Over on Seesmic I've been discussing with Terry McAndrew the unwillingness of UK life scientists to engage with emerging web technologies. My stance is that scientists are inherently conservative due to the fact that the establishment punishes mavericks to keep them in line: edupunk, maybe; scipunk = career death. However, my recent conversations tell me that there are a lot of scientists out there consuming but not willing to contribute to social media.
Terry suggested the possibility of setting up a Ning site to facilitate discussions between interested parties, but personally, I find it a bit ironic that in 2008 the HEA Centre for Bioscience website doesn't contain any direct user-generated content, thus forcing any conversations to be carried out elsewhere. Another Ning ghetto isn't the answer to increasing participation. Where are the Centre for Bioscience blog, the video diary, the discussion boards? How else do we get the lurkers to de-lurk? And yes, it takes time, money and effort - but what's the alternative?
So here are my suggestions. Hold the discussions about the value of/problems with emerging in full public view, and encourage as many contributions from as wide a range of participants as possible. Maybe a quick and dirty online poll might help a few people to get engaged. But none of this provides the ultimate answer. Social media is all about personal networks, and it's only by grass roots involvement and personal recruitment that participation will grow significantly.
That's what the Small Worlds project is all about.