In previous posts, we talked about the growth of the social networks and the role that they can play in helping researchers and lab managers with their jobs. While Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are common most users of the Internet and mobile devices, less familiar are the specialized social-networking sites that target specific user groups and professionals. Among these is ResearchGate, a free social site for academics founded in Berlin in 2008 by two virologists and an IT specialists. ResearchGate recently celebrated seven years in business by surpassing seven million members.
The mission of the site is to “connect researchers and make it easy for them to share and access scientific output, knowledge, and expertise.” While ResearchGate has succeeded, raising more than US$35 million from investors, including Bill Gates, other social networking sites such as SciLinks, Epernicus and 2collab that focused on the academic and research market have failed. ResearchGate, however, is actually only the second largest site among the leading academic social networks. Aademia.edu, based in San Francisco boasts 21 million registered users and 36 million unique monthly visitors, while London-based Mendeley (part of Elsevier) has more than 3.1 million members.
Nature surveyed more than 3,000 scientists and engineers about their awareness of social networks and whether they visit regularly. ResearchGate ranked second behind Google Scholar, ahead of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the other two academic networks. More than 88 percent said they were aware of ResearchGate. When regular visitors were asked why they use social media, nearly 70 percent of said they used ResearchGate in case they were contacted about papers that were not open source; roughly 40 percent said they use Academia.edu to post content; and more than 30 percent of Mendeley regular visitors use the site to discover recommended papers.
So why are these sites becoming so popular? And why should researchers and academics care?
A study by Academia.edu of more than 44,000 papers found that researchers who share their work publicly receive 83 percent more citations than those that don’t.[i] Students use Mendeley for organizing communities around interests and research. An antibodies startup founded out of the University of Leeds in 2012 used ResearchGate to “reduce start-up costs and increase efficiency in a previous project.”[ii] The founder of the startup said:
“When he did need to find something specific like a cheap antifoam alternative to avoid excessive foam in the production process, the ResearchGate community offered three solutions. The answers came from a diverse range of researchers and institutions, including the University of Cologne, Athens State University, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and the U.S. pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb.”
The sites have their fans and critics, some fearing they could become “troves of illegally uploaded content.”[iii] While the value of these sites are debated regularly by those in the field, some argue that social networks are part of a trend that cannot be ignored… even by those less prone to be social.
For more information about Nature’s study, visit http://www.nature.com/news/online-collaboration-scientists-and-the-social-network-1.15711.
Teledyne Tekmar's Applications chemists are actively posting their work on ResearchGate. Be sure to log on to the site to following their work. www.researchgate.net