Within hours after Forbes.com published Sarah Bond’s article, Dear Scholars, Delete Your Account at Academia.edu, I began fielding questions from OU faculty members. 3,132 people from the University of Oklahoma have accounts on Academia.edu, and 3,284 have accounts on ResearchGate. Another popular “academic social network,” Mendeley, doesn’t group their accounts in the same way, but it’s likely there are OU-associated accounts there as well. There’s a lot to unpack in regards to my feelings about these companies and the “services” they offer, but for the purposes of this post I will hit on the “high points.”
My short answer to many of the questions I get about these companies remains: Until you have a personal problem with the way they do business, then I don’t see a problem as long as you also share your work in a repository such as SHAREOK. Services such as Academia.edu offer something different than SHAREOK, so I understand people’s desire to create profiles there.
My longer answer: Similar to Facebook, Google, etc., you are not the customer when you interact with these companies, even though you may feel like one. Instead, you are the product that these services seek to monetize and/or “offer up” to advertisers. I don’t fault any business for making money; that is the imperative for them to exist. But I also see these particular companies as an extension of those who monetize what I believe should be freely shared.
Secondly, if these companies are bought, sold, or go out of business, what would happen to the content you’ve placed there? This is one reason why I advise faculty members that the first place to share articles, preprints, postprints, conference posters, proceedings, slide decks, etc. is SHAREOK. Librarians maintain an OU Faculty/Staff collection on SHAREOK where you can deposit your work, and we would be delighted to step you through how to upload to SHAREOK. The items in SHAREOK are indexed by Google and Google Scholar, so they are searchable (and findable) by researchers around the world. You still own the copyright in the work you deposit in SHAREOK, and the OU Libraries maintain the platform, the content, and the links. Most importantly, maintaining and preserving content is one of the core missions of the OU Libraries. We aren’t going out of business, so your content on SHAREOK won’t go away either.
A third consideration with any of these services (including SHAREOK) is the legality of uploading your work there. Most publishers require authors to sign a publication agreement/copyright transfer prior to a manuscript being published. It is important to read and understand this contract, because it outlines what you can/cannot do with your own work in the future. What many people don’t know is that these contracts can be negotiated to give authors more rights in the work they produce (even better for you, working with faculty members to negotiate these publishing contracts is part of my job)! For example, many publishing contracts don’t allow you to share your work without an embargo period, if they allow you to share it at all. In these cases, uploading your work to a site such as Academia.edu may be a violation of the terms of the publishing agreement, whereas uploading it to an institutional repository may not be (or can be negotiated to not be). Several years ago, a major academic publisher actively went after Academia.edu, requiring them to take down all of the publisher’s content that had been illegally uploaded, much to the surprise and dismay of these authors.
Finally, Academia.edu’s latest tactics are troubling to me from the standpoint of privacy and intellectual freedom. Personally and professionally, I find it distressing that a private company, which doesn’t adhere to the same professional ethics as librarians do, collects information about who is reading what. They then offer to share that information with you if you subscribe to their premium service, which includes analytics. And while the analytics dashboard doesn’t reveal readers’ names, it may provide enough information for you to know exactly who read your work. You may decide not to pay for Academia.edu’s analytics, but even so – what you view and download will still be tracked. This may not be dangerous for you or me (the “I’m not doing anything wrong, so I don’t care” argument), but – in my opinion – it sets a very bad precedent. What about the researcher who studies terrorism? Or whistleblowing? Or even climate change? How might people at these academic social media companies create profiles and make judgments about you based on what you are reading? And what will they do with the information they collect, especially if asked for it by government entities?
Yes, much of the same can be said for Amazon and Google, and I have my share of turmoil with them too.
In addition to SHAREOK, there are resources, such as SHERPA/RoMEO, that help authors better understand what they can/can’t do with their work; there are sites like the DOAJ and Think Check Submit that help you find the best publisher and journal for your work. There are tools such as Scholar’s Copyright Addendum Engine that make it easier to negotiate a publishing contract. My job (at least part of it) is to help you with these resources and assist you with activities such as academic publishing, copyright, and other tools of scholarly communication.
If you’re interested in reading other posts about this topic, you can start here:
- Original article: Dear Scholars, Delete Your Account at Academia.edu, by Sarah Bond
- Academia, Not Edu, by Kathleen Fitzpatrick
- Reading, Privacy, and Scholarly Networks, by Kathleen Fitzpatrick
- Upon Leaving Academia.edu, by G. Geltner
- Should You #DeleteAcademiaEdu?, by Paolo Mangiafico
- Delete your academia.edu account…(there are other ways to share your work), by Stuart Elden
- Should This Be the Last Thing You Read on Academia.edu?, by Gary Hall (downloads as a .pdf)
- Open Access, Academia.edu, and Why I’m All-In on Zenodo.org, by Ethan Gruber
- #Delete Academia.edu: The Argument for Non-Profit Repositories, by Sarah Emily Bond