Hershey Forms Social Network for Scientists

Cheered on by Pfizer's Web 2.0 guru, the Hershey research lab gets set to launch a social network to connect its researchers with each other and outsiders.

Social networks are increasingly being appropriated for sales groups within businesses, but so-called Enterprise 2.0 is also burbling up from other areas.

For example, in 2006, employees of global pharmaceutical company Pfizer began blogging, thanks to the work of Simon Revell, the company's manager of Enterprise 2.0 technology development.

Now Revell finds himself overseeing Pfizerpedia, the company wiki, and designing RSS feeds, tags, bookmarks and a social network for Pfizer's thousands of employees.

That's why it's fitting that Revell on May 14 will preside over the launch of HCAR KnowledgeMesh, a social network for scientists aimed at facilitating research and development in the life sciences and high-tech sectors at the Hershey Center for Applied Research, in Hershey, Penn.

Revell plans to discuss how Web 2.0 social software can be leveraged to stimulate the advancement of science and technology through business development and research synergies.

Laura Butcher, executive director of HCAR, told eWEEK that KnowledgeMesh is designed to create and improve interactions between industry, academia, government, venture capitalists, the work force and IP attorneys. Secondarily, Butcher said, she hopes the tool will position the center for growth.

HCAR is providing "wet lab," "dry lab" and office spaces for researchers, but equally important, Butcher said, is access to the business services and the resources that will allow HCAR's resident organizations to compete with other research labs around the world.

"LinkedIn look" helps connect with resources

A social network can help bridge the gap between researchers and the resources they seek. Moreover, the social tools will let outsiders collaborate with scientists they wouldn't ordinarily be familiar with.

KnowledgeMesh includes profiles, wikis and other tools that were created by Intelmarx, a social software provider that caters to nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions.

Intelmarx CEO George Sackandy said participants in the social network will set up profiles with a sort of "LinkedIn look," where users can post their resumes and what goals and research projects they are working on. Users will be able to incorporate their blogs and tag everything to be searched by keywords. For example, a venture capitalist looking for research in microbiology may do a keyword search to find any blogs that have had the microbiology tag placed on them. Moreover, users will be able to communicate via chat through their profiles.

There will be a wiki for each of the groups at HCAR, but participation in KnowledgeMesh is voluntary. Intelmarx, which is hosting the social network, will start it off with the ability to scale to 1,000 users.

Pfizer teams unite across the seas

Butcher said she asked Revell to discuss the launch because of his experience in bringing social collaboration software to life at Pfizer.

Having recently looked at the Intelmarx implementation of KnowledgeMesh, Revell told eWEEK May 13 that KnowledgeMesh appears to be on the right track. Revell, who is based in the United Kingdom, said he started the socialization of Pfizer two years ago as a grassroots movement with some coworkers to help communicate better with colleagues in the United States.

"I always felt like I was being left out of certain things because it's a U.S. company, and occasionally I'd hear about various projects that were being run in the U.S. and I thought to myself, 'I think I can contribute to something like that,'" Revell said. "'If we could utilize some of these collaboration technologies, it would enable folk like myself to contribute even though I'm not physically sitting in there where these projects are being managed.'"

Revell got what he wished for, and is now involved in a number of projects designed to apply Enterprise 2.0 technologies within specific business lines and functions. He will discuss how he is building out Pfizer's social software at the Enterprise 2.0 show in Boston June 11.