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Despite Growth, Scientific Networking Sites Are Likely to Complement, Not Replace Open Access Repositories

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Group on Earth Observations Summit in Geneva, Switzerland, January 14, 2014 | © Courtesy of United States Mission Geneva.

Even though social media performance becomes increasingly important for scientists, questions about the implications that the business models of scholarly networking sites have persist, while leaving institutional repositories and Open Access publishers with a significant role to play in knowledge sharing.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


As scholars become increasingly concerned with the visibility and view counts that their scientific articles generate, social networking platforms have been slated to become the primary venues for the dissemination and sharing of scientific knowledge. However, as Jessica Leigh Brown implies, as these scholarly social networking sites, such as ResearchGate and Academia.edu, have sought to achieve both economic sustainability and reputation within different scientific communities, Open Access institutional repositories run by universities and institutes are likely to continue to be important for ensuring content availability in the long term.

In other words, either as open source projects, e.g., Zotero, or startup initiatives, such as ResearchGate, Academia.edu and Mendeley, these scholarly networks depend on either non-profit, donation-based or private funding, which can either limit their scope or involve the privatization of digital commons with possible non-positive responses in the scientific communities. For instance, ResearchGate has had to demonstrate swift reaction to copyright infringement allegations from large journal publishers, Academia.edu has not met with an enthusiastic response from scholars to its attempts to introduce paid-for services and Mendeley, upon its purchase by Elsevier in 2013, has raised concerns that its content sharing practices might deviate from the principles of Open Access.

Even though social networking sites have been expected to further promote the scientific communication and even provide alternatives to the traditional publishing models, as Cornelius Puschmann has argued in 2013, despite their limited proliferation and growth performance, such as in the case of ResearchGate, their eventual effect on the journal publishing industry has not necessarily proved to be significant or disruptive. While both specialized science-oriented and general-purpose social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, can facilitate communication with colleagues, research promotion and information dissemination locally and internationally, the effects of the underlying business models that these platforms have are not necessarily supportive of Open Access, due to their not infrequent profit orientation. As David Grotty has stressed, the practices of private social networking sites, such as user behavior tracking, are likely to affect scholarly communication the implications of which only begin to be fully comprehended for both content sharing and scholarly networking, as large publishers either purchase or sue science-related social networks.

By contrast, Open Access article and book publishers and repositories are generally not expected to generate revenues off digital content circulation, have transparent cost structures and can provide long-term access to materials they store. This cannot be said of private social networking companies that are exposed to market forces and legal consequences of insufficiently protecting intellectual property rights.

Thus, both Open Access journal publishers and institutional repositories are likely to play complementary roles in scientific communication and networking in the future.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Group on Earth Observations Summit in Geneva, Switzerland, January 14, 2014 | © Courtesy of United States Mission Geneva.

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