I have been a registered user of Academia.edu for several years now, and to be honest until recently I only used it from time to time, mostly as a place for green copies of my work. I did not see it as being a crucial part of my research workflow. Now this is slowly changing, and I am glad to say that it is a useful tool, which helps me a lot, especially in finding new, open access articles that are really interesting for me. But it seems to me that Academia.edu has the potential to do even more.
The platform is improving and despite a few bizarre shortcomings (i.e. the possibility of adding co-authors to papers was introduced several years after the launch of Academia.edu, which is hard to explain taking into account contemporary publishing habits), it gets more users every year. And finally, yes finally, after several years, I can say that a large number of researchers working in my field have personal accounts on Academia.edu and, above all, the recommendation tool works very well for me.
I had to spend some time on finding and following the appropriate people and research interests groups, but now I am fully satisfied with the e-mail notifications that I get frequently about new papers submitted by researchers I follow, or what is even more important, about popular papers in my feed. Thanks to them I have already found multiple new and highly interesting papers.
What is more, a new feature of Academia.edu, “Sessions” seems to be really promising, although not yet perfect at this moment. It allows you to publish a document (of any kind) and to invite people to openly discuss it. Sessions uses the Scribid viewer to display content in your browser and a hypothes.is like annotation system, which allows every participant to anchor his or her comments anywhere in the document, or just publish a general notice. Sessions lasts for 21 days, which is a little bit too short for me, although maybe this is due to some technical obstacles. This might be useful for getting feedback on your recent articles, research notes, working papers, etc. In fact Academia.edu’s “Sessions” do not offer any outstanding functionalities, but they might become important since the platform itself is much more popular than any other tool designed to foster academic discussion.
To sum it up:
Why is it worth having an Academia.edu profile?
1) It gives your work pretty good visibility. I know PhD students from Polish universities (which are not known abroad) whose papers reached 800+ views each on Academia.edu. Anyway, I recommend that you do not treat Academia.edu as a primary publication venue. This is a good supplement to publication in a peer reviewed journal, but it will probably not replace it, in terms of both impact on the research community and career advancement.
2) Academia.edu offers comprehensive insights about your paper, including the number of views, the countries the views come from, keywords that attracted people to your paper, etc.
3) Now it has become a good recommendation tool, it can keep you up to date with important publications (at least in my field). Although you have to remember that Academia.edu offers no form of credibility verification. Anyone can create an account and any kind of document can be submitted there. This means that you may find plagiarized, poorly attributed or simply rubbish papers there. Original research works are mixed up with essays of different quality and opinions. On the other hand, I do not use Academia.edu to search for information about genomics or rocket science, and in the field of sociology, I usually judge the quality of papers on my own.
4) You can use Academia.edu to make your research process more open, by inviting people to discuss your work, ideas, etc.
What are the disadvantages of this platform?
1) No download option for not logged in users. Although registration is free and open to everyone, this is still some kind of barrier. People are lazy and do not like to log in. When I have a choice I always choose not to log in, and this is why I frequently search for papers on Figshare.
2) Information about e-mail addresses is required when adding the co-authors of your paper. In my opinion this should be forbidden. I do not hand over the personal data of my colleagues.
3) The interface could be better. It is not intuitive, even though it is still much better than Facebook’s one.
What could be better?
I think the “Drafts” section is disappointing. What is the point of publishing a draft of some research work as a document which cannot be commented on? It is much better to add a draft as a “Session” to let people improve the work. And even “Sessions” are not interactive enough, since they offer no option to modify the discussed document without deleting it and starting a new session. It seems to me that it would be perfect to have a fully cooperative writing tool, which might be powered for example by Authorea or Overleaf. In this case the “Drafts” section would be something really brilliant.
Regardless, I think it’s a good idea to create a personal Academia.edu account and update it frequently. And for example to submit links to your new projects in Authera as posts there. It will probably give them some additional visibility.