The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Vitae site has a post today titled Should You Share Your Research on Academia.edu? Research networking sites may provide services that researchers value– I don’t know because I haven’t signed up for any of them– but they do not provide open access. In a recent post, Beyond Elsevier, I mentioned that Academia.edu has the only copy of this paper I was looking for. While it is readable on the screen, if you click the “Download” button, you are prompted to sign in. This is not an open access paper. Open access does not require signing in or downloading software, and it enables uses beyond reading. The Budapest Open Access Initiative states:
By “open access” to [peer-reviewed research literature], we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.
This paper is essentially being used as bait to sign up new users (if you want do anything other than read a long scroll through small text). Personally, I would not want my work used as an enticement to attract new members to a for-profit site without a business model. We can predict that these sites will find a way to monetize personal information, which raises the question of whether this is a good example for researchers to set for graduate students and future scholars.
The marketing pitches of these sites should be taken with more than a few grains of salt. Given the many, many existing institutional and disciplinary repositories that are already providing full open access, their talk of “sharing” and “dissemination” are marketing Kool-Aid. They may not have paywalls, but they do have log-in walls, and those are a barrier for anyone who does not want to trade their privacy for access. Additionally, some of the services treated in a “gee whiz” manner in the Chronicle article, such as statistics on views and downloads, have been available in most repositories for years.
I hope that those wanting to take advantage of the networking capabilities on these sites will also post their work on the open web, preferably in an institutional or disciplinary repository. The private sector is again in the lead in providing services, though it should be remembered that the privatization of knowledge typically hasn’t turned out well (and remember, Mendeley is now owned by Elsevier). Eventually, non-market research networking options will appear and (I hope) disintermediate these private silos.