One more word about ResearchGate/Academia.edu and why using these platforms will never be equal to proper self-archiving
In the past couple of years, we saw a massive advancement of platforms, tools and networks that enable us to share our research legally and freely. Even so, the use of ResearchGate and Academia.edu, two of the most popular but also heavily criticized social networks that compete with each other for the ‘Facebook for academics’ title, is still an ever recurring topic in conversations about self-archiving choices, or even in recent discussions about the role and competitive advantage of universities investing in open infrastructural components. These conversations inspired me to leave here an easily citable note in which I clarify why DARIAH does not endorse the use of these services, what the major differences are between sharing papers via these privately-owned platforms vs. self-archiving (a.k.a. green Open Access) and why understanding the persistent popularity of these services is crucial if we wish to take back control over the ways we communicate our work.
This chart sums up the key points made in this lengthy post:
|OA repositories (such as HAL, Zenodo)|
|Business model||Commercial (sells e.g. job posting services, user data)||Commercial (sells ads, job posting services, user data)||Non profit|
|Sends you lots of emails (by default)||Yes||Yes||No|
|Wants your address book||Yes||Yes||No|
|Clear licensing and versioning policy||No||No||Yes|
|Supports export or harvesting||No||No||Yes|
|Gives you PIDs and high-quality metadata||No||Yes, DOIs (but often confusing due to the lack of versioning policy)||Yes|
|Interoperability and connection with key research infrastructures||No||No||Yes (usually)|
|Fulfils requirements of OA policies||No||No||Yes|
|Fulfils requirements of FAIR sharing policies||No||No||Yes (usually)|
|Community uptake||Huge||Huge||It’s up to you!!|
The original chart is coming from Janneke Adema’s blog post from 2017, complemented with other cornerstone aspects of sharing our scholarly works in fair and sustainable ways.
Should we choose to be exposed to yet another proprietary service that capitalizes on our free work?
You may not be surprised that I start from highlighting issues regarding infrastructure, control and ownership. We, scholars are dependent on the infrastructure that determines where and how our work is published, stored, disseminated and preserved. Enabling scholarly communities to control the infrastructure that they rely on is an extremely complex task but is also the only way to ensure that crucial decisions about knowledge creation and sharing such as: to whom it will be accessible, for how long, how interactions take place etc. remain indeed in the hands of those who create this knowledge. This is not the case when papers are shared (or in this case rather given away) on proprietary platforms like Academia.edu or ResearchGate. As it has been repeatedly voiced by a large number of scholars (including Martin Paul Eve, Kathleeen Fitzpatrick or Sarah Bond) since as early as 2014, these companies generate profits from publicly funded research with little transparency. As Gary Hall puts it in one of the earliest critique of Academia.edu: “Academia.edu has a parasitical relationship to the public education system, in that these academics are labouring for it for free to help build its privately-owned for-profit platform by providing the aggregated input, data and attention value.”
Generating profits from/by monetizing scholarly writing and scholarly exchanges is not the only trust issue that emerges from using these platforms. The business model and the ‘black-box’ operation of these companies can change from one day to another, leaving users in uncertainty about how long their scholarly works will remain available on these platforms and under which conditions, what kind of user-generated data is captured, manipulated or eventually sold to other commercial companies.
Dark sharing doesn’t equal to Open Access
What is especially confusing about the use of ResearchGate/Academia.edu is that, although, as we saw above, the values behind these platforms are in sharp contrast with the idea and the ethics of Open Access (and then we haven’t even mentioned the unhealthy and intransparent metrics and hierarchy measures these platforms try to impose upon us), one can easily consider sharing their work via these sites as a good way to bypass paywalls and get a higher visibility to their work. As Jon Tennant points out in his piece, ResearchGate, Academia.edu, and bigger problems with scholarly publishing:
“One major issue here is that you can easily be fooled into thinking that this sort of ‘dark sharing’ with ResearchGate and Academia.edu is a good compromise for doing Open Access publishing right. Well, it’s not. If anything, it can detract from Open Access developments by undermining the impetus for it by providing a quick shortcut that superficially resembles the same thing, but entirely lacks the stability and management of a journal or repository system. This also means that Academia.edu is governed by different politics and ethics to that of an institutional repository(…).”
Here again, taking control over our infrastructure starts with clearly articulating and reflecting our needs – that is, what is important for us when sharing our work, how we can make the most of it – and making decisions based on them. Here I collected the cornerstones of modern-day scholar sharing that are distilled in global science policies (such as the FAIR principles) and best practices.
- Legal clarity. Even if a content is easy and free to access and read, without an explicit legal permission, formalized in a (preferably machine-readable) open license, it will never become Open Access but only an instance of dark sharing. While including legal status and reuse conditions into the description of your work is compulsory when using an institutional or disciplinary repository and preprint server, Academia-edu and ResearchGate are infamous from ignorance of these issues as they do not seem to care whether scholars upload material that they are not allowed to (for instance final published ‘version of record’ is usually prohibited by publishers from being publicly shared). This led to repeated rounds of DMCA takedown requests from publishers. As it was suggested by Martin Paul Eve, linking out to SHERPA/RoMEO to give support to users with which versions of a preprint/postprint they are allowed to share could have been an asset.
- Citability, harvestability. PIDs and good-quality metadata that are easy to export or harvest are vital assets if we wish to make our work visible not only within one single platform but also across the whole digital horizon. Again, while these are default features of most institutional and disciplinary repositories, while on the other hand, both ResearchGate and Academia.edu are repeatedly criticised for vendor lock-in, that is, the data users added to their profiles are very difficult to get out of the system. Although ResearchGate offers DOIs to papers shared via the platform, due to the above mentioned legal unclarities and unclear versioning policy it can easily lead to confusion (e.g. the same final version of a paper receives one DOI from the publisher and one from RG).
- Interoperability and integration with key research infrastructures. Uploading research papers often requires a lot of effort and time especially if we need to repeat our workflow again and again to different platforms because they are not connected with each other. ORCID integration is a well-known solution to spare the administrative work and avoid the many potential mistakes that could occur in the course of manual uploads. Academia.edu and ResearchGate do not offer this transparent and legal tool to ease your work. Unlike other services like Google Scholar, or Scopus, ResearchGate does not have any streamlined workflow to export your publication metadata back into your ORCID profile.”
- Digital persistence and preservation: finding a safe home for your scholarship also entails that you receive guarantees that it will remain available on the long-term in a publicly maintained environment. This is again a trust issue that institutional and disciplinary repositories can ensure via different sustainability measures (such as the CoreTrust Seal) – while a proprietary service can be shut down from one day to another without any further notice.
Having a look at these basic criteria of sustainable sharing compellingly clarify why, in fact, using ‘Facebook for academics’ will never be nearly equivalent to sustainable, fair and open sharing of scholarly work.
And the audience factor? It’s you, it’s me, it’s us and our votes on solutions and services
You may have realized that from the above criteria, I left out a very important aspect of scholarly data sharing, namely the social life of our work. Clearly, it is the networking effect, the guaranteed presence of the target audience that makes academic social networks extremely and persistently popular contrary to their apparent shortcomings and unfair/exploiting business models. Catering scholars’ interest to socially-oriented dissemination and sharing, both Academia.edu and ResearchGate have been extremely successful in community uptake from their inception, up to the extent that eventually, it left young scholars with the impression that they simply cannot afford not to use these platforms even though they were aware and against their politics. (Kudos for Naomi Truan, author of the above linked post for her open statement and excellent reflection in which she not only announces to move from these platforms to more sustainable scholarly spaces but also reveals why it was still a difficult step to take for an early-career researcher.)
What we need to realize is that ‘the “everybody” factor’ (as Kathleen Fitzpatrick calls it) that makes ResearchGate and Academia.edu success stories is in fact our own presence. Going against such community practices both one by one and collectively to give rise to and flourish other, more sustainable author-sharing mechanisms is extremely challenging and takes a great deal of courage. But only this will enable us to move away from platforms that do not do any good for fair sharing of our scholarship and populate instead publicly maintained environments where scholarly communities have a say in which roads should be paved.
Alternatives to ResearchGate and Academia.edu
Although it is clear from the point made above that it is not the lack of alternatives or the lack of our awareness that makes these platforms difficult to leave these platforms but rather our own vulnerability to peer pressure. Still, I wish to end this post by highlighting more fair, more sustainable options to host your work in a safe but also social-enough environment.
- If your institution does not provide a repository, using a sustainable, free and open subject-specific repository is also possible. Humanities Commons had been developed by MLA and it currently serves more than 20,000 scholars and practitioners across the humanities and around the world. The platform is built on open-source software and it offers both repository/publishing and social networking functions.
- DARIAH has collections on the HAL repository and also on Zenodo.
- Self-archiving made simple: finally, a recent development, Shareyourpaper.org (still in beta) offers you a solution to openly and legally share your work without sign ups, endless emails or long forms, and zero jargon. The idea is that the platform automates the deposit workflow – completing forms, checking what you can archive legally via Sherpa/Romeo, and verifying the correct version is shared – all you need to do is to enter the DOI of your paper. (Yes, DOIs can still be an entry barrier for publications in the humanities but the situation is changing for the better). The platform has been developed by the non-profit Open Access Button through library consortia and an Arcadia grant.
- In the box below you can find other domain-specific preprint servers – please feel free to expand the list!
BodoArXiv (medieval studies): https://bodoarxiv.org
Cogprints (cognitive sciences): http://cogprints.org/
LingBuzz (linguistics): https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz
MediArXiv (media, film and communication studies): https://mediarxiv.com
PhilArchive (philosophy): https://philarchive.org
PsyArXiv (psychological sciences): https://psyarxiv.com/
PhilSci-Archive (philosophy of science): http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu
SocArXiv (social sciences): https://socopen.org
SSH communities in Zenodo www.zenodo.org
Cover image source: Pixabay, CC0,