Social Networking and AcademiaJuly 26, 2010
Now that everyone and (no joking) her dog is on Facebook, has the time come for social networking to have an effect on academia? There have been academic and research-related “social” sites for some time now – Connotea.org (part of Nature Publishing) broke big in 2005, and CiteULike happened at about the same time. Both of these allow the bookmarking of web pages, like del.icio.us, but have a special focus on online academic journal articles. They pull metadata from the articles to create an accurate mini-citation in your list of resources, and allow lists of articles or web pages to be tagged, shared, and fed out via RSS; you can also explore others’ lists and discover new research articles that way. I explored Connotea pretty thoroughly in early 2007, but haven’t used it since then.
Mendeley is a more recent entrant into the arena (2007), with a desktop as well as a web application, although like Zotero (2006) it bills itself most prominently as a reference management software (like EndNote or Refworks) that just happens to have a social dimension. More truly social, with a goal of promoting campus research and fostering intra-campus collaboration is BibApp, an application developed by librarians and technologists at two university campuses. Here, the researcher is the focus of the site (not the individual paper or citation) and the institution is the impetus for organizing and collecting the published works of the researcher.
Right now, I’m most interested in Academia.edu, though. I’ve had an account at academia.edu for a couple of months now, and I think it’s a new idea that could encourage some interesting changes in academic culture.
1. It increases the visibility of an academic career. The site comes up quite high in a Google search; higher, I find, than one’s departmental web page. Also in contrast to a departmental web site, I have instant control over what is on my academia.edu profile; if I update my resume I can simply upload the new version, without having to work through a web administrator. (I toy with turning off the feature that emails me when someone searches for me on Google and lands at the site. While one knows, rationally, that people do search for one on Google, it is a little disconcerting to hear about it I find!) In the difficult employment environment academics face, any tool that lets you promote your academic work and manage your own academic ‘brand’ for free is a good one.
2. It serves as a de facto high visibility repository for open-access papers. Researchers can easily upload copies of their published or unpublished works to the site. Scholars should, of course, only upload papers they hold the copyright of, so do read your publishing contracts carefully to make sure you hold the copyright in your own work if you want to post your papers or book chapters online.
A couple of things I wonder about:
1. If I switched university affiliations, how would that be handled? Right now the url for my page starts with “uga,” but academics do move around, especially at the early stages of their careers, and I suspect this site is aimed at scholars writing PhDs or assistant professors (the Facebook generation?) rather then senior faculty. (I seem to see a lot of UK-based grad students on the site especially – note the site itself is UK-based.)
2. Will people make connections using academia.edu that turn into academic collaborations? While I treat Facebook as a public forum, and don’t post anything there I wouldn’t say to my postal carrier (or my boss!), my “friends” are almost all people I have actually met and interacted with. I am, on the other hand, comfortable “following” the work of scholars I don’t know at academia.edu. Will graduate students and early-career faculty reach out to each other and turn “following” into collaborating? If so, could this have an effect on the culture of academia, which (at least in the humanities) is not very collaborative?