The academic Twittersphere, Facebook-sphere, and Other-spheres have been abuzz lately with concerns over the nature of academia.edu, and rightfully so. Even though it is a .edu site, it is a for-profit enterprise, and this fact has been most explicitly revealed in recent weeks via its proposal to charge scholars to promote their papers on the site, much like the same option for posts on Facebook. See this article at the Chronicle, as well as this from Duke University Libraries. Many academics now are supporting the #DeleteAcademiaEdu movement, and my good friend Lucy says it most brilliantly in her recent blog post on the matter, describing it as “a medium that seeks to profit from a desperate desire for career progression, and that is willing to swap endorsements for cash.” Spot-on, if you ask me.
But the flip side to this is perhaps best illustrated in an interaction I had yesterday on the site. I received a message from an individual with the museum at Stoke-on-Trent in the UK, asking me if I could help them with the identification of an Etruscan cinerary urn in their collections, acquired back in 1842 and published in 1874. And I could. In the last 24 hours I’ve been able to provide the museum with additional documentation and publication history on the object, and simultaneously, I learned about another terracotta urn of the type I focused on in my dissertation. Without this information available online via my academia.edu profile, this would not have happened, and neither I, nor the museum would have been able to make these small, but important research breakthroughs.
In sum, I’m torn. And I feel the same way about Facebook. I love the way these sites can help folks connect and stay in touch with each other, but the fact that they are commercial enterprises that walk a fine, often ignored line of ownership over user-generated content is pretty creepy and, in some cases, unethical. I am a huge supporter of open access in scholarly research, and with the exception of my article freely available from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to which I provide a link, I will not upload any of my papers to academia.edu. However, having searchable citations in this hub has helped me make personal and professional connections.
I know I can’t have it both ways, and I think at some point I will end up deleting my profile, but for now, as an early-career scholar, it does help.