Will 'Publish or Perish' Become 'Clicks or Canned'? The Rise of Academic...

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Will 'Publish or Perish' Become 'Clicks or Canned'? The Rise of Academic Social Networks

By Jessica Leigh Brown     Aug 1, 2017

Will 'Publish or Perish' Become 'Clicks or Canned'? The Rise of Academic Social Networks

Scholars want peers to find—and cite—their research, and these days that increasingly happens on social media. The old adage ‘publish or perish’ could soon go digital as ‘clicks or canned.’

Several platforms have emerged over the past decade, offering researchers the chance to share their work and connect with other scholars. But some of those services have a bad rap from academics who say commercial sites lack the integrity of institutional repositories run by traditional universities. (Among the most widely-villified are ResearchGate and Academia.edu, which is evident by griping on social media and elsewhere.)

“The idea that some of these sites are for-profit raises questions about whether our work is really going to be available to the public, or if we’re doing it for free for a corporation,” says Fatima Espinoza Vasquez, assistant professor at the University of Kentucky’s School of Information Science. “It also raises copyright issues. Even though we own our work, researchers have to be very careful because academic journals often have specific rules that about where you publish research.”

Vasquez, who co-authored a 2015 paper comparing services and tools offered by various academic social networks, says researchers must weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each. “They can be great tools to advance your research, especially social research,” she says. “But just like with Facebook or any other social network, we need to be aware of potential issues we might have with copyright or privacy.”

Here’s a quick look at the academic social networks currently out there, and what they offer to scholars.


With 53 million users and 19 million posted papers, Academia.edu is the largest of the academic social networks. The site presents itself as the easiest way to share papers with other academics, and argues that its internal research shows that uploading your research will yield a significant (69 percent) boost to citations over a five-year period.

Users can create a profile, upload work, and track views and citations. While Academia.edu is free to join, the site introduced a premium feature in December 2016 that allows users to track details about who’s looking at their research papers (similar to LinkedIn Premium’s ability to show who’s viewed your profile). The addition of paid features sparked a bit of controversy, causing some scholars to pull away from the commercial site in favor of institution-hosted repositories.


Berlin-based ResearchGate raised more than $100 million in funding over the past few years and has been working to expand its features. More popular with scientific researchers than humanities scholars, the platform focuses on sharing research outcomes—whether they’re publishable or not. Traditionally, only successful experiments are written up and accepted by peer-reviewed academic journals, but Ijad Madisch, co-founder and CEO of ResearchGate, believes it’s just as important to share failed experiments.

According to its website, ResearchGate’s mission is “to connect the world of science and make research open to all.” The platform is free to join and allows researchers to post their publications, connect with other academics, and search for the publications of other users. ResearchGate has grown exponentially in the past few years and currently has about 13 million users worldwide.


Created as a reference-management tool to help users organize their research, Mendeley also includes a number of social-networking features. Users can connect in private or public groups, comment on papers and keep track of the connections of other users that they follow via a Facebook-like newsfeed. The service also features a number of tools for research management, including the ability to generate bibliographies, import papers from other software and allow users to annotate documents.

Mendeley started as an open-access research network, and some researchers balked when publishing giant Elsevier purchased the site in 2013. While open science advocates remain skeptical of the partnership, Mendeley is still a popular choice for researchers looking to collaborate with other scholars.


The latest addition to the growing list of social-networks aimed for higher education is Scholabrate. The service claims to provide a more Facebook-esque, visual experience for academics seeking to network with others in their field.

Aviv Pichhadze, CEO and founder of Knowledge Observer, the company behind Scholabrate, says most of his competitors are focused on publications and research. “We asked instead, how do you highlight the individual as opposed to the product?” He added that the site includes fields for achievements in teaching, voluntary community work, and awards.

Instead of acting as a repository for uploaded papers, Scholabrate allows you to post links to externally published work. Users can connect with each other and collaborate directly through the platform using one-on-one videoconferencing or group discussion. “We want to streamline the process of connecting and collaborating,” Pichhadze says.


Similar to Mendeley, Zotero functions primarily as a research tool, allowing users to collect, save, cite and share materials from a wide range of sources. The site also maintains a significant community of academics who can connect through groups and forums, or through their search engine. Each Zotero user can build a personal profile complete with CVs and other detailed information.

It’s hard to say just how important these social networks for scholars will become. “There are so many new sites coming out, and I think everyone wants to play a role,” says Vasquez. “One concern I don’t think people are talking about is how these sites are tracking the most popular topics and showing that data to users. I wonder, will research be dictated by big trends instead of actual societal needs or individual interests? It’ll be interesting to see what happens.”

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