ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Ken Liu

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Ken Liu from to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
KL: I am a serial entrepreneur who’s been doing technology startups for the past 20 years in a variety of technologies, products and business models. My career has spanned the history of software, from shrink wrap software sold in retail stores (Computerland, remember them?) to open-source SaaS today. My business philosophy is akin to Darwinism–Innovate or Die, and quickly. Dreamt about becoming an astronomer or doctor as a teen, but ended up getting degrees in economics and international relations instead, But my love for science has remained to this day.
Ken Liu pic.jpg
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
KL: I was involved in a company during the dot com era in which the company was acquired in 3 years since it’s founding, and practically all the other major players in the market were also acquired by much bigger companies (Cisco, Nortel etc.) within the next year. So an entire industry came and went within 4 years. I am now spearheading business development at, which aims to become the video platform for publishers, societies, universities and other institutions in the STM market. Every media segment–even newspapers–has adopted video and other rich media aggressively except STM, which by and large is still a text world. I have to conclude that the STM market is the most reactionary in adopting new technology in the age of Web 2.0+. In journals, for example, you can argue that the text format hasn’t changed since the days of Issac Newton, who would recognize an article of 2010 vintage published by the Royal Society. I find it baffling that science is all about making new discoveries, pushing ideas forward and expanding knowledge, at a breathtaking pace that occurs daily, yet the primary way to communicate those important findings and what scientists do is stuck in the 17th century. I am obviously exaggerating to make a point, but it’s not far from the essential truth.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
KL: My mission and passion is to encourage adoption of video among the STM institutions. Currently, many say “oh, we put our videos on YouTube”, and that’s that. What SciVee is evangelising is it’s got to be more than that. Video and other rich media must be a more integral component to the mission of the institution, and its communications strategy, to serve its various stakeholders–members, authors, funders, government agencies, readers, and ultimately, themselves. Throwing videos to the great YouTube etherworld is an unconnected and unimaginative act. The vision is that within 5 years (should have been by now, as in every other media market), video is an integral component of any journal or scientific institution’s communication arsenal. Just look at any good content site, say the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, and that’s what I mean. We at Scivee are not reinventing anything new; we are just applying known Internet and video techniques to the text-centric STM world. I have no doubt that our vision will be fulfilled, it’s just a matter of time.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
KL: Obviously it’s now video. At SciVee, we have a unique product called SciveeCast. SciveeCast is a synchronized video abstract that enables a viewer to see the presenter discuss highlighted sections of a journal article, poster, coursework, slides in a full multimedia presentation.
PubCasts enliven and enhance science communications and promote discovery. It’s also a more efficient way to absorb new research, especially in visual topics. A picture is worth a thousand words; a video is worth a thousand pictures. Finally, a new generation of scientists and readers expect and demand an interactive rich-media experience online. See sample: Bacterial Inclusion Bodies Contain Amyloid-Like Structure.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
KL: Both a necessity and net positive, to the point of being overwhelming. There is no way anyone can absorb all of it.
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
KL: I have been reading blogs of various major publications such as Nature, Science, NY Times for several years.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
KL: From my perspective, I thought it needed focusing and go deeper into certain topics to gain coherence and substance. The audience accordingly is also quite eclectic, from students to scientists to a few vendors like me, although the core seems to be bloggers, free Internet, open access advocates. I also thought the focus on Twitter as the cool thing to do is misplaced; I felt it tried to separate the cool “with-it” guys from the rest. I am a curmudgeon who still clings to the old fashioned idea that usefulness is more important than the fact that something can be done for its sake.
It was so nice to meet you and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.


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