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Wayne State University

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Dec 4 / scholarscooperative

Social Networking Sites vs. Open Access Repositories

The University of California’s Office of Scholarly Communication recently posted on the difference between social networking sites, such as ResearchGate and Academia.edu, and open access repositories. The UC post can be found in its entirety here, but the issues being raised about sites like ResearchGate and Academia.edu are important ones and will be summarized below.

As a preliminary note, DigitalCommons@WayneState, our institutional repository, serves a slightly different purpose than the institutional repository at UC. The Academic Senate at UC adopted an Open Access policy in 2013 and their institutional repository is positioned in such a way as to support faculty in complying with this policy. Wayne State has no such policy, and so the portions of the UC post discussing that Open Access policy are not necessarily universally applicable.

ResearchGate and Academia.edu are both social networking sites aimed at researchers. They allow users to connect with others that have similar interests, and to share copies of their work with other users. Both services are often (and aptly) compared to Facebook or LinkedIn. Open access repositories, on the other hand, are solely focused on making scholarship freely and widely available and preserving that scholarship in the long-term. This (amended) table from the UC’s post is helpful:

A chart comparing Academia.edu, ResearchGate, and open access repositories

In short, the adage “if something is free, you are the product” is just as true of Academia.edu and ResearchGate as it is of social networking sites like Facebook. ResearchGate makes its money off of targeted advertisements, and Academia.edu had toyed with the idea of selling data about research trends to R&D companies.

A main selling point of open access repositories is that they are invested in the long-term preservation of scholarship and in ensuring its accessibility. Submitting a manuscript to DigitalCommons@WayneState ensures that, so long as the institution remains in existence (and possibly even if it does not), that work will be safeguarded and will be accessible. The same cannot be said of Academia.edu and ResearchGate, both of which reserve the right to discontinue services at any time and without warning.

This post should not be read as an argument to stop using Academia.edu or ResearchGate, however. Both are useful in their own way, and can help to foster connections between researchers with shared interests. It is essential, though, that those who use these services understand what their limitations are, along with the hazards of their use. More importantly, it should be kept in mind that the Wayne State Library System offers faculty the opportunity to broaden access to their publications without the added concerns inherent in commercial social networking sites. We encourage anyone who is not already using DigitalCommons@WayneState to investigate the services we offer through it and, hopefully, to take advantage.