[This post is based on the editorial in the September issue — the full text can be accessed here, available for free to all registered users. We welcome feedback on our editorials in the comments section below.]
The importance of an up-to-date and easy to find website should not be underestimated
Scientists are busy people. On any given day, it is unlikely that the item at the top of a researcher’s to-do list is ‘update website’. Nevertheless, an effective homepage for either an individual researcher or an entire research group may well represent good value for relatively little effort.
Scientists traditionally communicate their research findings to the wider community in one of two ways. Results are typically shared in seminars or conference presentations and, somewhat more formally, through papers published in scientific journals (or deposited in repository websites such as arXiv.org or Nature Precedings).
A well-constructed personal website, however, gives scientists a customizable platform on which useful background information about their research can be presented to a more general audience — as well as offering more technical detail that may be of interest to fellow specialists. Research-group pages can also allow the personality of the group to shine through, reminding us that, for the most part, chemists are human after all!
From the perspective of journal editors who spend a significant amount of time browsing chemists’ websites from around the world, there are certainly some elements that are particularly useful. Obviously contact details are important, but so are summaries of research interests as well as lists of representative publications. And it may not be for the camera shy, but a photo is also quite useful because then we know who to look for if we arrange a meeting at a conference! Perhaps the most important aspect of any website, however, is how long ago it was last updated. Broken links and outdated information are no good for anyone.
Of course, establishing a web presence requires the investment of resources (including time and/or money), but once there, maintenance should be a much less demanding task. And this is just the beginning; the internet can do so much more for chemists, and one example of this can be found at Jean-Claude Bradley’s Useful Chemistry site and associated wiki. It is fascinating to compare these endeavours to the pioneering days of chemistry early in the web’s history.
Beyond personal homepages, the current state of affairs with university homepages has also recently been illustrated by an xkcd comic strip. It’s only funny because it’s true… The cartoon, which highlights the discrepancy between the information presented and what people actually look for, seems to have struck a chord with many university students and staff. It has attracted some attention on Twitter, and even inspired a news piece at Inside Higher Ed, which mentions that some web administrators are already taking it into account for their university homepages’ redesigns.