“I have 100 reads therefore I am”*: ‘Academic’ social media

This post explores academics’ relationships with ‘academic social media’; specifically with regards to the marketization of HE in the UK, audit culture, gamification, and open access. Academic social media can be defined as social media sites aimed at academic staff working in higher education, particularly in research. These sites encourage their users to share work (mainly in the form of research papers) and connect with other academics and researchers. There are currently two sites dominating the academic social media sector; ResearchGate and Academia.edu. These sites have been criticised for various reasons, but many academics still prefer to use them to disseminate research instead of using their own institution’s repositories. This paper will examine some of these criticisms and look at reasons why researchers choose to use academic social media platforms despite their serious ethical flaws and potentially detrimental effect on open access to research.


The market-driven HE system and academic self-promotion

Over recent years, the HE system in the UK has become more and more market-driven. The language of capitalism and commerce has crept steadily into our everyday speech, thoughts and actions – we have become used to auditing and quantifying our time and our work. Even the phrase ‘research outputs’ has a commercial ring to it.  Added to this is the increasing “casualization of the academic workforce” (Pooley and Duffy), characterised by short-term contracts and a lack of job security for many academics across the sector.

Working in this environment of market-driven values, academic staff have themselves been encouraged to promote themselves as ‘brands’, and think of themselves as branded commodities (Pooley and Duffy). Relating to this, is the idea of the “curated self”, where individuals carefully craft and nurture their online presence, and the “quantified self”, where a person identifies her/himself in terms of measurable inputs and outputs.

In terms of academic social media, platforms such as Academic.edu and ResearchGate intensify the idea of self-promotion as a good, precisely because of/through the fact that they are (among other things) social media tools: Like other forms of social media, they employ interactive feedback, dashboard analytics, and user-generated content (in this case, scholarship) (Pooley and Duffy). As with Facebook, platforms such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate “start to exemplify normative, idealized behaviour” (Adema) – the “everyone” factor (the idea that “everyone” is on Facebook). Self-promotion in this way is [considered] normal and if you don’t do it your career, and by extension you, will suffer. Added to this, not creating one’s own online self incurs the risk of losing control of this self (Barbour & Marshall (2012) in Hammarfelt et al.).

Some argue that use of academic social media is a means by which academics can take (back) some control over their scholarship and even their standing in academic circles. These platforms offer services the give the user a “sense of autonomy and empowerment” (Hammarfelt et al.). For example, self-tracking could be seen as a means of taking control, making academics’ contributions visible on their own terms or to contest alternative auditing.



Image by Emille Ogez (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Academics and their work as commodities

Focusing on Academia.edu, AKA “Facebook for academics” this company utilises users’ content and labour under the guise of “sharing” (Pooley and Duffy).  Not only this, but, as with mainstream social networks, the people who use the site may soon become its products. Its founder, Richard Price, has said that he plans to charge “for-profit companies for access to data and insights on which research and researchers are gaining traction” (Cutler, 2013 and Shema, 2012 in Pooley and Duffy). The financial model of companies such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate relies on their ability to exploit the data generated by their users. At the moment, the companies are concerned with exploiting the content that their add to their sites, but Adema believes that we can “see a move here from exploiting our content to exploiting the relationships around this content”. Furthermore, it is likely that in the future platforms such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate will sell our own data back to us so that we can use it in our own work.

Mirowski (2013) has argued that Facebook “teaches its users to become ‘entrepreneurs of themselves’” and trains us in “market-like transactions to advance many of our professional and personal aims” (Hammarfelt et al.). This commodification of academic selves links back to neoliberal ideas about marketization, as described above.


Quantification/audit culture/metrics

Hammarfelt et al. propose the idea of the “quantified academic self” (2016). This is a narrowing of the concept of the quantified self, which was first proposed by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly and refers to “an effort to increase self-knowledge through tracking devices” (Lupton 2013). The quantified academic self focuses on achievement, reputation and influence in terms of professional accomplishment (Hammarfelt et al.). This feeds into, and is in turn encouraged by the all-pervading quantification inherent on sites such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate. According to Pooley and Duffy, this quantification is the main way in which Academia.edu differs from mainstream social media sites.

This idea fits into the now ubiquitous audit culture of UK HE, where all outputs, even research must be quantified as “measurable deliverables” (Pooley and Duffy), which in turn fits into neoliberal ideas about free markets and free trade. Hence we now have the concepts of researchers as entrepreneurs, publications as products (outputs) and academia as a global marketplace (Hammarfelt et al.). Looking at the wider context, it can be seen that, from the mid-20th century onwards, there has been a tendency for people in secularized societies to replace religious motivations with goal setting and meaning making through “sports, art, science and other challenging endeavours”: Sloterdijk’s ‘doctrine of upward propagation’ (2014, in Hammarfelt et al.).

The ResearchGate Score purports to “[take] all of your research and [turn] it into a source of reputation”. Hammarfelt et al. see this as a “magical manoeuvre”: it is magical in the sense that the points are seen as valuable even though there worth is actually unknown, and also in the sense that it is very hard to see or understand how the score is calculated. Most people like quantification (whether they admit it or not) because it provides easy answers, or at least easy data they can use to compare themselves with other people. Added to this, numbers, once gained, are self-reinforcing. For example, the more contacts you have the more valuable you become, because more people think you are popular and want to link to you (van Dijck 2013 in Pooley and Duffy). It is really just a different version of playground popularity and again, this follows the general trend of self-quantification in society (Hammarfelt et al.). As Adema says, “we feel an urgent need to quantify ourselves”.



Related to the idea of quantification is the concept of gamification, “the practice of applying game features, including aesthetics, in non-game contexts”. Most social media sites, including those for academics, include game features such as point scoring, reaching new levels of attainment, and claiming of new territories (Hammarfelt et al.). Gamification can be an effective way to influence people’s behaviour due to the positive feedback aspect, but Hammarfelt et al. argue that it comes at a price: total surveillance. Gamification, like quantification, is also just another way of “bureaucratising everyday life” using IT infrastructures. We are always ‘on’, always connected, measuring, auditing ourselves, analysing scores, imputing data. We are feeding the machine and integrating ourselves more and more into the system – we are the bureaucracy.

On the other hand, some, such as Dragona (2014) have argued that gaming features can help create meaning in everyday life: people have needs and like goals so games can be used to help people develop in a positive way. They could even be seen as a “rational and uncomplicated alternative to a highly complex world” (Hammarfelt et al.), relating back to the idea of academics using social media platforms to attempt to take back some control over their environments.


Academic social media and open access

It is notable that Academa.edu and ResearchGate in particular makes an effort to advertise themselves as a place where academics can upload their papers. Academia.edu’s front page states:

Join 54,226,674 Academics

Academia is the easiest way to share papers with millions of people across the world for free. A study recently published in PLOS ONE found that papers uploaded to Academia receive a 69% boost in citations over 5 years.

Open access is not specifically mentioned by name, but the idea is there – sharing papers for free. There is even reference to an academic study, which does mention the phrase ‘open access’. However, legally and ethically uploading papers to Academia.edu or ResearchGate is not the same as putting them on a genuinely open access repository. (As an aside, it should be pointed out that the study mentioned on Academia.edu’s front page was carried out by, among other people, Richard Price, CEO of Academia.edu.)

From a legal and ethical point of view, many of the articles posted on Academia.edu and ResearchGate are not compliant with copyright law or journal publishers’ open access policies and permissions. These sites place the onus for copyright compliance on their users (see the AE copyright statement). As Pooley and Duffy point out “[these sites] are peer-to-peer PDF-sharing repositories, akin to Napster circa 1994 […] Academia.edu is like Sci-Hub, but with venture backing (and a carefully-written, liability-dodging “Copyright Policy””.  Open access (or a version of it) is part of a business model made to “serve the need for further commercialization of knowledge and research” (Adema).

Apart from anything else, putting one’s research papers on to an academic social media site does not meet the conditions for the HEFCE mandate regarding open access or funder policy.  Academic social media sites may seem to be advocates of open access, but it is ‘open access’ on their terms. They are not repositories, and offer no guarantee of indefinite, continued access to the research papers they hold. As Fitzpatrick says, at some point “[Academia.edu] will be required to turn a profit, or it will be sold for parts, or it will shut down.” The ‘free’ access could cease without warning, either by the site itself, or because of litigation from publishers (Pooley and Duffy).

Academia.edu has a parasitical relationship to the public education system, in that these academics are labouring for it for free to help build its privately-owned for-profit platform by providing the aggregated input, data and attention value. We can thus see that posting on Academia.edu is not ethically and politically equivalent to making research available using an institutional open access repository at all.

Gary Hall

Just as pertinent are the potential negative effects sites such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate could have on true open access. Hall warns that the open access movement is “in danger of being outflanked, if not rendered irrelevant” by Academia.edu. From personal experience, it is disheartening to note that academics are more likely to upload their papers to Academic.edu or ResearchGate than they are to deposit them in the institutional repository. Perhaps this proves Hall’s hypothesis that, for many researchers, “the priority may not be so much making their work openly available free of charge […] as building their careers and reputations in an individualistic, self-promoting, self-quantifying, self-marketing fashion.”



Such self-promotion is understandable in today’s current climate of the marketization of higher education (see above), but surely we as academics should resist this trend as much as possible? If academics are really interested in academic freedom, disseminating research, and access to knowledge for all then they/we are not going to help matters by playing into the hands of people motivated by money rather than the public good. (Even if Price et al. really believe they are doing good, their venture capitalist funders are only looking for return on their investment: that is what they exist for). The scholarly communications ecosystem is already dominated by big corporations that control our publishing industry. The open access movement was founded as an alternative to this, but, in using commercial social media sites to share research, we risk trading “one set of revenue-hungry companies for another.” (Pooley and Duffy)

So what are the alternatives? In terms of sharing research and making it genuine open access, permitted versions of papers should be uploaded to academics’ institutional repositories. The burden for a change in attitudes towards repositories when compared with social media sites does not rest solely on academic staff: software developers working on repositories need to at least try to recreate the look and feel, especially the intuitive ease of use, of social media sites if they are going to win over researchers and ensure that genuine open access does not get side-lined by (often illegal) paper sharing on academic social media. Also, advocates of open access working in HE (myself included) need to ensure that researchers are aware of all its benefits – not just in terms of funder compliance, but wider societal advantages – and try to make using repository software as easy as possible. There are also not-for-profit disciplinary repositories that can be used – many, if not all, of these can be accessed via OpenDOAR (Directory of Open Access Repositories).

In terms of the ‘social’ aspect of academic social media, scholarly societies may be one way to meet this need. For example, the MLA’s office for scholarly communication has set up Humanities Commons, as an alternative academic social network.

Whether or not researchers continue to use academic social networks, it is important that they are aware of the financial rationales and ethical standpoints of the companies that created them, so at least they can make informed choices about where they are putting their research and investing their energies and time. It is particularly important that academics are aware of the potential implications for genuine open access, and for the privacy of their own data. As Adema says “to give up privacy for access is not a form of ‘open access’ I can endorse.”


*Hammarfelt et al.



Adema, J. (2017) Academia.edu and self-branding, Open Reflections. Available at: https://openreflections.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/academia-edu-and-self-branding/. Accessed 16th August 2017.

Fitzpatrick, K. (2015) Academia, not edu, Planned Obsolescence. Available at: http://www.plannedobsolescence.net/academia-not-edu/. Accessed 16th August 2017.

Geltner, G. (2015) Upon leaving Academia.edu, Mittelalter. Available at: http://mittelalter.hypotheses.org/7123. Accessed 16th August 2017.

Hall, G. (2015) Does Academia.edu mean that Open Access is becoming irrelevant? Media Gifts. Available at: http://www.garyhall.info/journal/2015/10/18/does-academiaedu-mean-open-access-is-becoming-irrelevant.html. Accessed 16th August 2017.

Hammarfelt, B, de Rijcke, S.D & Rushforth, A.D. (2016). Quantified academic selves: the gamification of research through social networking services, Information Research, 21(2), paper SM1. Retrieved from http://InformationR.net/ir/21-2/SM1.html (Archived by WebCite& reg; at http://www.webcitation.org/6hn1Kv5yY). Accessed 16th August 2017.

Ingram, M. (2015) Scientists win when they are social with their work, study shows, Fortune.com. Available at: http://fortune.com/2015/05/08/scientists-social-study/. Accessed 16th August 2017.

Kraker, P., Jordan, K., Lex, E. (2015) The ResearchGate Score: a good example of a bad metric, Impact of Social Sciences. Available at: https://www.socialsciencespace.com/2015/12/researchgate-score-good-example-of-a-bad-metric/. Accessed 16th August 2017.

Pooley, B. E. and Duffy, J. D. (2017) “Facebook for Academics”: The Convergence of Self-Branding and Social Media Logic on Academia.edu, Social Media + Society, Vol. 3, issue 1. Available at: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2056305117696523. Accessed 16th August 2017.





CPD25: Researchers and repositories

On Wednesday (11th May) I attended two events hosted by CPD25: Engaging and Supporting Researchers and Open Access and Repositories.

Engaging and Supporting Researchers

Although both the talks at this event were very interesting and informative, they weren’t quite what I was expecting – which was how to engage and support researchers from a library perspective in a higher education institution (i.e. what I’m trying to do as part of my current role). The first talk was by Glenn Cumiskey from the British Museum, about digital preservation at the British Museum. This was really fascinating – digital preservation is not an area I’m very familiar with, although it turned out that lots of what he had to say is quite relevant to my work with the institutional repository. It was also thought-provoking from an archives perspective (which also comes into my current role, albeit in a minor part), and also my other role as a cataloguer/metadata person. As I managed to write down his ‘five Vs’ – things to be taken into consideration when dealing with data – I will share them with you:

  • Volume (of data)
  • Velocity (the rate at which data is created)
  • Veracity (of metadata – can be inaccurate, go what is good enough for now [interestingly different from the ‘traditional’ view of cataloguing]
  • Value (of the data – we should not keep data that is not of value to the organisation)
  • Variety (of formats – issues such as software/hardware dependence, small publishers that may not be here in 1o years’ time, etc.)

Glenn finished his presentation by talking about what data should evoke, using the Lampedusa Cross as an example.

Next up: Mahendra Mahey. He spoke about British Library Labs, and about the weird and wonderful things people have done with British Library data sets and online collections. His slides are available on SlideShare.

Open Access and Repositories

The afternoon started with Andy Tattersall talking about altmetrics –  alternative measures of  the impact/influence/engagement of/with research, using social media rather than traditional methods such as citations and journal impact factors. It was great to learn about something I’d previously only had a vague awareness of. I think we definitely need to look at how we could use altmetrics with the repository – maybe looking at engagement with the library research Twitter feed (which includes a feed of new items on the repository). I also wrote down five points Andy made about the value of altmetrics, so here they are:

  • Altmetrics complement, not replace, traditional metrics
  • They help people understand how research is being received and used, and by who(m)
  • Almetrics are not intended as an indicator of quality
  • They can help provide further evidence of engagement and societal impact
  • They give credit for research outputs other than articles

You can see altmetrics in action, as it were, on many journal articles, wherever you see the altmetrics ‘donut’.

Andy has written a lot about this subject, including a blog post on the CILIP website. This video might also be useful if you want to find out more:


Stuart Lawson was next, with an overview of Open Access, which I do know a bit about. Although I didn’t know about Sci-Hub. I was sort of shocked by it(s existence), but then I have led a (mainly) quiet and innocent life. I was also quite impressed. Anyway, possibly the less said about that the better…I enjoyed Stuart’s talk and obvious enthusiasm for his subject…and now I know it’s possible to do a PhD about Open Access!

Christina Emery from Knowledge Unlatched spoke next. I’m afraid I didn’t make many notes, partially because I’d read a lot about Knowledge Unlatched for one of my appraisal objectives! It is a good idea, I think. Here is a handy video to explain what KU is all about:

Finally, Lara Speicher presented about UCL Press, the UK’s first fully Open Access university press. I learned a new concept/acronym/word: BOOC – book as open online content. I’m quite interested in this because (a) its relationship to Open Access monographs, which I’ve been researching for one of my appraisal objectives, and (b) because I’m interested in books and can be done with them in terms of different formats, arty stuff, their meaning and how humans related to them as physical (or not) objects, and their relationship to the electronic world.

There is a Storify of the tweets from the Open Access and Repositories sessions and you can follow the tweets from the Engaging Researchers sessions using .

“Open Access Monographs and Publishing Models: Collaborative Ways Forward”

Last Monday (19th October) I attended a panel discussion held at Goldsmiths to hear a panel of experts share thoughts and ideas as part of a discussion about open access monographs (OAMs). I attended as part of my research into collaborative models for the publication of OAMs, which is one of my appraisal objectives.  This event was part of International Open Access Week 2015 and was partly a response to the  HEFCE report on Monographs and Open Access (January 2015) – this year’s theme was “Open for Collaboration”. This report (also known as the Crossick report) came out of research led by Geoffrey Crossick, Distinguished Professor of Humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. The report found that:

“There is no single dominant emerging business model for supporting open-access publishing of monographs; a range of approaches will coexist for some time and it is unlikely that any single model will emerge as dominant. Policies will therefore need to be flexible.”

The panel comprised  Martin Eve, Senior Lecturer in Literature, Technology and Publishing, Birkbeck University of London; Alison Jones, Managing  Editor, Open Access, Oxford University PressSarah Kember, Professor of New Technologies of Communications, Goldsmiths University of London and Goldsmiths PressJoanna Zylinska, Professor of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths, University of London and Radical Open Access Group. Professor Mark d’Inverno, Pro-Warden for Research and Enterprise at Goldsmiths hosted the discussion and it was chaired by Professor Simon McVeigh,  Goldsmiths’ Academic Lead on Open Access and Practice Research.

The event abstract sums up the main directions of the discussion:

“What is often forgotten is that, alongside transparency of public expenditure, the impetus for open access is the ethical and appropriate sharing of valuable knowledge for the betterment of society.

The proposed panel seeks to discuss the potential of the open access monograph format to contribute to this process of ethical knowledge dissemination, whilst highlighting the challenges presently faced by the publishing industry to make this a viable and financially sustainable reality.

The discussion will involve a group of speakers who hold contrasting perspectives on how this transition to open access monograph publishing should be managed and how it may support or disadvantage their particular professional sector and ethical goals.

Ambitiously and in keeping with this year’s open access theme of collaboration, this panel seeks to encourage the development of collaborative thinking between various kinds of publishers and the academe, in order to promote the ethical sharing of knowledge.”

It was a really interesting discussion, and there was a lot of information to take in. I have made copious notes, which I won’t write out here. If you want to read a pretty good summary of what was said you could have a look at Jeremy Barraud, Caroline Lloyd and Goldsmiths Research‘s tweets (scroll down a bit and look for the hashtag #OAweek).

I suppose the main thing I took away from the evening was that not everyone thinks open access is wonderful! As someone who works on a repository and is supposed to promote open access I think I’d been living in a happy open access ‘bubble’ where nobody ever talked about the potential downsides (or dark, neoliberal, sides) of OA. I still think OA is a good idea, but listening to the panel and the discussion has definitely made me think more about its potential effects on academics and their freedoms and made me realising I have a lot more reading and research to do!

Further reading/listening:

Monographs and open access (HEFCE report)

Open Access, HEFCE, REF and the threat to academic freedom

Opening out from open access: writing  and publishing in response to neoliberalism

The Open Access debate: challenges, threats and promises (podcast)


Open Access and monographs

Thoughts from ‘Open Access: Understanding the New Environment’

A couple of weeks ago (23rd October), I attended “Open Access: Understanding the New Environment”, an event hosted by the University of Kent as part of Open Access Week.

Half my working week is spent doing things with our institutional repository. Mainly, I amend and create metadata for the items that go into the repository, and sometimes I answer queries about it and help academic staff deposit their research. Open Access (OA) was something I’d heard a lot about in connection with repositories and other things, and I felt that I should try and find out more about it, both for my own development and in case I was ever asked about it!

The programme for the afternoon consisted of talks from a variety of speakers involved in OA in some way. I won’t write about them all here, because you can read an excellent summary of the day at Phil Ward’s blog, Research Fundermentals. You can listen to all of the talks online, should you so wish.

Although all the talks were of interest, the ones I found particularly interesting were Rosemary Hunter on “Gold, Green or in Between: Establishing an Open Access Journal” and Kevin Ashley’s talk on “Research Data Management and Open Access”. I’d come across OA journals in the course of my work on the repository, and it was fascinating to hear the story of, firstly, the difficulties experienced by academics and journal editors in dealing with big publishers, and secondly, about how an OA journal can be set up. After hearing Rosemary’s talk I, and others, I think, were left wondering why more people don’t set up OA journals in order to bypass many of the problems inherent to other forms of OA. As Phil writes:

[feminists@law, the OA journal] was light in terms of expense (a single Article Processing Charge (APC) could pay for the cost of a whole journal, using online OA), and flexible in terms of the type of media that could be accepted (it no longer had to be solely text-based); but it was not lightweight in terms of academic rigour or seriousness.

Kevin Ashley, director of the Digital Curation Centre spoke about the importance of research data to Open Access. This wasn’t something I’d really thought about before, but Kevin explained it all in an accessible way, arguing the case for the release of research data to (e.g.) avoid duplication of work and to expose ‘bad’ research. He argued that even if research didn’t achieve what it set out to do, the data from that research can still be useful to other researchers in the field, so even data from ‘failed’ projects should be published. I also found his talk interesting because of the fact that it was about data, and a lot of my job involves dealing with data in one form or another. The talk reminded me of the importance of good data and that my hours spent cataloguing and entering metadata into the repository are not in vain!

Although a lot of what was said in the talks was new to me, the speakers were engaging enough to make the information accessible, and I came away from the day knowing much more about OA than I did when I went in, and feeling more confident in my understanding of where my own role fits in to the Open Access environment.