can obtain access to articles that may be behind an academic firewall. Under the right circumstances, it appears, a blanket ban on even the most volatile of social media platforms is not absolutely necessary.

Some of the discussions at InSight Summit 1 started by considering the functionality of existing social platforms. One discussion group thought in terms of; another joked that this could be “Facebook for scientists.”

Continuing to think conceptually, one group proposed five important characteristics of the ideal platform:

  1. Broadly defined scholarly membership: Silos of research are not conducive to new discovery. There have to be structures that encourage multidisciplinary interaction and serendipity. An ideal result would be an increase in the number and diversity of authors on papers.
  2. Interoperability with existing systems: New platforms that increase the administrative burden of university and hospital information professionals will not work. Any workflow inputs, outputs, and linkouts have to work with current systems and platforms.
  3. Incorporation of pre- and post-publication services: Pre-publication author services can assist with the preparation of manuscripts, and the system could incorporate post-publication article-based metrics for tracking usage, impact, and so on.
  4. Legitimate sharing functions: A platform like this could solve some of the problems of illegitimate file sharing by incorporating sharing links in accordance with academic and professional publisher guidelines, and those now being developed by RA21.
  5. Governance with mutual confidence: All stakeholders need to trust the governance structure. An existing, well-recognized organization such as ORCID would be a possibility.

Eventually, most of the participants at the summit found themselves asking a more fundamental question: Is there a need for a new platform? There are already a number of platforms that function superbly for different types of collaboration, including:

  • general collaboration: Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Groups
  • workflow: Mendeley
  • data and code sharing: figshare
  • community-building: ResearchGate, F1000, VIVO, Hypothesis

Perhaps the best approach is institution-wide adoption of appropriate, popular tools to optimize user participation. In this environment, librarians would facilitate, mediate, and teach users of the tools, with overall ownership residing elsewhere in the institution. This assumes that all of these tools could comply with mandates and laws related to concerns such as patient confidentiality. Other concerns include scalability, versioning, and, of course, security.

Instead of thinking about an ideal platform, a representative from one of the participating industry organizations articulated an idealized scheme to integrate existing tools:

Perhaps there is middle way between the idea [of] building something new and the view that such a platform is not required at all. This would involve looking at existing structures in our ecosystem and work[ing] toward their collaboration to achieve all the aims that are being described. For instance, can we come to an agreement with Research Gate to provide network pieces? Can F1000 or create collaborative spaces? Can Editorial Manager or Editage provide author services and integrate with publisher submission systems and pre-print servers like BioRXiv? I don’t think we’ve seriously tried to find common ground because we (at least in the community of vendors broadly, not publishers) are too enamored of “disruption” as an end to itself.

In all, the summit participants generated a complex web of multifaceted concepts to address this complex, multifaceted challenge.

Other articles in this series cover other topics that small-group discussions focused on at the first summit: challenges of Internet protocol (IP) and proxy-based authentication, lessons learned from pirate sites, and leveraging specialized discover tools to maximize user engagement.

MLA’s InSight Initiative is supported by the following organizations: American Psychiatric Association Publishing, Annual Reviews, BMJ Publishing, Elsevier, F1000, The JAMA Network, McGraw-Hill Education, NEJM Group, Rockefeller University Press, Springer Nature, and Wolters Kluwer.

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