ResearchGate and the Rise of Academic Social Networks

Academic social networks such as ResearchGate and Academia.edu might be small fish compared with social network giants such as Facebook and MySpace in terms of users, but there is a significant amount of money riding on the activities of these academic networks.

San Francisco-based Academia.edu raised $17.7 million from investors, according to reports.  ResearchGate, headquartered in Germany, raised $35 million from sources as disparate as venture capitalists to Microsoft founder Bill Gates. UK’s Mendeley also received a substantial investment before being acquired by Elsevier, a leading provider of scientific information, for £65 million in April 2013. According to pundits, these figures suggest an immense scope for profit.

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As far as registered users are concerned, Academia.edu possesses the highest numbers. Although all three networks were founded in 2008, Academia.edu, with 34 million users, is way ahead of ResearchGate and Mendeley. The latter two have 9 million and 4.6 million registered users respectively. However, a recent report said that if active users were to be considered, ResearchGate outpaces Academia.edu by a mile.

Scholars believe that a search for papers by an individual turns up more results on ResearchGate than on Academia.edu. They opine that this discrepancy could be due to many inactive accounts.

Academic social networks help scholars share and recommend papers. Supporters of these networks feel that their presence assists researchers in becoming aware of what peers are publishing, which in turn would speed up the rate of discovery. They also thresh out the quality of an article with the help of users rather than by a comparatively miniscule number of referees, who are part of the prepublication process.

Coming back to the subject of revenue generation, industry experts say that paid open access publishing is a major reason for academic social networks increasing their profit margins.

But standard publishers bring qualities such as reputation and quality control to the table. Conversely, academic social networks cannot really claim these virtues.

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