I have recently registered in three social network sites that were discussed in the listserv of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR), the three being Pronetos, Academici, and LinkedIn, two of which are primarily for academics. My initial, admittedly superficial reaction was: “Web 2.0 is a good place to be lonely, if you’re an anthropologist”. In Pronetos, I am the only anthropologist, and in fact I had to create the anthropology discipline so that I could join it–and I reign in that kingdom in glorious solitude, talking to myself (as I am accustomed). In Academici, I cannot find other anthropologists, nor in LinkedIn where I cannot even find other academics, of any discipline, from my home institution (Concordia University, Montreal).
My thoughts on the subject of academic social network sites is that in fact they are not new, and not “2.0”. What these sites mentioned above appear to be is code in search of community–the site, and its fundamental design and structure, its unilaterally imposed constraints in other words, precede the entry of academics. At least this is how it seems to me. Older forms of academic social networks were and are networks of shared interests in search of a code–typically these were, and still are, the many and very heavily populated listservs. There is no need for Facebook and LinkedIn, not really, not when Google can list your Faculty webpage. There also are membership directories of the various professional associations to which academics belong. Put all of those together and there is really little reason not to be able to locate and interact with another academic. Moreover, it sometimes helps to get an introduction by a mutual associate, so that simply cohabiting a social network site may not be in tune with academic cultures.
For now, I am leaving my profiles within those sites, merely as business cards of sorts.