Academia.edu : social media and digital repository mashup

While scrolling around the internet looking for information about Eli Pariser’s TED talk, I encountered an interview with Umberto Eco from 1995 in which he discusses the distractions of being able to find too much on the internet, verses stumbling upon information in what he considers the more controlled (and curated) environment of the traditional library. The article was posted on Academia.edu, which caught my attention. Academia.edu, it turns out, is an open access digital repository for academics to post materials (published works, works in progress, or even just research topic ideas) and share them with one another. How might this software be useful to our community of educators and academics? Very, if you want to share your works in progress with like-minded researchers

The increasingly urgent battle for Open Access to academic materials has been much documented (in fact, our own Leanora Lange writes about OA often here). As subscription prices rise dramatically while library funding diminishes, we’re reaching a crisis point in terms of making new research accessible to educators and academics, who need to access academic articles in order to produce research. Academics usually are not paid to publish articles in academic journals, and so why are libraries paying such exorbitant fees to re-purchase articles written by their own faculty members (or faculty from other institutions)? To mitigate the problem, most universities now have digital repositories for their own faculty and students to deposit works in. (PocketKnowledge is TC’s answer, while Columbia uses Academic Commons.) This is a simplistic run-down of the argument, but in any case, Academia.edu is an open international digital repository not affiliated with any university–a central software anyone can join. The added perk is it also functions as a social media connector for academics with accounts: once I signed up, I quickly created a profile including my university affiliation (In this case, I had to pick one, even though I’m affiliated with multiple universities. Why can’t users pick more than one?) and added keywords describing my interests. I can also link my account to my Facebook or any of my email accounts to find my friends with existing profiles. And with that, I’m off!

For me, the most exciting aspect of logging in and starting my research was this discovery: when I typed in my research interests I discovered five authors whose works I have read who each have accounts in Academia.edu. How exciting! Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter shrink the line between pedestrian and celebrity users (or it feels that way, at least) which strikes me as one of the many features of globalized digital technologies. Academia.edu offers a similar possibility to those whose intellectual work overlaps. They allow users to “follow” other users, and their blog keeps track of “trending” in their academic vaults. For a meta-analysis of how this works, Academia.edu also has a blog. Is it as useful as it seems?  You’ll have to play around and test it to find out.