Monday, December 3, 2007

Let the Party Begin: Elsevier's 2collab Awaits Engaged Audiences

Rafael Sidi is pumped up about Elsevier's new 2collab social bookmarking service, which he describes as the product of "the young turks in Amsterdam," presumably product developers trying to encourage this major scientific publisher to engage the online world of collaborative content. As what sounds to be a countercultural "intrapreneur" initiative 2collab has a lot going for it. 2collab has all of the features that one would expect to find in a modern social bookmarking service - public and private groups, tagging, commenting, voting, easy bookmarking and a very attractive and highly usable design - combined with editable citation information stored with each bookmark (click on the screen grab above to get a flavor of the metadata). However, the citation data cannot be referenced via the 2collab search engine yet, a minor inconvenience in the short run but something that should be addressed once a significant body of content is aggregated via the service.

As to when that significant body will appear is anyone's guess at this point. In spite of a decent launch and prominent billing for the service on Elsevier's corporate portal there appear to be relatively few takers for the service so far. I was challenged to find any publicly posted articles with comments other than my own in five days' worth of posts and thus far today there have been nine public posts in all. To the product's credit the timestamping makes it very easy to figure this out, but in the meantime it's a reminder that the community is still in the process of forming around this product. Group participation doesn't fare much better, with public groups still very small and formed around topics mostly centered on online technology topics.

2collab has an excellent design and the development team is to be commended for a first-rate job in launching a highly credible platform right out of the box, but it's going to take more than features similar to established social media outlets to attract people already using those other platforms. Just as a simple example of the challenge that faces Elsevier, a topic like "congestive heart failure" returns 141 results on del.icio.us, accumulated over a long period of time, to be sure, but in the meantime indicating a ways to go for 2collab to attract active participation. As important as it is to get the technology right in social media it's equally important to get some core communities invested in the platform so that their examples of successful interactions can get other participants jazzed. Consider 2collab to be in serious need of jazzing at this point.

Can Elsevier manage to get some more mojo behind 2collab and develop it into a thriving social media community? In truth Elsevier and other scientific publishers are so far behind in embracing social media that it's going to be an uphill struggle for any of them to make significant progress in developing social media capabilities that are, admittedly, rather long-term investments for as-yet-uncertain future revenues. But one thing seems to be certain: whichever scientific publisher is able to finally crack the social media marketplace and develop a tool that becomes the "go-to" place for sharing and discussing scientific literature is going to win a big, big prize at the end of the day - regardless of how that prize scales to current revenue streams. Consider 2collab a modest bet by Elsevier on the future of social media as a publishing platform that is in need of doubling-down sooner rather than later to ensure a place at the emerging world of user-driven publishing markets.
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