Two things prompted this note ....
First, there is an interesting report in the current issue of Nature on the 'online image' [editorial] or 'online reputation' [article] of researchers and what their attitude is to it and to managing it. More of this later.
Second, I have recently returned from Bangkok where I participated in the 9th Annual Library Leadership Institute organised by the University of Hong Kong Libraries. Over 40 librarians from East Asia gathered for several days. The strongest cluster of themes to emerge in discussion, it seemed to me, was around the need for greater engagement in the research and learning activities of their campuses. For example, there was much discussion of repurposing space to support better learning experiences. In this context I was interested to hear several participants talk about advising faculty about publication venues and online reputation. This was partly related to university positioning in national or international ranking or assessment activities.
This connected well with one of the vendor presentations. Airani Ramli gave an interesting overview of the SciVal suite of products. This is an example of what I have in the past called research analytics (and I notice that Thomson Reuters now collects a range of similar activities under that heading).
The focus of the presentation was on how research analytics could support strategic university research directions. They could help identify comparative strengths and gaps, potential collaborators or targets for hire, and so on. Again the academic research assessment and ranking environment provided important context. In addition to the increasing visibility of international ranking exercises such as that carried out by the Times Higher, there are various national assessment regimes. I was very interested to discover that about 70% of sales of SciVal were to the research office or equivalent administrative unit in the university, and about 30% to the library. While there might be a general feeling that it is important for the library to be a partner in this type of work, it is not always the case. (I was interested to see the University of Leicester Library advertise for a Bibliometrician again recently.)
This speaks to the institutional interest in optimizing research performance as measured by bibliographic analysis. The Nature survey looks at individual researcher interest in managing their online reputation. They report that "up to 10% of scientists have considered using external services to manage their online reputations" and, in an editorial, go on to say ..
Enhancing visibility and promoting a digital image may strike some as unsavoury, but it is not. Researchers are right to promote themselves and their work in a reasonable capacity. The Internet has provided a tremendous tool to do this effectively. [Online image]
Nature recruited 840 researchers through email and social networking sites, and they don't discuss how this might influence their results. They also hang the story on the case of somebody who has worked with a commercial company to repair their reputation, something which I thought was a distraction from the core activity of amplifying academic reputation.
Of 840 respondents, 77% say that their personal online reputation is important to them and 88% say that the online reputation of their work is important (see 'A name online'). Thirteen per cent say that they have used search-optimization strategies to improve the visibility of their research, and as many as 10% say they have considered using external services to manage their online reputations (click here for the full poll results).
Several researchers have set up biographies on the online site Wikipedia -- the online encyclopaedia that practically anyone can edit -- or edited entries to include references to their own papers. And many simply use social-networking sites or blog regularly about science, which can help to shape a digital persona. The poll and subsequent interviews suggest a growing recognition in the scientific community: maintaining a prominent online presence can help researchers to network with colleagues, share resources, raise money and communicate their work. "It is incredibly valuable," says Gia Milinovich, a web producer based in London who has studied scientists' use of Twitter. [Online reputations: best face forward]
In addition to the longstanding practice of checking for citations to their work or their group's work, many researchers are now tracking mentions on Google, and taking steps to enhance their network presence and attract attention.
Against this background it is not suprising to see the many options that individuals and institutions have to create personal profiles. Think of Mendeley, Zotero and WizFolio. Or the Selected Works pages from BePress and COS Profiles. Or Vivo or BibApp. And multiple other disciplinary, insitutional and individual approaches. The University of Hong Kong Scholars' Hub, for example, includes local data alongside data pulled from Scopus and Web of Science with an aim of making HKU authors and their research "very visible".
We have been interested in this area under our 'Research information management' strand of work.
Thinking about how faculty, departments and the university effectively present themselves presents interesting internal and external boundary issues. Organizationally, there is an intersection of interests between department/school, library, marketing/PR, and Research Office, alongside the individual. And then what is it appropriate to do at the institutional level, alongside what happens in various external network services.