Why I prefer Academia_edu over Academia_eu

It looks like 2015 will be the year when Academia_edu receives thorough scholarly attention and academic scrutiny. Guy Geltner’s post on why he left the network is an excellent overview over the debates and a workshop asking Why Are We Not Boycotting Academia.edu? took place yesterday comes with a very nice Storify summary.

The underlying topic is that science and scholarly publishing need to be ‘disrupted’ and become better, more open, free to access and proper public goods.

The debates about data privacy and platform capitalism are important, but once again, I am concerned that the vision of open and free science and publishing could do with a more nuanced reality check. I still think that
open is easier said than done and that it has a risk to create new powerful players-just not the big corporate players that are criticized wildly and rightly.

I use Academia_edu a lot, I find it very useful and with low opportunity cost and I am not keen on an alternative ‘Academia_eu’ platform that has huge risks of becoming a white elephant-an expensive, laborious, elite-institution-driven endeavor that in the end will not deliver the same quality as today’s Academia_edu features.

Academia is not as open, accessible and democratic as many observers often seem to assume
When the HAU project started, it was one of those ground-breaking endeavors to make written anthropological products accessible, affordable and part of the public domain. Recently, HAU announced the foundation of a Centre of Ethnographic Theory – with institutional affiliation to SOAS’s anthropology department in London. Led by European academics, this is an important reminder how an open and global initiative will have an institutional homebase at a somewhat elite, or at least traditional, space with European male anthropologists taking the lead.
My fear is that an alternative Academia network would be implemented in a similar way, with old, traditional libraries and institutions calling the shots and, to be very blunt: being paid well by the European taxpayer. There is a diffuse ‘but this will benefit all of us’ logic involved, but it will primarily be used to build the reputation and prestige of those actors closely involved in the creation of the network.

How useful is an alternative Academia network 3 years from now?
Let’s be honest: Once EU-funding (money from another big player) and 8 institutions in 6 countries become involved we have a pretty good idea of how things will develop: Incrementally slow, with long debates over formats, terms and governance structures. An overqualified and underpaid communication officer will try her/his best to promote the network and with the exception of a relatively small group of enthusiasts the network quickly risks to become a filter bubble for the digital humanistic avant-garde.

What about the voices from the (real) margins?

To cut a long story short, as much as I am aware of its limitations I appreciate Academia_edu as platform and global community and have doubts that academic-institution-driven ideas or alternatives will come even close to what the platform is right now and what it could achieve in the future.
I also wonder how those in the global South/developing world feel about Academia_edu and alternatives. Right now, it seems to be a pretty global platform and I wonder how alternatives would ensure that (other than pointing at the fact that everything on the Internet is globally accessible in principle...).

We will definitely have more discussions-and in the meantime I need to check my Academia profile to check when I'm finally reaching the 10,000 profile view milestone ;)!


  1. Tobias, - thanks for this. I've long been an interested observer of academia.edu since Richard Price launched it. Here's an interesting point of view: My academic career and work doesn't fit into a formal 'faculty' in any university anywhere - I'm somewhere between musical performance, musical history, art history and craft. I give visiting lectures as an 'academic' at music colleges and at craft colleges. My target audience for most of my published academic work is violin makers and other interested parties, many of whom have learned these skills entirely out of the formal academic sphere - and none at a postgraduate or university research level. But my profile has sat firmly within the top 2% of all academia profiles (apparently 27million of them), and I have something in the order of 20,000 views of my research - normally about 100 views per month entirely organically without any effort to promote my page on my part. It seems to me that this works as an extraordinarily effective way of enabling work to be shared to a wider audience than traditional journals or the academic press. Academia.edu seems to be paving the way for a very different way of sharing data, and I - for a start - am feeling the full benefits. www.oxford.academia.edu/benjaminhebbert


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