AIP UniPHY: Creating a Professional Social Network

How the American Institute of Physics Is Creating Value Add for Its Members

March 4, 2010

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) publishes 12 scholarly journals for its member organizations as well as many scholarly journals for other associations. Like all publishers, AIP needs to find new ways to deliver value to its customers to retain and delight them. So AIP created a social network of 275,000 experts—authors and co-authors who have published at least two papers in peer-reviewed journals in the last 10 years. UniPHY addresses critical scenarios that professional physicists have: I want to find others who are experts in the topics that I care about; I want to be recognized as an expert in my field; I want to stay abreast of the latest research related to my field.


Why Are Professional Social Networks Important to Customers?

People who work in any profession want to learn from others in that profession. They speak the same language, and they are interested in the same things. Today’s social networking technologies make it easy to take existing and informal social networks and make them more valuable to customers.

What Can You Learn from the American Institute of Physics (AIP)?

It’s possible to leverage the investment you may have already made in structured and semi-structured information to provide a layer of value-added services that makes that information come alive. AIP was able to do this by turning its database of published articles into a network of experts—people you can follow, watch, and partner with.

If We Build It, Will They Come?

Organizations are often leary of investing in online tools for their customers. They’re afraid that people won’t find value in them. This case study shows that if you pre-populate a social network based on peoples’ accomplishments, they will flock to it and tell their friends and colleagues!


When and Why Do Existing Social Networks Need Online Social Networking?

When we think of social networking, we think of Websites like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and of tools like Twitter,, and Stumble Upon. We have been conditioned to think about social networking as a way to connect with family, friends, co-workers, and with others who share similar personal and professional interests. We do this by “friending” each other and by exposing our thoughts, our favorite links and our interests to the world at large so that like-minded folks will find and “follow” us.

Social networking tools have enabled us to make existing personal and professional networks explicit, but they have also served to make it easier for us to rekindle relationships we’d lost and to meet new people with whom we have something in common and/or people we may want to learn more about and possibly get to know.

SOCIAL NETWORKS AREN’T NEW. Social and professional networks have existed for as long as human beings have been on this planet. People form groups. They become members of associations. They are trained in a discipline. They belong to a profession.

Human beings didn’t need social networking tools to stay in touch or to find one another for generations.

Yet, now that these social networking tools exist, many professional organizations are adopting them to help their members maintain relationships, work on projects together, and find other researchers doing similar or complementary work.

The American Institute of Physics has taken a unique approach to social networking—one that seems well-suited to the behaviors and interests of their constituents: physicists, materials scientists, mathematicians, astronomers, and others engaged in the physical sciences. AIP has taken an existing implicit social network—people who collaborate and publish research together—and made it explicit.

AIP UniPHY (see Illustration 1) is an online network that lets people find experts in any discipline in the physical sciences and see how they’re related to other experts in their fields. UniPHY adds value to the authors’ papers that AIP and cooperating societies publish by providing an additional layer of searchable expertise by precise topics. It also lets researchers find each other and see who is working with whom, who knows whom, and where the hotbeds of research are in each discipline and sub-discipline.

American Institute of Physics’ UniPHY Social Network for Physicists

American Institute of Physics’ UniPHY Social Network for Physicists

© 2010 American Institute of Physics

Illustration 1. American Institute of Physics launched UniPHY—its social network for physicists—launched in September 2009. Here’s Tim Ingoldsby’s researcher’s profile.

UniPHY is one of the innovative new services that AIP is providing to its member societies to help them remain relevant and vibrant as their younger members are bringing these types of services into their professional careers.

American Institute of Physics’ Background

The American Institute of Physics is a not-for-profit “society of societies.” There are currently 10 member societies—all involved in the physical sciences.

AIP was founded in 1931, when the first five societies—American Physical Society, Optical Society of America, Acoustical Society of America, The Society of Rheology, and the American Association of Physics Teachers—banded together to create and share a common set of membership, conference, and publishing services. Since then, AIP’s membership has expanded as new disciplines have been discovered and new societies have become members.

In addition to its member societies, AIP also has affiliated societies. These related societies and publishers may or may not have their journals published by AIP, but their members receive benefits. They are able to buy individual subscriptions to AIP Journals and magazines. Affiliates typically provide AIP with abstracts and links of their articles and papers, so that AIP can add them to its definitive SPIN (Searchable Physics Information Notices) database of abstracts of physical sciences papers and proceedings from both AIP and other publishers.

AIP’S END-CUSTOMERS. AIP’s societies’ members are teachers, researchers, graduate students, professors, and professionals. They range in age from their 20s to their 90s. They share a passion for understanding how the physical world works. They also share a tradition of scholarly discipline. To become a recognized authority in your field, you present a paper at a conference and/or publish peer-reviewed research papers in the best-respected scholarly journals.

AIP publishes 12 of the most prestigious journals, as well as two magazines, including its flagship, Physics Today, AIP Conference Proceedings, and occasional books. AIP automates the peer review process for its journals and many journals of its member or affiliated societies. Each paper submitted needs to be reviewed and accepted by a group of experts who ensure that the research is solid and the findings worthy of publication.

Getting your paper(s) published is a critical step in order to further your career. So the journals that AIP publishes are providing a vital service to authors. Money sometimes does change hands, but it goes in the opposite direction normally thought of in the relationship between customers and suppliers. Once an author’s paper has been accepted for publication in certain journals, there is a modest fee per published page that authors are asked to pay. Authors’ institutions typically pay the publishing fees that most print journal publishers (including AIP) request to help defray costs. Over time, as society publishers have learned to compete with commercial publishers (who do not charge such publication fees), the number of journals requiring these “page charge” publication fees has declined.

Some researchers buy individual subscriptions to the journals they follow, but the vast majority of paying customers are institutional customers.

AIP’S PAYING CUSTOMERS. Most of AIP's paying customers are institutional librarians from universities, research organizations, and corporate research departments. The librarians decide which journal subscriptions to buy and renew each year on behalf of their end-customers, and they typically buy institutional licenses for electronic access as well as print copies.

AIP also has other publishing clients. Because it is a leader in providing advanced tools to member societies and other organizations that have knowledge to disseminate, AIP provides Web sites, knowledge management, search engine optimization, publishing, subscription management, conference services, and other related services to any organization that needs them. Examples of AIP’s publishing clients include ...


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