ResearchGate proves that niche doesn’t mean small–and social doesn’t mean superficial

I’m a big believer in the power of niche networks–communities built around specific industries, hobbies or interests, with an intense focus and depth that the megasites can’t match. If you’re not familiar with niche networks, you’re not alone: in all the talk about Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, they don’t get much attention. But as Jesse Stanchak aptly notes in this SmartBlog on Social Media piece, they’re quietly becoming a powerful force:

Forget about the Next Big Thing. What you want to be looking out for are the Awesome Little Things — networks with specialized functions, unique features and cool underlying technology that may not have the mass appeal that Facebook does but still have the capacity to push the social-media sphere to a new level.

One great example is ResearchGate, a social network for scientific researchers. With nearly 1 million members, ResearchGate is proving that “niche” doesn’t mean small. And in a recent interview on NPR, the network’s founder,  Ijad Madisch, hinted at the possibilities inherent in connecting researchers to others doing complementary work:

ResearchGate will accelerate research in all the different fields, it will change the speed of science significantly in the future.  I definitely think that ResearchGate could win the Nobel Prize for that one day.

Social media is often thought of as superficial, and many niche networks only reinforce that perception (VampireFreaks.com, anyone?). Sites like ResearchGate are proving, however, that social media can have a very real role in furthering serious work, with lasting implications for all of us.

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