There's a commentary in the December issue of Nature Chemistry asking why our field has been comparatively slow to adopt web-based technologies like arXiv and GenBank:
"New web-based models of scholarly communication have made a significant impact in some scientific disciplines, but chemistry is not one of them. . .why do similar initiatives in chemistry fail to gain critical mass and widespread usage?"
The article considers several possibilities - among others, that (a) other fields aren't actually quite as techno-webby as we think they are, or (b) there might be a mismatch between chemistry as a discipline and the current tools, one that isn't found in some other fields of science, or (c) that there could be just a few defined issues that need to be addressed, then things will take off, or (d) that chemists already have the communication tools that they need, anyway.
The authors point out that technical hurdles can probably be ruled out as an explanation, and in many cases they can also rule out "because no one's ever tried". Elsevier, for example, tried to get an arXiv-type preprint server going a few years ago, but that bombed pretty thoroughly (not least, I think, because people were naturally a bit suspicious of such an effort being launched under Elsevier's banner, and because the ACS journals refused to take manuscripts that had appeared there). Nature has been trying something similar in the last couple of years with Nature Precedings, but I'm not sure if it's taking off or not. I've never really used it myself, if that's a data point worth mentioning.
One key point that the authors make is that totally new means of communication don't just pop into existence in a scientific discipline. The ones that catch on tend to build on things that the scientists are already doing. I think that physicists, for example, were already more used to sharing preprints of articles, and that the arXiv server just helped them do that more easily. Chemists, on the other hand Just Don't Do That, so announcing to them that Now They Can! isn't enough to bring in participants.
On the same chemistry-is-different front, the commentary also notes that our field has always had an emphasis on making stuff, although they don't put it quite that way. The computer is not usually the machine that produces our results; it's just the means by which we keep track of them. And we don't generate the piles of (sometimes) reusable data that physicists do, so much as we generate new substances and new ways of making and using them. The data are there to show that we did, in fact, make what we said we made. Those piles of data also tend to hold their value much longer than in other fields, too - after all, a compound is a compound, and its NMR spectrum doesn't change. If you want to know how some class of compounds behave, a paper from fifty years ago (or more) can be a perfectly good place to look.
Also in contrast to the physics community, chemistry is broken up into many smaller units. You'll never see a chemistry paper with as many co-authors as a high-energy physics paper, because we don't have to run our experiments on the One Big Machine In the Whole World. It may be that parts of the physics world have basically been forced to collaborate more widely, because that's the only way to get anything done. We also have a wide range of sub-disciplines, what with physics on one side of us and biology on another, and these all have their own idiosyncracies. (And, of course, many of us work in areas where we basically can't share some information until we're good and ready to).
One thing that the whole article doesn't quite address though, is: what would these wonderful new communication modes be, actually? And how would they improve my research life? Electronic literature searching certainly has, as has the availability of journals online. Electronic notebooks definitely have. What else would? I'm sure that there must be a few things, but I find that some of the Web 2.0 info-heaven visions that people outside the field talk about don't do much to excite me. It's like seeing some scientific abstract online, and then noting the little row of social-media icons below it, inviting me to submit the thing to Digg, Reddit, or what have you. Or to go visit the journal's page on Facebook, of all things. Why I'd do that is something I haven't quite figured out yet.
But hey, I'm not as much of a Luddite as that makes me sound. I also note this passage from the article (emphasis mine):
An increasing number of scientists have adopted blogging as a means of informal communication. Typicall, the writing style of blogs is conversational, and humorous content gets mixed with posts of a more serious tone. Some blogs are dedicated to educating lay audiences, others aim at an academic discussion, and many are like personal diaries. At this point in time, many science bloggers are assumed to be less than 30 years old, and are primarily journalists, teachers, graduate students, or young researcher. Hardly any established scientists maintain a blog - after all, blogging regularly is very time-consuming. The question remains open whether these will remain fringe phenomena or become part of the mainstream communication in science.