Despite myriad options for scientists to connect online, one social networking experience trumps others, scientists say, for its specificity, inclusivity, and user-friendliness. Lab Roots is a free social networking website that helps scientists, engineers, and other technical professionals connect, collaborate, and learn from each other.
According to Greg Cruikshank, CEO of Lab Roots, the site was designed to be the first science-based social networking community for all scientific fields. “I have been deeply involved with social networking [and] user content for years,” says Cruikshank. “Scientists were the originators of discussion boards. It only made sense for creating a platform for scientists.”
Andrea Canfield is the web strategist for Bel-Art products and a frequent Lab Roots user. “Lab Roots is targeted," says Canfield, "I’m not trolling around for scientific groups that may exclude me because I’m not a scientist or a group that has a scientific name, [nor do] I find out after expending time [that] they aren’t relevant to my interests. The scientists in Lab Roots allow an IT nerd to join, ask questions, post answers, start a blog, if you want.”
Lab Roots also offers targeted news on scientific discoveries and advancements in specific research fields along with the latest employment opportunities. Cruikshank says that Lab Roots is planning to offer even more services to the scientific community. “We have more features coming," he says, "[and] new widgets are launching soon. The online auction is a new feature that will allow users to buy used equipment, a kind of eBay."
When scientists create a profile in Lab Roots, the site summarizes a member’s research experience and accomplishments. It then provides potential collaborators and colleagues.
“A lot of social networks give users a tool to aggregate a large number of contacts, friends, et cetera,” says Tony Rook, staff microbiologist for Sherwin-Williams, “but LabRoots has seemed to successfully add another layer by suggesting connections with other scientists based on their scientific interests or accomplishments.”
Like other social networking sites, Lab Roots fosters communication worldwide and incorporates new social networking technologies. But users say that the major difference from other social networking sites is its specificity and interface. Members can design their experience around their field of interest.
“The interface is much cleaner, it doesn’t have all the 'noise' that Facebook, MySpace, even LinkedIn has," says Canfield. “I define social networking like a series of watering holes, Lab Roots has the deepest well, and I can drink great water and have stimulating conversations at the same time.”