Scientific Social Objects

Think like an anthropologist. How do rituals, ceremonies, lore and objects bring people together in a village, a tribe, a family? Isn’t it the shared meaning attached to these artifacts that makes a rite or a relic sacred?

If that’s the case, then it should come as no surprise that it works this way with social objects on the Internet as well.

In real life, people congregate around a football field. In a virtual world, we congregate around angry birds. Playing together? Maybe not. But knowing we are one of thousands of people catapulting birds gives us something to talk about. And to bond over.

Sometimes there’s no telling what will make a social object “catch on.” A tweet can be a social object if it gets retweeted enough. And really, who could have guessed that a boy coming home from the dentist could enable 103,425,095 people to share a laugh? (Haven’t seen it? Oh, really, you must.)

But as a life science supplier, hoping to get lucky is probably not the best strategy. Rather, developing digital objects that will “stick” should be part of a well-thought out marketing plan.

So what types of social objects do scientists use to identify themselves as part of a group on the Internet? A larger, more obvious one would be membership in an online community.

Our online panel, The Science Advisory Board (SAB), is a social object for scientists. When members go there, they share a common experience. Forums, instant polls, study synopses and participating in surveys, all branded in a way that reminds our users they are part of a group.

Membership in the SAB resonates in a familiar way with thousands of scientists who would not have otherwise met. As a social object, the SAB creates value.

But not all scientific social objects are so complex (and expensive) to develop. A scientific paper that goes viral (at least among scientists) or the Bio-Rad PCR Song are good examples of scientific social objects.

And in their research titled Scientific Social Objects, researchers from Oxford, the University of Manchester and the University of Southampton explore workflows as social objects, and how sharing, reviewing, tagging and “liking” can organically create new social objects by attaching new meaning, changing the way workflows are used and bundling them with other items.

The key to making a digital object social is to create meaning behind it so that people will engage with it as though they are sharing it with someone else, whether they are or not.

And of course, to make them want to comment, add to it and pass it on.

Tell us about some of the scientific social objects you’ve discovered!