The University of Queensland (UQ) maintains an online research profiling system, UQ Researchers,1 to showcase the expertise of its academic staff and postgraduate students. The site makes available detailed research profiles and evidence of expertise at various levels. It incorporates school, institute and centre research profiles, CV-type profiles for individual researchers, research project and publication details, and details of available research facilities. External users can search for topical areas and seek opportunities for research collaboration. The service is often used internationally by aspiring research higher degree students who are seeking to identify institutions or individual academics with research strength in their chosen area of study. The UQ Researchers site provides access not only to the expertise and experience of individual researchers but also to that of research groups across the University. Participation in the service is currently optional. There is no mandate for inclusion.
UQ Researchers offers direct data entry, as well as a data sourcing system that automatically collects information about academics and students, and their research, from UQ sources and provides it for use. Users are also welcome to add further, relevant information such as details of non-refereed publications, the collection of which is not currently done by UQ data sources.
The take up of the UQ Researchers service, however, is patchy. Not all staff participate in the service, and postgraduate student take up is extremely low. This has been attributed to a number of causes, such as lack of time, lack of currency of the information provided, and reluctance on the part of staff to do direct data entry into the system. On the other hand, some staff and students were more than willing to spend time showcasing themselves and their work via social networking sites like MySpace2 and Facebook.3 Accordingly, it was decided to compare the functionality of a social networking service with that of UQ Researchers to identify any gaps in the UQ research profiling service and to arrive at some recommendations for improving it.
A number of popular social networking sites were considered as possible benchmarks for functionality comparison with the UQ Researchers academic profile and portfolio service. Services considered for comparison included MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn.4 One researcher interviewed for the study recommended LinkedIn as superior to Facebook for professional/research purposes, since it is more focused on professional networking and focuses less on purely social links. However, in the end Facebook was selected as the best tool for comparison. There were a number of reasons for this decision, but a major factor was the existence of several already active groups of Facebook users at UQ.
During December 2007, face-to-face interviews were conducted with five users four academic staff and one research student all of whom answered a short questionnaire about their use of both the Facebook service and UQ Researchers.
Telephone calls and Facebook tools such as email and user status were also used to communicate with users. In addition to seeking feedback from existing users, we created two new Facebook profiles for staff, as well as one new UQ Researchers profile, to enable us to fully document the process of registering and populating both services. We also wanted to test and compare the respective features, interface design and 'user-friendliness' of both systems.
Description of the Two Web Sites: Facebook and UQ Researchers
Facebook is a Web-based social networking application that connects people with others who work, study or live near them. People use Facebook in a number of different ways, including:
Anyone with a valid email address can join Facebook and create a profile. Profiles may be of an individual or of a group. Many networks and groups already exist on the service, such as the network of staff and students at The University of Queensland, many of whom are organised into discrete groups, for example researchers, academics and students in linguistics. Other Facebook networks include those based around companies, regions, or educational institutions such as colleges, schools or universities. Facebook offers a configurable platform to allow users to integrate into their profiles a very wide range of internal and external applications. These include calendars, notes, conference calls, RSS feeds and other forms of social networking. Facebook users can only see the profiles of confirmed 'friends' and the people in their networks. Who gets to see what of a person's Facebook profile is determined by the way a person configures his or her privacy settings.
UQ Researchers is a Web-based profile and portfolio tool for showcasing UQ researchers and their combined expertise. Its aims are:
The UQ Researchers site makes available detailed research profiles and evidence of expertise at various levels. It incorporates:
UQ Researchers allows current UQ academic staff and research higher degree students to put their research on display through a system that automatically collects information from UQ sources such as the grants system, the Federal government research reporting system, the human resources system and so on. Users are also able to add their own data to the system, e.g., to include non-refereed publications.
To contribute, users must register. Registration is limited to current UQ academic staff and research higher degree students. Undergraduates or general staff are not allowed to contribute.
To prepare for the comparison of UQ Researchers and Facebook, new Facebook profiles were set up for two participants, one academic, one general staff:
In addition to the two new Facebook users listed above, four other interviewees were already Facebook users, two of which also have profiles on UQ Researchers. These four interviewees are:
Screenshots of the three UQ Researchers users' profiles appear in the Appendix to this article.
All interviewees had publications listed in the UQ eSpace repository. Some had publications listed in UQ Researchers. The UQ Researchers listing was problematical as it relied on data being fed into it from other UQ systems, and thus the data were always at least a year out of date. The lack of any publications with a publication date later than 2006 made UQ Researchers unattractive as a publications showcase. The ability to use, within Facebook, an RSS feed of publications deposited in UQ eSpace appealed to interviewees. The UQ eSpace data was much more up to date than the data on UQ Researchers, and any missing publications could be easily added, thus updating the feed. The feed could also be customised in various ways, such as by most recent or by research output type (e.g., journal articles only). Supplying the UQ eSpace RSS feed URL to interviewees meant that two of them were able to add this functionality easily to their Facebook profiles.
Who is displaying publications, and by what means are the publications displayed?
The following interviewees make available information about their publications and the list reflects how they do that:
Feed or update functionality
When it displays a user's RSS feed, Facebook offers the option of easily subscribing to the feed through an RSS Reader application. Users have a choice of what RSS application they use. If they already use a feed reader, the new feed will be added to that application.
UQ Researchers makes the process of subscribing to a profile quite difficult, requiring a number of steps, including a multi-box registration form. The information is not supplied as an RSS feed but as an email notification service.
Feature/functionality comparison of UQ Researchers (UQR) with Facebook (FB)
Setting Up Profiles in Facebook and UQ Researchers
The ease or difficulty of setting up a profile in each of the two web sites, Facebook and UQ Researchers, can make a difference in whether or not the web site will be used. Therefore, we compared the processes involved in setting up the profiles.
Creating a Facebook page
To create a Facebook page, first go to the Facebook web site at <http://www.facebook.com/>. You will be asked to enter an email address and a password. After you have entered your email address, you will be able to create and design a profile.
There are eight headings to help you set up your Facebook page. These are: Basic, Contact, Relationships, Personal, Education, Employment, Picture, and Layout. The list below describes some of these headings in more detail:
Creating a UQ Researchers page
Users must be academics or research higher degree students to qualify for inclusion in UQ Researchers. To enter the site, users must log in via a web page to which they must submit their UQ username and password. Much of the content is system-generated, e.g., publications and projects. Users can then enter new information or edit existing information in the following areas:
Three users liked the fact that colleagues could keep tabs on them via Facebook's status link or through services such as Twitter that they had integrated into Facebook. For example, one day Mark Schulz posted the following message on Twitter: "Last day of Aust Assoc of Eng Education (AaeE) Conf in Melbourne". Messages such as this help people see where Mark is, and what he's doing. The Twitter message appears within his Facebook profile because of the easy way Facebook integrates external applications.
One researcher thought that the linking of researchers gave 'context', and possibly credibility, to a person that the linking to you as a contact by key researchers in a topic was in some ways an endorsement of you as a researcher.
Three researchers were part of several groups each and liked the feature of one profile, many groups. Individual groups consisted of former students, existing students, alumni of specific university schools or research projects, as well as special interest groups on specific research topics.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Facebook offers a number of useful features that could be adapted for users in the academic environment. Facebook also offers a more 'live', real-time view of a researcher, and it provides a much more engaging and interactive experience. The UQ Researchers service, by contrast, appears both old-fashioned and extremely static, and it offers no way within its system for visitors to interact with any of its content, or with any of the researchers profiled therein. Below are some recommendations for making UQ Researchers more 'user-friendly'.
With the addition of features recommended above to UQ Researchers, the service could become much more useful and used by researchers at the University of Queensland.
Appendix: Screenshots of three interviewees' UQ Researchers profile pages
Copyright © 2008 Belinda Weaver