Physical research networks, such as those formed by the members of universities, research centres or associations, have rich and multilayered connections. Understanding how connections are formed, and helping the networks grow is strategically important for increasing the productivity of research communities.
Academic social networks online, such as ResearchGate and Academia.edu, belong to the category of global and centralized networks: they operate within a single proprietary website. They provide an effective tool to track the work of colleagues around the world. However, the global focus of these networks limits the attention that they place on local research communities and their interrelationships.
A UNIWeb network is designed to address the needs of an institution and its own local research community. Rich and diverse environments such as universities can benefit from networks that permit the same open-ended networking as global networks, as well as all the benefits of having researchers working physically close by. It complements the global academic networks, which emphasize world-wide connections, by focusing its attention on the community of researchers within an institution, and their connections with external collaborators. The primary focus of a UNIWeb network is to capture the richness of interests, projects, groups, publications and interactions within a community of researchers under a common umbrella. The intangible connections between researchers and projects are made explicit online to be discovered both from within the local community and from the community at large.
One reason to consider adopting an institution-centric social research network is to enhance the research hub that is defined by the institution itself. It is not uncommon for researchers to be unaware of the work of colleagues within the same institution because physical and social barriers reduce individuals’ interactions, making people rely on serendipitous encounters to identify new research collaboration opportunities. An online local network acts as a “yellow pages,” and provides a live visualization of the research community within the institution along with their projects, helping individuals discover potential collaborations and learn about ongoing research projects within their own institution. The information in the UNIWeb of an institution is owned exclusively by the institution, and the network’s webpage integrates seamlessly with the institutional website.
The local nature of UNIWeb fills a gap in how researchers connect and share information with others. Social dynamics within an institution are different from those in the global research population. For instance, UNIWeb proactively connects researchers based on common interests, while a similar approach in a global network would be overwhelming. Moreover, the participation of users in a local network can be encouraged by taking advantage of their physical proximity. Local connections discovered through the network can lead to research collaborations. Shareable resources can be publicized online. The mission of UNIWeb is to bring online what is happening within the well-established physical network at an institution. New opportunities can be discovered in the network as it flexes and grows with the additions and departures of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and academics.
University websites often have a great deal of information that visitors would be interested in, if only they could find it. Discoverability is a measure of how easily information can be found on a website, including information that one is actively looking for, and information that is relevant, but that one would not even think of searching for. There are several complementary techniques for improving discoverability, including organizing information in a logical manner, indexing all content in order to enable accurate search results, and using “recommenders.” The latter is, for example, what online stores use when they suggest items to buy based on past purchases. UNIWeb employs all these techniques to increase the discoverability of researchers and their work within a university. When integrated with the website of a university, it creates an interactive experience that invites researchers, students and web visitors to explore and discover.
UNIWeb adds new life to institutional webpages. Faculty and staff can keep their institutional web profiles updated with little effort, helping web visitors find the most current research of the faculty. UNIWeb’s system is faster than traditional methods of utilizing an IT person to manage content updates. It only takes a few steps to add new publications to an institutional web profile, tag them with research topics, and link them to research projects. This then allows web visitors to find research outputs by topic and discover the projects that produced the work. Moreover, it better positions the institutional website as a go-to place to discover new academic contributions.
Linking institutions and partner organizations
There is always growth potential in any network. Once local research networks are fully established with a significant portion of the researchers, some institutions may be interested in growing beyond their own campus. Partner organizations such as hospitals, research centres, research associations and funding agencies can have their own UNIWeb networks. With the UNIWeb Connect module, organizations can provide users with the ability to let users synchronize all or part of their accounts across other UNIWebs. For example, this would allow a researcher to edit her CV in the UNIWeb of her University, and have it automatically updated on the UNIWeb of a research centre to which she is affiliated, and even on the government agency where she regularly submits her funding applications.
The ability of UNIWeb Connect to interconnect accounts across autonomous UNIWeb networks is an innovative piece of technology that opens the door to a new way of managing the submission of academic information across independent organizations.
The UNIWeb model for representing researcher communities online is based on the premise of going from each local community outward. This is done by enabling the creation of larger-scale networks made of independent sub-networks that exchange information with one another using open and secure methods of communication.