Researchers to Share Ideas in Virtual Research Park

May 14, 2008

The Hershey Center for Applied Research (HCAR) on Wednesday launched KnowledgeMesh, an online meeting ground for the life sciences community, including scientists, researchers, venture capitalists, and educators.

Rather than a traditional brick-and-mortar approach, HCAR distinguishes itself from other brain pools by including a virtual research park that allows experts from around the world to share ideas. "The research park is the nexus for academia, industry, government, and support organizations," said Laura Butcher, executive director of HCAR. "I think we are in a special position to provide a platform where these groups can communicate easily and collaborate."

HCAR was looking for a way to hook up its resident researchers with outside partners. Using social-networking tools, the organization established KnowledgeMesh—a scientific mapping online community. Members will come from pharma and other industries, academia, advocacy groups, and technical trades.

When you enter the site, you access a dashboard that lists communities aligned with nearby Penn State research strings. As on LinkedIn and Facebook, each KnowledgeMesh user has their own profile. Community members can join blogs, forums and wikis.

Webtastic Origin
Design firm IntelMarx built KnowledgeMesh, but the project was inspired by Pfizerpedia, a resource-sharing Web 2.0 site from a team of Web-savvy colleagues at Pfizer.

"The way we chose to facilitate this discussion was through a community blog, which I called 'Discussion Group about the World Wide Web,' or DIGWWW," said Simon Revell, manger of enterprise technology and development at Pfizer and the keynote speaker at Wednesday's KnowledgeMesh launch. "The blog was set up to enable anybody to post—we deliberately wanted to lower the barrier to participation. Both [Pfizerpedia and DIGWWW] were initiated at the grassroots level and spread virally. One soon heard about the other, and that resulting in some beneficial 'cross-selling.'"

Pfizerpedia is now an official part of the Pfizer IT landscape, and Revell hopes that HCAR will do the same for researchers on a larger playing field. The only hurdle might be Web 2.0 oversaturation.

"There have been so many instances where people have built great communities, but then without providing reasons to join, [the communities] fall flat on their face," Butcher said. "From the beginning, we have taken great strides to think about a plan to garner usership and provide value."

According to Revell, part of the trick is not to headline with 'Try this new web 2.0 social networking tool,' but instead to ground it in the realities of the average user. "There's huge potential to take the LinkedIn approach, and apply it in untapped niche areas such as this," Revell said.