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Things are Different, Yet Nothing has Changed

A few observations on professional online social networking groups




In a previous article, I discussed the professional group I created for LIMS/Laboratory Informatics professionals in LinkedIn where such professionals can come together. A few years ago, my goal had been merely to get all LIMS people together, but those of us in LIMS, CDS, ELN, SDMS, and even LIS interact so much with each other, that it has turned out to be a useful idea to include all laboratory informatics people in one place. I mentioned that there are also in-person groups starting to spring up from this effort.

Different, but the same
So, this may lead you to wonder if the world has changed as much as we all think. Is what is going on now really that much different from groups such as the LIMSList discussion group ( http://groups.google.com/group/lims-lab-inf )?

If you look at any online social networking tool out there, they aren’t entirely different from the discussion groups we used to and still use. In fact, many of them, such as our LinkedIn LIMS/Laboratory Informatics group, include tools for discussions. In that respect, they have many similarities. Additionally, the same problems that previously existed still do exist. For example, the number of members in a group appears a gargantuan number compared to the number of members who participate. In fact, the difference in magnitude between the two numbers remains a major barrier when beginning such a group.

Picking a tool
However, what has changed is that there are more features in these tools. So, unlike earlier, relatively simple discussion groups, setting up this LinkedIn-based LIMS/Laboratory Informatics group opens up a number of features. As a result, the group can be more easily used for more purposes. For example, the group encourages people to network with each other directly and provides separate areas for job postings and for news items.

I want to stress that I do not mean to suggest that LinkedIn is the best place or the only place to set up such a group. In my case, LinkedIn met the needs I had for the group I wanted to create, but each online social networking tool has different features and focus. If you were to set up such a group for your own professional purposes, remember that selecting a social networking tool is like selecting any other software. It requires you to have a good idea about what you need.

Some reasons for failure
Failed attempts by people or companies to create an online social networking group have some elements in common:

1. They failed to select an appropriate tool. It doesn’t have to be the perfect tool, just an appropriate one.
2. They failed to encourage people to use the tool. If the group is for a company, it must be made a standard, or people won’t use it. If it’s voluntary, it has to have something in it that’s compelling, or people won’t come and stay.
3. They failed to understand that “Build it and they will come” is not true! These days, we know that building a Web site does not ensure visitors. Web sites take a great deal of ongoing work beyond initially building them in order to get anyone to come to them. The same is true with online social networking areas, wikis or any other tool. There must be a plan for ongoing content development, improvements, and change.
4. They failed to realize that, once it’s put into place, the work isn’t over. You have to continually keep it up, keep it tidy, keep encouraging people, and keep making it fresh, interesting and useful. The work is endless.
5. They became discouraged by the work involved, the high numbers needed to make it work and a variety of other factors.

Finally
As I continue to say, I want my own online networking and professional group to be a place where we will all come to get information and where we all feel comfortable sharing our knowledge, as well. The LIMS/Laboratory Informatics group in LinkedIn has become the largest such group and remains active because of continual awareness of the issues listed above.

To become a member, you must have a LinkedIn account, and most of us in the group use the free account. We welcome you to join us at http://www.linkedin.com/groupRegistration?gid=36640. But don’t stop there – start your own group and get your own specific needs met, too! That, or volunteer to help one of the many such efforts that have been started, because supporting and helping these communities is what helps keep them vibrant and growing.

Gloria Metrick is the owner of GeoMetrick Enterprises and the author of “Out on a LIMS: The Newsletter for People Who Risk Life and LIMS on a Daily Basis,” as well as the owner and moderator of the LinkedIn LIMS/Laboratory Informatics discussion group.

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