This is the follow-up of the 15-11-2010 post ‘Turning an Academic Networking Site into A Business: A short analysis of Academia.edu’. Here I presented a quick overview of some basic facts and figures, such as the number of registered users and the vision statement. I also pointed out that Academia.edu is facing the same challenge as their main competitor – ResearchGATE: Coming up with a business plan that pleases the investors. A comparison between their communications (recent news and job postings) will give us a hint what options are considered.
But let us first examine how users experience the site. After all, this may influence how Academia will further develop. A review of recent blog posts and articles shows that users often take notice of six similar issues / (dis)advantages:
1. A positive review because it makes research more visible
Practically all bloggers are very positive about the site and indeed encourage others to upload their works or to provide a link to their (copyrighted) articles. They especially like the site for being a combination of a nice PR machine and a hot spot for academic papers, or to rephrase this, for functioning as a light-weighted online repository. Several people wonder however if the Academia.edu team realizes this is their unique selling point.
The SEO efforts are appreciated, and many like to be informed when (s)he is Googled. Thanks to the high Google ranking of Academia.edu – and associated profiles of registrants – the site increases the visibility of the authors and their works. The site seems however to overdo it when it tells users to add a link from their departmental website.
2. The extension .edu
It remains unclear how the site can have an .edu domain name. Many ask how (il)legal this is. Furthermore the site allows users to create a profile – and assigning them with an .edu url – without any authentication. As a result anyone can pretend to be someone else, while using an edu domain name. This may jeopardise the thus far protected usage of edu domain names.
3. How to monetize Academia.edu?
Of course I am not the only one wondering how Academia.edu hopes to make money. Some hope Academia.edu never realizes that the collection of (open access) papers is a real asset. I seriously doubt however they will turn it into a paid library of research material. I looked for other options that were mentioned by bloggers and their commentators.
A commentator of a Techcrunch post explained why targeted advertisments will not work “since as a user I have no incentive to log-in on a regular basis. The time-scales in academia are looong, nothing new happens on a weekly, even monthly basis to motivate me to log-on. So no log-ins, no advts.” And he continues writing “To go the LinkedIN route they need to have an authentic network. I doubt that is the case here. Besides, if people are going to look outside academia for jobs they use linkedin and if they are staying inside academia then the way to find jobs is through your immediate network/mailing lists. Most scientific networks are small closed communities where you are recommended to a job etc. “ Interestingly enough, both Academia.edu as ResearchGATE have recently implemented a job board. I will get back to this.
Other suggestions include the introduction of services for which the academic registrants would need to pay, for instance ‘indirect progress tracking to rival teams researching the same subject’. I don’t think however this will be implemented as it is highly unlikely that registrants would be willing and able to pay for such or similar services. What does draw my attention is what another TechCrunch commentator suggested: The possibility to “broker contacts between real-world businesses needing a renown academic to assist/support a product/service.”
4. Usability issues
The site has many usability issues, including a general dislike of the interface. Also many complain about the default setting for email updates (should be opt-in not opt-out).
5. Strengths and Limitations of Academic Networking
Some users tend to emphasize that Academia.edu has an advantage over similar sites “because of the ability for participants to build networks among themselves, and to request personalized alerts for new content from periodicals and for material deposited by other members of the network.” Others however stress the fact that collaboration between scholars is limited. For instance the blogging feature does not allow for commenting and external blog posts cannot be integrated. But Academia.edu appears to be making progress in this area: recently they introduced a new feature that allows users to ask questions to their contacts.
I am somewhat skeptical towards a possible development of Academia.edu as a collaboration tool cq model of social networking based on existing academic hierarchies. In fact, will the target group (ever) embrace collaboration possibilities? Does it fit the academic researcher to connect with higher or lower in rank (breaking the academic hierarchies)? Will it make academic research a more social process – turning the typical researcher in a more social being? I wonder…
6. Interlinkage with Facebook
The site offers to contact all your acquaintances if you fill in your email account username and password. Furthermore the launch of FacebookConnect makes it possible to link one’s Academia.edu account with the one you may have on Facebook. As a result, you can broaden your academic/Academia network without much effort. And, it can automatically publish a story on the user’s Facebook profile when a work is uploaded to academia.edu.
Academia.edu is liked by its users and therefor growing but… so are their competitors and still more initiatives are being developed. It remains unclear to me (and other bloggers) how they will try to compete with university platforms such as CUNY or bigger alternatives such as ResearchGate. What makes them different, better than other platforms? To come back to the initial question, what to expect from Academia.edu in the future? Considering the typical charactertistics of the research market and the ‘academicus’ persona, options such as advertisements and banners are unlikely. What other alternatives does Price have?
Earlier I mentioned that both Academia.edu as ResearchGATE recently implemented a job board where organisations and companies can post vacancies. The owner of ResearchGATE explains that “Our business model is based on slow but steady growth. It is important to us that areas of revenue are aligned with the community goals. We are focusing right now on the career section: job market information, job opening alerts, résumé postings, etc.” (source)
ResearchGATE seems to have more possibilities than Academia.edu. For instance, ResearchGATE offers research institutions licenses to use their platform as an intranet. They have already sold these to the Harvard Medical School and the University of Georgia. Their investors have good hopes for the development of additional services, including the selling of especially requested research material.
It is both great and smart that Academia.edu has installed an open forum where users can tell them what issues they encounter. It also wonderful they tell users what they intend to do with the registered issues. This also gives some indication what kind of improvements have been made or will be made.
I think one of the biggest – if not the main – issue for Academia.edu is to make it clear what the added value is to its users. What problem does it solve? And, does it offer solutions that people are willing to pay for? It appears as though there is a gap between what problem Academia.edu wants to solve, and the problem it actually solves (at least in the perception of its users). This is a dangerous situation for any business, and it could well lead users to a competitive source once the newness has faded.
Consulted Articles / Blog posts / Tweets
- ‘Facebook für Forscher’, Financial Times Deutschland
- Tweet by Rob Speekenbrink
- Blog of Jonathan A. Eisen
- The Blog of Dr. James F. McGrath
- Blog of Brad Matthies
- Blog ‘Ars Technica’ (Posted in 2008)
- Another old blog post ‘In the library with the lead pipe’ 2008 but shows how the ball started to roll with one email of Price
- blog post ‘social medialab’
- blog post
- Techcrunch April 2010
- blog ‘Classics Librarian’
- Blog ‘Daphne Pawluczuk’
- blog Howzatmedia
- blog ‘The Ancient World Online’
- CUNY Social Network Mixes Scholarship with Facebook-Style Friendship, The Chronicle of Higher Education
- ‘Social Networking for Academics: An Interview with Ijad Madisch, CEO of ResearchGATE‘, ETC Journal