Keep uploading papers to ResearchGate so its founder can pursue his beach volleyball ambitions

It is an interesting coincidence that just as I am finishing Dan Lyons’ book Disrupted-My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble (review in the New York Times, my own to follow soon), the German tech blog t3n published a ‘day in the life of…’ portrait of ResearchGate founder Ijad Madisch.

In case you do not read German:
Bill Gates golden boys day consists of talking to investors, exercising, attending a few meetings, talking to journalists and playing sports-both live and in front of his PlayStation-before talking to investors again…

As I said, I really enjoyed reading Dan Lyons book and I am sure that there is a bit of HubSpot in most digital economy companies and the portrait of Ijad Madisch is not exactly over-the-top crazy-founders can simply survive on very few hours of sleep and lots of exercise…

But there is a particular reason why this story caught my attention: Madisch never mentions the people who work for him in the entire article. No, I do not mean his hip Berlin office crew with its table tennis matches and app to select lunch options, but us, the researchers who upload their documents to his website.

While there are some unsubstantiated claims of how ResearchGate may help to cure Zika by enabling researchers to communicate results and data faster and better and a mind-boggling claim that subscribers upload 2,5 million documents EVERY.FRICKIN.MONTH (how many working papers and course syllabi are really out there?!), there is no genuine appreciation of the fact that those documents are the currency ResearchGate deals in.
Good relationships with investors and a good team spirit are important, but the scientific community is not really (re)presented as an important stakeholder-and why should it?

‘As a founder, impatience can be a strength (…); I am also good at listening to my gut instinct’ (Ijad Madisch)
I am sure that the companies PR person will have a perfectly good and polished response of how ResearchGate is contributing to a better world, but this short portrait is an important starting point for further discussions on how ‘our’ data and intellectual property is used so some start-up guy can show off to Bill Gates.

I just want to write clearly that this is not just me bashing one company: Discussions around ResearchGate’s bigger rival Academia.edu have been surfacing recently and while I do not have an account with ResearchGate I have one with Academia.edu and wrote about it recently here on the blog.
Times Higher Education
s David Matthew published a long essay last week asking Do academic social networks share academics’ interests?
 
‘Resistance is the best indicator that you are changing things’ (Ijad Madisch)
In the end, it is interesting how critical researchers, vary of ‘capitalism’ and skeptical about paying free services with data have a hard time avoiding the same pitfalls when it comes to sharing their research output.
Especially in the context of Lyons Disrupted, we should be more critical about digital economy
s promises of how they are helping the (research) community to shape a better world. This may happen ‘by accident’, but as three-in-the-morning-calling-Silicon-Valley guys like Madisch clearly show when they let their guard down is that we are selling (out) to the digital economy-and getting not much back in return…

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