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Topical Guides: Life Sciences Research

Life Sciences Research > 5: Online Communities

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5A: Types of Resources

Online communities are discussion groups that gather around a particular topic. They take many forms: mailing lists, newsgroups, Web forums, chat, and blogs. They may be moderated or un-moderated; local or worldwide; include amateurs, enthusiasts, professionals or just curious people; and cover virtually any topic, from splicing genes to home schooling.

These groups are rich sources for current information and networking. Blogs and Web forums generally publish updates on hot topics before printed or online newspapers. Further, online communities may contain experts who are able to lend guidance or insight on hard-to-research topics. Many reputable magazines are beginning to sponsor blogs written by resident experts. Browse your favorite online topical magazine to see if there is a sponsored blog documenting current events and hot topics.

While online communities can be a valuable source of information, use caution. Often, the credentials of bloggers or commentators is unknown, making the information that they provide somewhat suspect. Therefore, online communities are best used once you have established yourself as a member and have listened to the 'conversation' over time. Online communities are not reliable sources for quick data, involved research, or for getting started on a topic.

Blogs can be run for free and with relative ease, so almost anyone can have a blog. Some people use them as a soapbox for personal, religious, political, or social viewpoints. Others sponsor blogs in a professional capacity and strive to represent a variety of issues and points of view. Most blog sites are heavily influenced by the values of the author. Be sure to read blogs carefully in order to identify bias in the information you are gathering.

5B: Examples

BEEF-L

Beef Specialists Discussion Group - Discussion group for professionals advising the beef industry and others with an interest in beef cattle management.

HUM-MOLGEN

A moderated, interactive communication and information listserver in Human Molecular Genetics.

Forest

The FOREST mailing list is a general-purpose forum for issues on on forestry research and forest science among forest scientists.

5C: How to Find More

CataList

A searchable directory listing of over 50,000 public listservs (mailing lists).

Google Blog Search

Find blogs and blog posts on your favorite subject.

Technorati

Technorati is a near real time search engine focused primarily on blogs, but it also indexes many RSS feeds. Technorati currently tracks 50.5 million blogs.

Activity

Use Technorati to find a blog entry discussing forestry. Experiment with the limiters (authority, language). Note the differences in the results.

[Links open in new browser window.]

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