I received a mail today from Academia.edu (a site I wasn't previously aware of), asking me to confirm that I co-authored a paper with a colleague.

Having looked into it a little it sounds like it might be a useful site - the idea of a "social network for scientists" is one I've seen the need for in the past. However, partly due to bad experiences with the seemingly similar ResearchGate, I'm also skeptical.* Without signing up for an academia.edu account the site doesn't offer much information, so I would like the following information:

  1. What specific features does academia.edu offer to its users?

  2. Is it genuinely useful for any of the following purposes (each of which seems genuinely needed)

    1. as a platform for networking with academics
    2. for discovering relevant research
    3. as an effective system for post-publication peer review
    4. for organising references among a small team of people working on a project
  3. Will it send out mails to my colleagues without my express and explicit permission? (I.e. are the mails I received today the result of a deliberate action by my colleague, who is aware that I will be emailed and wishes me to join the site; or are they essentially spam from a social networking site aggressively trying to expand its user base?)

  4. It's clear from its Wikipedia page that it's a private, venture-capital funded company. What is its business model?

In short, is this a site that has some genuine utility for academics, or should I just ignore it?

*I've never signed up for ResearchGate but I regularly receive spam from it purporting to be from my colleagues, who aren't aware that it's being sent on their behalf. I would be mortified if my senior colleagues received such mails claiming to be from me, so I won't touch it with a barge pole.

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    Academia.edu doesn't email spam to your colleagues in your name, so it's got that over ResearchGate. Other than that, I've yet to see much indication that it has sufficient buy-in to be of particular use. – Corvus May 2 '15 at 5:58
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    Somehow, I thought it was Academia.SE in the title, and folks here were having an existential crisis! – The Dark Side May 2 '15 at 6:14
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    There is no duplicate to this particular question, but browsing through our previous questions on academia.edu may be helpful. – Stephan Kolassa May 2 '15 at 14:24
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    @Wrzlprmft I disagree. It does comment that "these are often something that can be generalized to a class of organizations, like how to assess whether a conference or journal is predatory," (emphasis mine) but it doesn't say they must be generalised in that way in order to be on topic. If that was the intention then the meta post should be fixed, because otherwise the instructions are just confusing. – Nathaniel Apr 8 at 23:53
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    @Wrzlprmft but ultimately I agree with M. Ortolando here. I've made a good-faith effort to fix this three year old question in the way you seemed to want. I did this because its answers are doing the community a service in warning of the practices that academia.edu follows. If your intention is for me to turn it into a different question, such that those answers would not be valid (and thus would be deleted), then I would request instead that you revert all recent changes and apply the historical lock, keeping the answers intact. The other option would destroy the value of this question. – Nathaniel Apr 9 at 0:08
up vote 56 down vote accepted

I distrust it for an entirely different reason. I once wanted to download a paper, and could only do it if I signed up. I signed up by logging on with my facebook account... Well, academia.edu took my profile information, and, without me knowing it, created an academia profile. With my picture, publications it could find via search engines, and a list of interests that were half right and half ridiculous. I'm a neuroscientist; it listed me as being interested in marketing, among other things. I only discovered this profile about a month later.

Apart from it being entirely unprofessional, I simply do not trust information that is on there, as I have first-hand experience that information on me was wrong.

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    This is a very good reason to steer clear- thank you for this information. – Nathaniel Aug 26 '15 at 22:51
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    Same here. I never remembered signing up for an account but yet it has all my interests as listed on ResearchGate along with a paper. I wonder if I could even reset the password. – Enlightened One Aug 27 '15 at 6:01

Having an Academia.edu account (which I'm pretty sure I've had for around 2+ years), I can say that I am not real satisfied with the service. My particular field in social science has a relatively small online footprint, and I thought Academia.edu may be starting to have a big growth when I signed up, but it still has never really caught on with any more than a small minority of my field. This point will come up again in my responses, in that if Academia.edu has more infiltration into your field it could work slightly better.

So for 1, you can peruse the site and see for yourself. Basically a profile page where you can post your CV and other links if you wish, and then upload pre-prints. You can then assign tags of interest to follow for yourself, and follow specific colleagues. Using these links, it has a front page feature, similar to Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn, but the page is filled with pre-prints of people in your network and of the tags you follow.

The upload of papers is pretty wide open (there is no quality checking), and I've seen people starting to upload syllabi as well. I've stopped uploading pre-prints because of the crazy terms of service. Unfortunately, some anecdotal evidence of my papers suggests that their promotion of papers across the network (and with search indexing) is less rigorous when you don't upload an actual pre-print. Also I've always been a bit annoyed I can't just upload a bibtext snippet to fill in the meta-data.

For 2.1 and 2.2 it would work better if there were more uptake in the field. IMO conferences work pretty well for 2.1, and Google scholar works pretty well for 2.2.

2.3, post publication peer-review is no, it does not offer comments on particular papers. 2.4, managing a bibliography among a research group is no as well (see these responses to that question). It does offer a bare-bones email type system, but that is obviously no better than email to begin with.

3, I don't know specifically. When you have co-authors you do need to verify them.

4, I don't know - it is similar in functionality to LinkedIn and Facebook, so I presume the same type of business model just a different user base.

In retrospect I would not have signed up for an account. I'm happy with posting pre-prints to SSRN, and there are similar sites for a variety of different disciplines. If you want a barebones free personal online website it kind of works for that, but I enjoy having a free wordpress blog that does the job and I have much more control over the content and format of the site. Google scholar works quite well for finding content. Strong networking ties in my experience happen more in conferences and just naturally being in the field over a time period. "Friending" someone on Academia.edu is a bit superficial.

No. Academia.edu is academic spam.

The unsolicited emails I received from academia.edu had absolutely nothing to do with my research. They sent me a weekly digest of utterly random papers that I did not recognize, but they seemed to think might interest me. They also sometimes asked me to confirm a coauthor. This was either someone I didn't know, or someone I did know who made the mistake of using their "service" and thereby unwittingly spammed their coauthors. They do host content, which I guess is a legitimate service, but they generally insist that people sign in to view it, which makes it more annoying than useful.

I clicked the unsubscribe link in their emails and it asked me to create an account in order to unsubscribe! (Is that even legal?) To me, this is a clear sign that they are not operating in good faith. I think they are spammers, plain and simple.

By the way, if you want to unsubscribe from their communications, email the CEO at richard@academia.edu as well as copyright@academia.edu. That worked for me.

I had an email from academia.edu asking me to confirm that I am a co-author of a paper ("XY tagged you as a co-author on a paper"). So I asked the other "author" what it was about since I did not recall writing such a paper with him. He had no idea either, Conclusion: something fishy....

I also had an email from academia.edu asking me to confirm that I am a co-author of a paper ("XY tagged you as a co-author on a paper"). I was not 'brave' enough to open the email but could see that the topic was poles apart from any research I might ever have done, so will just delete the email.

In my experience, Academia.edu is useful mostly for [2] - discovering relevant research. [1] happens mostly through participating in feedback sessions for unpublished manuscripts. Definitely not for [3] and [4], as they are not supported.

Usefulness for discovery comes in 3 ways:

a) The home News feed: you will find out about:

  1. publications of people you follow;

  2. papers read by several of the "people connected to you" (those you follow and also their followees), or papers recommended by one person connected to you;

  3. activity in manuscript feedback sessions. Of course, the quality of the feed will depend directly on how many people you follow and how relevant they are for you. If you follow people whom you know but about whose research you don't care much then your feed will be boring, especially because the 'people connected to you' that they will introduce will be even less relevant to you. Just follow people you really want to know about.

b) Navigating through topics of interest: each topic allows one to see a list of researchers who follow that topic and, more interestingly for me at least, to see a list of papers recently posted under that topic. Keep in mind that topics are user-defined, thus there may be several similar formulations for each subject that you would consider following (such as "humor", "humour", "humor studies", "humour research", etc); it is best to follow them all, as they have partially overlapping communities.

c) Mixed text-author search: jumping from texts to their author's profile, then to other texts by the same author or her co-authors, and so on. Unlike Google Scholar, where one searches and navigates in a universe of ranked text lists and interlinked texts, Academia.edu introduces the researcher profile as a "bridge" that connects different publications. It is up to you how much you will enjoy this new mode of transport, so to say.

I find it useful to check publications from authors I like, publications I would most likely not have found through a keyword-directed search on Google Scholar. While you could also use Google Scholar profiles to this effect, I find that Academia.edu is more pleasant to look at and also has more opportunities to connect texts with author profiles as you scroll in the news feed or in various lists. For me this text-author jump is the most useful feature of Academia.edu.

d) Last but not least, I find it energizing to look at texts which have been recently written or read by a living person. It gives a human touch to the entire enterprise. Of course, it also anchors literature searchers firmly in the here-and-now at the expense of past decades and centuries, so this is something I have to compensate for.

This sort of discovery works best, I think, for publications which are not in a very specific niche of keywords which you already master and you can search for in Google Scholar. For me, it works for publications that depart somehow from my pattern - eiter by nuancing the topic, or going meta to reflect on methods and the philosophy of the enterprise, or taking a diverging theoretical stance which I do not usually tap into, and so on. This gives me some space for serendipity in extending my scope of thinking.

The next issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece on academia.edu ... the blurb for it:

The academy has always been a hothouse of invidious comparison. This website makes it worse.

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