Career Talk

The ATS Forum

July 2007

Online networking comes to the ATS Website

The ATS Forum has gone live. Starting with Critical Care and CareerTalk, the ATS Forum greatly expands the educational and networking opportunities within ATS by allowing the membership to engage the organization directly and communicate with the community at large.

What’s a Forum?
http://www.thoracic.org/forums/index.cfm

The ATS Forum is basically an online discussion board. Have a cool site you want to share? Read an interesting article or find a fact or two that you think should be disseminated amongst the ATS community? Want feedback about some topic in respiratory, critical care or sleep medicine? Or perhaps you have a question and are looking for advice or information. The ATS Forum is the place to come.

Any ATS member is welcome to join and participate by submitting comments, advice, or links. The Forum is the next step in harnessing the power of the Internet to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information amongst the global ATS membership.

I thought I would take this opportunity to explore social and professional networking on the web. Many of us use computers daily, but if you are older than 25, chances are that networking sites such as MySpace.com are vaguely familiar, questionably interesting and perhaps alarming phenomena that you might have heard about in the news.

What is MySpace?

Myspace (http://www.myspace.com/) is one of the most, if not the most, popular online social networking sites. Launched in 2003 and initially devoted to the indie-music scene in Los Angeles, MySpace can boast of over 50 million accounts created, with most of its members ranging in age from 14-24.

Why should I care?

Because social networking site such as Myspace.com are part of the future of interpersonal communications. Think telegraph, telephone, email - online networking is the next step. Most of us are comfortable with and depend on cellphones to stay in touch and may even txt or MMS our family, friends or colleagues directly. Online networks expand the possibilities of the Internet by going beyond people to websites connections and directly promote people to people connections.

How does it work?

When members join MySpace, they create a profile that reflects their personality and interests. A typical MySpace profile contains two sections: “About Me” and “Who I’d Like to Meet.” Profiles can also include information on “Interests” and “Details” that are not displayed if no information is filled in. More than a personal website, members can “blog” and upload multiple types of content including images, video. After linking to their friends' profiles, members stay in touch by sending mail messages, chatting over IM, and leaving comments for each other. Members can upload pictures to show off what they look like, and express themselves through blogs.

Video clips can also be shared through sites such as YouTube, www.youtube.com.

Why is MySpace so popular?

For teenagers, MySpace is a place to hang out, and so what if it is online? Having grown up with the Internet, young people feel comfortable with digital space. It is as concrete a destination as the local mall. . Kids used to hang out at the drive-in, now they do so on-line. Hanging out in a “digital public” obviously exposes them to a much broader array of people than they might find at the mall. Or does it? There are several caveats regarding sites such as MySpace. Personal privacy issues, stalking, bullying all have been topics of recent, highly publicized news reports. The anonymity of digital communication permits a freedom of expression that can be dangerous not just in the present but also in the future. In their quest to establish a niche and identity, most teenagers are not thinking about that potential employer or predator, for that matter.

Despite all the scary stories (more on that later), MySpace does allow you to search for and connect with people by their REAL names, if they have chosen to provide them. Since real names are never displayed, this “privilege” is presumably restricted to people who already know of you. Hence contact is not random. Remember “Six degrees of separation”? If someone asks you to be a “friend” on MySpace, at some level you know who they are and they know who you are. And unlike the real world, the interaction can be as limited or broad as you like. I.e., you may dislike someone personally, but find that they write an interesting blog or share interesting music. One of the most dynamic and powerful features about MySpace is that you can keep track of recent postings or “bulletins” from your MySpace friends right on your MySpace page.

“MyATS.com”?

For a professional organization such as ATS, this searchable technology also permits an unparalleled opportunity to exchange professional, scientific and clinical information among peers. Potentially, an individual member could have full access to the combined mindpower of the global ATS community. Profile pages can be tailored to permit members to list information of interest to the organization. For instance, instead of “friends”, one can list “collaborators.” Looking for someone with expertise in sarcoidosis who lives in Finland? Are you in a small lab and seeking to learn about oxidative stress?  Or, does your lab offer special expertise in some technique or have some unique reagent or tool that you are willing to share with others. Videos of techniques or results (flow cytometry, intracellular signaling) can be uploaded. Important professional information could also be shared, e.g. just what is the average wage for a PCCM physician in your area?

Designing a mere database that contains all this information and still be user-friendly, searchable and flexible could be extremely cumbersome. In contrast, a myspace.com type of site would permit any member with Internet access to look for help within the organization. Importantly, individuals retain control over the information that they wish to share. Furthermore, the organization could also decide to restrict all of these types of communication to members and thus people we know or know of. Within a professional community such as ATS, self-policing should be sufficient to prevent abuses.

More than money, information is power. Access to information often separates those in charge from mere wannabes. But information technology can also play an important role in maintaining the relevance of mature organizations such as ATS. By expanding opportunities to participate, by promoting transparency of information, we will also be encouraging the diversity and the creativity necessary to maintain its vitality.

More importantly however, promoting information availability and access may be vital in nurturing scientific progress. One of the speakers at a recent ATS postgraduate course I attended sounded a cautious note about what I call “BIG” science, the multi-center consortiums and networks that are the current wave of the NIH. He reminded us that creativity does not typically arise from big group projects that build on established knowledge. In contrast, thinkers such as Einstein who come up with dogma-challenging theories often work independently or in small groups that may have difficulty gaining access to mainstream funding and publishing sources. As the music industry has so well demonstrated, online networking promotes progress and diversification by not only widening access but also facilitating the kind of collaboration and pooling of resources needed for smaller groups to continue to survive and compete for (research) funding.

The key is participation. And sharing. This does not come easily to many in the power elite. Similarly, smaller groups with fewer resources may not wish to share scientific information in fear of its being scooped or stolen. I would argue, however, that an online networking database would only work to increase the transparency of the scientific and professional culture and decrease distrust. For instance, there can be no question of when an idea is first posted to the web and by whom.  Ultimately, the entire community will benefit from the pooling of its intellectual and technical resources. More Voices = More Ideas.

The ATS Forum

“MyATS.com” is a dream; but the ATS Forum is officially online. As of June 29, 2007 0932 PST, there were 13 users registered to the ATS Forum. I suspect that they are almost all members of the Web Editorial Board and ATS Staff! Like any democratic endeavor, its success depends on member participation. I recently got a post from a member in Australia who had a question about sarcoid. I was able to forward his question on to two internationally known experts in the field.
So try it, better yet, add a comment or weblink or both! Let me (CareerTalk) or David Kaufman (Critical Care) know what you think by posting a topic, reply or question. Add an RSS Feed to your Bookmarks, that way you’ll be notified of new content.
http://www.thoracic.org/forums/index.cfm
See you there!

References:

  1. Boyd, danah. 2006. "Identity Production in a Networked Culture: Why Youth Heart MySpace." American Association for the Advancement of Science, St. Louis, MO. February 19.http://www.danah.org/papers/AAAS2006.html
  2. www.wikipedia.org
  3. www.myspace.com
  4. www.youtube.com
  5. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v447/n7148/full/4471031a.html
  6. http://www.nature.com/embor/journal/v6/n8/full/7400497.html

The author gratefully acknowledges the input and advice from Dr. Kenneth J. Serio, Scripps Clinic, La Jolla, CA.