TU Delft Library


What’s the difference between ResearchGate, Academia.edu, and the TU Delft institutional repository?

I put my papers in ResearchGate or Academia.edu, is that enough for the open access policy at TU Delft?

These and similar questions have been common at open access events and presentations nowadays. Authors want to better understand the differences between these platforms and when they should use one, the other, or some combination. First, a brief primer on what each service has to offer:

ResearchGate and Academia.edu
ResearchGate and Academia.edu are social networking platforms whose primary aim is to connect researchers with common interests. Users create profiles on these services, and are then encouraged to list their publications and other scholarly activities, upload copies of manuscripts they’ve authored, and build connections with scholars they work or co-author with. Essentially these services provide a Facebook or LinkedIn experience for the research community.

Both services are commercial companies. Although Academia.edu has a “.edu” URL, it isn’t run by a higher education institution. The domain name was registered before the rules that would now prohibit this use went into effect, and the address was grandfathered in and later sold to the company. On its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission it uses the legal name Academia Inc.

Comparison between Academia.edu/ResearchGate vs Repository TU Delft

*Infringement of copyright policies is possible in specific circumstances due to the interpretations of the legal framework by staff-members of TU Delft Library

Openness and interoperability
TU Delft research support  is often asked by researchers already using ResearchGate or Academia.edu why they should use the TU Delft repository instead (or as well). ‘Why can’t the library just take my information from ResearchGate or Academia.edu and use that to populate the institutional repository?’ The simple answer is: ResearchGate and Academia.edu do not permit their users to take their own data and reuse it elsewhere, nor do their terms of service permit the library to extract that data on the authors’ behalf.

  • ResearchGate: “Users must not misuse the Service. Misuse of the Service includes, without limitation: … automated or massive manual retrieval of other Users’ profile data (‘data harvesting’).”
  • Academia.edu: “You agree not to do any of the following: … Attempt to access or search the Site, … through the use of any engine, software, tool, agent, device or mechanism (including spiders, robots, crawlers, data mining tools or the like).”

Interestingly, ResearchGate permits you to import publications from other applications, but provides no method for getting that same data out of the ResearchGate ecosystem (well, not without some creative acrobatics). Similarly, Academia.edu previously supported import, but now makes it impossible to bring data in or out of their system. Institutional repositories, on the other hand, are largely committed to complete openness and re-use of data. They make their metadata – the information about what’s in the repository – interoperable and open by using standards like OAI-PMH. PubMedCentral, ArXiv, are all OAI-PMH providers. These kinds of activities make open access repositories good places for publications you want people to be able to find.

Copyrights and open access policies of funders
A frequent asked question is: "Is it allowed to share the full text of my paper on networks as ResearchGate?” Uploading the full text, being the authors version or the publishers version, is considered as making it public. If you have published your paper in a journal you should check the publisher’s conditions for reuse. The best place to do so is the SHERPA/RoMEO database. ResearchGate attempts to do an automatic check on this database but if you want to be sure better check yourself. Many of the publications that are available through ResearchGate are actually uploaded illegally in terms of publisher open access policy.

Putting a copy of your paper on ResearchGate will not mean that you are compliant with the Open Access policy of TU Delft or funder policies as designed by Horizon2020 or NWO.  On the contrary, you may be in breach of publisher policy which means that you still need to upload a copy of your paper to TU Delft Repository (via PURE).

Long-term preservation and access
Open access repositories are managed by universities. The affiliation with a larger institution (with a public service mission) means that repositories as Repository TU Delft are likely to be around for a long time. They employ librarians and data specialists who specialize in ensuring long term archiving. Academia.edu and ResearchGate are independent for-profit companies that could theoretically close up shop at any time. Both sites disavow any duty to warn users if they shut down:

  • Academia.edu “reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to discontinue or terminate the Site and Services and to terminate these Terms, at any time and without prior notice.”
  • ResearchGate “reserves the right to change, reduce, interrupt or discontinue the Service or parts of it at any time.”

Business models
Less theoretical is the likelihood of a shift in these sites’ profit strategy. ResearchGate and Academia.edu are commercial sites, whereas open access repositories as TU Delft are non-profits, getting their funding of the university budget. These academic social networking sites have each raised large amounts of initial funding: $17.8 million for Academia.edu, and $35 million for ResearchGate. They share funders with Uber, Snapchat, and Upworthy. This isn’t particularly notable for a startup company, but it’s unusual for an “academic” site.

Use of your contacts and personal data
ResearchGate and Academia.edu don’t have a lot in common with open access repositories, but they do have a lot in common with other social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. They even encourage users to connect those and other services and contacts to their ResearchGate and Academia.edu accounts – sometimes aggressively.

Part of Academia.edu’s account setup process automatically tries to connect to a user’s Facebook account. If the user is signed in to Facebook, a pop up appears, saying “Academia.edu will receive the following info: your public profile, friend list, email address, work history and education history.” The options for moving past this screen are “Find Facebook Friends,” “Back,” or “I don’t have a Facebook account.” No “No Thanks” or “Skip this step” – you have to fib or fork over your data.

Both sites have a long list of possible types of email notifications, all of which can be turned off, and all of which appear to be turned on as a default.

Open access repositories are not social networking sites. Users can search for work by a particular author, but authors can’t build a friend or collaborator list, and usually can’t manage a profile page. The success of ResearchGate and Academia.edu demonstrate that this is a functionality that scholars find valuable.

The fine print
Whenever you sign up for a service, it’s a good idea to read the Terms of Use. Academia.edu’s terms give the company a license to make derivative works (like translations?) based on articles users upload to the site “in connection with operating and providing the Services and Content to you and to other Members.” ResearchGate’s terms include an agreement to have the user’s relationship with the company be governed by German law. And both sites have an indemnification clause, asserting that if the site faces any legal claims arising from things users upload to the site, the user will bear the cost.

Ok, great. But really: what should I use?
In the end, both types of services have unique offerings, and both likely hold some value for researchers. Academic social networking sites, such as ResearchGate or Academia.edu, might be valuable when trying to find others in your field conducting related research, or for providing access to your papers to those people you know use the site.

The value provided by the institutional repository, however — particularly the long-term preservation and commitment to open access, should be emphasized. Until some public commitment has been made, it should not be assumed that the other services provide this, and they will not be considered open access repositories that meet the requirements of participating in TU Delft open access policies.

If your colleagues find a social networking site useful and you can manage the email notification settings, that site might be worth your time. If the typical behavior of commercial social networking sites bothers you – gathering users’ information for their own purposes – be as wary of those that target academics as you are of those with a more general audience. Whether or not you decide these social networking sites are right for you, remember that institutional repositories  enable you to share your research widely without trying to mine your address book. If you’re not already using TU Delft repository, take a few minutes to check out the services available to you who offer similar tools for broadening access to your publications, but who have no interest in making a profit from your work.

If you have any questions, please contact Just de Leeuwe

*Courtesy of University of California, Wageningen University, University Exeter

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