Networking Sites for Academics: What’s At Stake?

By Joanna Duy

Some interesting networking sites for academics have emerged in recent years, and there is good reason for academic librarians to follow their evolution. These sites are offering researchers self-archiving and document discovery services, and may be competing with our libraries and repositories for researchers’ attention. As an example, look at one of the advertising claims on ResearchGATE, a networking site for scientists:

Millions of publications at your fingertips
It can be tricky to get hold of the right publications; so whether you want to find something specific, discover something new or share your own work with the community, we have the tools to make it happen. (ResearchGATE, 2011, “About”).

Sounds like a marketing text for a library, right? Many of these professional and academic networking sites offer users the capability to archive their research outputs, upload and manage research citations, track use of their publications, and receive notifications of new publications in their areas of interest. And, while a recent survey of academics in the United Kingdom showed that use of professional/academic networking sites is fairly low (Duke & Jordan Ltd., 2011), the existence of these sites suggests that there is a perceived need for these kinds of tools. A recent article in Nature Medicine noted that “Social networking sites hold considerable promise in fostering productive research collaborations” (“The Scientific Social Network,” 2011, para.5).

Here’s a sampling of some networking sites (all are free to join), and what they offer, with an emphasis on those geared towards academics.

LinkedIn (
LinkedIn calls itself the “world’s largest professional network on the Internet” (LinkedIn, 2011, “LinkedIn Facts”). Launched in 2003, the site now has 120 million members (LinkedIn, 2001, “Worldwide Membership”). Individual profiles allow users to describe their professional background, and there are plenty of nifty networking features on the site to help users connect to colleagues and potential clients. LinkedIn is geared towards business professionals, and thus doesn’t focus on document archiving and retrieval, but it’s worth noting because it was found to be one of the most recognized and used networking sites among academics (Duke & Jordan Ltd., 2011).
Often touted as the academic alternative to LinkedIn, has its sights set on attracting academics. Launched in September 2008, this site has over 550,000 registered users (R. Price, personal communication, August 31, 2011). Users start by setting up a profile which indicates their academic affiliations and position. The site then searches the web for the new user’s publications and offers the option of uploading the work to Users can also add research interests to their profile and follow items that are published in those areas in a news feed. has a database of over 12,000 journals that users can also follow - meaning they will get the journal’s table of contents in their news feed. Users can also ask a question on and tag it with research interests. Colleagues who share the research interests see the question in their news feed and can respond to it, a technique referred to as “crowdsourcing.”
ResearchGATE (
Often called “Facebook for scientists” by its co-founder, medical researcher Ijad Madisch, ResearchGATE was founded in 2008 and claims to have 1.2 million members (ResearchGATE, 2011, “About”).  According to the company, “ResearchGATE has 2,600 groups … with those communities replacing what had traditionally been published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at seminars. It's about presenting work in progress and sharing practical research tips.” (“ResearchGATE brings in strong”, 2010, para. 3). Users create a profile with research interests and can then follow the work of others. The site suggests research articles that may be of interest, and if the author has provided an archived copy of the work, then it is accessible. If there is no full-text copy in ResearchGATE, then, if a user clicks a “Request Full Text” button, the author will be sent an email request to provide one; if the author is not a member of ResearchGATE, the request is stored and when that person joins they will be asked to share the paper (ResearchGATE, personal communication, August 30, 2011). The site claims to have “a publication database of more than 35 million articles” (ResearchGATE, 2011, “Literature”). They also offer a Similar Abstract Search Engine (SASE) where authors can copy an abstract of interest and the site will search for other similar abstracts.

In addition to these three sites, there are many more (e.g. Mendeley, Zotero, CiteULike) vying for academics’ attention, with some even developing new readership metric tools (“Social Research Networks”, 2010).

If academics begin using these sites to deposit their research outputs, there may be implications for institutional open access repositories. Duke and Jordan (2011) caution that if authors deposit different copies of their works in different locations, it may be difficult to know which version is authoritative. There are also long term archiving and access issues, as noted by Duke & Jordan (2011):

“There is a risk that researchers with poor knowledge of Open Access principles may consider deposition on a social network site as Open Access publication. It should not be seen as such. The future of social network sites is not clear. For example, if a site with significant “Open Access” materials becomes defunct or is taken over, the materials may disappear from public access” (p. 27).

The authors also found that, among academics in their study “encouragement to publish to the institutional repository is disappointingly low” (p. 29). Ideally, academics would deposit their works into an institutional repository first and then put a link to that copy on their networking site profile.

It remains to be seen if these networking sites will become widely adopted by academics, but as librarians we would be wise to keep abreast of their progress so that we can dialogue with researchers on our campuses about these sites, open access issues, and the advantages of institutional repositories.


Duke and Jordan Ltd. (2011). Social networking sites and their role in scholarly communications. Nottingham, UK: Centre for Research Communications. Retrieved from:

LinkedIn. (2011). About Us. Retrieved August 25, 2011, from

ResearchGATE. (2011). About. Retrieved August 25, 2011, from

ResearchGATE. (2011). Literature. Retrieved August 31, 2011, from

ResearchGATE brings in strong funding round for ‘scientific Facebook’. (2010, September 8). Retrieved from

Social research networks spawn new tools. (2010). Library Journal, 135(18), 17.

The scientific social network. (2011). Nature Medicine, 17(2), 137. doi:10.1038/nm0211-137.