Thoughts on academic social media websites

In recent years there have been numerous social media websites introduced geared towards academics. Many of these are aiming to become a ‘Facebook for researchers’, with varying degrees of success. I find this interesting, so I tend to sign up for sites when I become aware of them. I thought I’d summarise my thoughts on all of the ones I’m aware of, partly because several people have asked me about them, but also to make it easier to keep track of them all myself!

Academia.edu                                            Rating: 4/5 Worth a go

Probably the most widely used, and also the most similar to Facebook. You create a profile and populate it with your publication list, as well as job history, talks etc. You can ‘follow’ other researchers, and see their updates in a feed. I found the process of manually adding publications fairly straightforward, whereas the automated method was poor, probably because I have a fairly high frequency name. One unique feature is that it tells you if someone has searched Google and then clicked on your profile. This happens occasionally, and it’s interesting to see the search terms used and the searcher’s location.

Biomed Experts                                           Rating 3/5 OK

One of the earliest websites I signed up to, and still going. It is interesting, as it creates profiles by using an algorithm to group PubMed entries which appear to be by the same person. You can then claim your profile, and fix any errors. A huge advantage of this is that it automatically adds new publications as they come out, and it also suggests relevant papers you might find interesting (much more successfully than other websites). It makes pretty, if pointless, network diagrams of people who collaborate with each other. I sometimes find it hard to tell if other people have actually signed up, or if their profiles are just auto-generated.

ResearchGate                                               Rating: 2/5 Waste of time

Kind of a mixture of the previous two websites. It calculates ‘impact points’, which turn out to be just the impact factor (from 2009) of the journal an article was published in. It adds these up for a ‘total impact’, and averages them too. Not terribly useful, and doesn’t do anything better than an alternative.

IAmScientist                                                 Rating: 1/5 Not worth it

Again, similar to the above three sites, with little to make it stand out. I actually don’t know anyone else on this one, and there doesn’t seem to be a mechanisms for ‘connecting’ with other people. There used to be a horrendous bug in the publication searching feature where it would add thousands of unwanted papers, which were then difficult to remove. Hopefully they’ve sorted that out by now. Possibly created by a non-native English speaker, as there are various peculiar turns of phrase (such as “Manage you publications”).

SciLink                                                           Rating: 1/5 Gone anyway

A primitive version of the above websites. It seems to have disappeared entirely, so I assume the founders went bankrupt. Basically the same concept, but with virtually no subscribers (I knew no one else on there). Also the founder of the site had a weird habit of trawling through message boards and leaving asinine comments, presumably to try and ‘stimulate conversation’, or maybe to make it look like someone gave a shit. Seemed to be ad-funded. Can’t say I’ve missed it.

NeuroTree                                                     Rating: 4/5 Simple, original, cool

A clever and informative ‘family tree’ for neuroscience researchers, with around 36000 people added. It shows who your academic ‘parents’ (PhD and postdoc supervisors) and ‘children’ (students) are, and goes back several generations. It’s pretty heavily dominated by vision researchers. You can update your own, or other people’s information, and add new people too, alive or dead. There is a feature for calculating the distance between two people, or find your nearest Nobel prize winner. Similar things exist for other disciplines, such as the famous Erdös number for mathematicians.

ResearcherID                                                  Rating: 3/5 Alright

Not exactly a networking website, this is Thompson’s tool for keeping track of citations to all your publications. Originally it was invite-only, but now anyone can sign up. You locate your papers in Web of Knowledge/Web of Science, assuming you have an institutional subscription. Subsequent papers have to be added manually through the same process. It then counts your cites, produces a pretty graph and tells you your H-index. Used to be the best way of doing this, but has since been eclipsed by Google Scholar (see below).

There is a nice feature for producing a ‘badge’ to stick on your website, to ‘pimp your H’. My main dislike is the continuous signing in process that it seems to insist on. Often I just want to see the ‘public’ version of my profile, without signing in. However, if it detects that you have previously signed in on the machine you’re using, it forces you to go through the laborious (and often malfunctioning) Shibboleth/Athens sign in rigmarole. This is such a pain, I usually don’t bother.

Google scholar citations                                     Rating: 5/5 Great

Very similar to ResearcherID, but it works better. Setting the whole thing up took literally under a minute – it found all my papers with only one false positive, which was easily discarded. It automatically adds new papers within a few days of being published. It’s more inclusive for citations, as it indexes the whole of the internet, rather than Thomson’s more limited database. This means my H-index is slightly higher than in ResearcherID. You can add your co-authors if they’re signed up too, and because it’s Google it’s free, and doesn’t require endless sign ins. The only thing I can think of to improve it would be a facility to ‘follow’ other people’s citations and H-index. This sort of exists, but it’s for email notifications – I’d prefer a summary on a web page instead. Otherwise, it’s great – Google have really outdone themselves with this and their journal citation tool (see my previous post).

Microsoft Academic Search (beta)                    Rating: 2/5 Not worth it

Essentially a poor copy of the previous two sites. Records are auto-generated, and (in my case) wildly wrong. You don’t claim your own profile (as with BioMed Experts), instead you submit change requests on your, or anyone else’s, profile. These then have to be approved, so they take around a week to go live. Calculates H-index, but seems to miss about 50% of legitimate cites from what I can make out. Hopefully it will get better, but I don’t see what it adds to any of the others.

Labome.org                                                           Rating: 1/5 Pointless

I stumbled across this the other day. It appears to be just a list of publications, which is mostly correct for me but has a few missing. I don’t see what it’s for, there’s no way to ‘join’ or actually do anything with the information. Not even sure how to pronounce it – is it ‘ome’ to rhyme with ‘dome’, or a contracted version of “Lab of me”? Possibly an oblique scheme for hawking antibodies, as Labome.com seems to be a company that sells the same thing as lots of other companies who spam me all the time. They are the science version of “Canadian pharmacies” selling viagra.

Facebook

With lots of these websites trying to be like Facebook, part of me thinks, why bother? Facebook already exists, and virtually everyone who owns a computer already has an account. So, if you want to interact with your colleagues, maybe ask them something, why not do it on Facebook? In practise, this happens quite a lot these days – people post about conferences, plug their papers, ask each other questions. Google+ also seems to have a fair number of people I know through work (more than non-work friends actually), and so that’s had some work-related chat recently. Of course, there’s no way of showing off all your papers, but you can always add a link to your website for anyone interested.

I guess I’d be surprised if many of these websites are still around in 5 years. They are trying to fill a gap that doesn’t really exist, and most of them aren’t doing it particularly well.

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11 Responses to Thoughts on academic social media websites

  1. I’m irritated by the fact that several of these websites automatically create a (usually incorrect) profile for you and wait for you to “claim” (and presumably correct) it. i don’t want to sign up to four or five networking sites and have to monitor their additions just to guarantee that people googling me get the right information. I’m on ResearcherID (because it was the first of these sites I came across) and Google Scholar. To be honest, I really hope the invisible hand of the market sweeps away some of these copycat sites soon.

    • bakerdh says:

      Agreed. I suspect it will – the ones that aren’t backed by a large organisation just won’t make enough money to keep going (as happened with SciLink).

  2. I’ve just been asked by ResearcherID to link my profile to ORCID. Ever heard of this? Worth it?

    • bakerdh says:

      Yeah, I’ve seen it. It doesn’t really work yet, but might be useful when it does. It’s meant to be a unique author identifier. Tbh, that probably becomes less appealing the lower in frequency your name is….

      • Hehe. Yes. Not many other Craig Aaen-Stockdales out there are there? On another topic, since I left the university sector I’ve discovered that I can no longer keep my ResearcherID profile up to date (since I can’t search WoK and add papers to it). Since it will become gradually more and more out-of-date (I’m still publishing! I haven’t died!) and make me look bad in the process, I figure that’s effectively rendered it useless and GoogleScholar is the best way to go.

      • bakerdh says:

        Yes, they are needlessly restrictive about that, giving Google a clear upper hand. Maybe the ORCHID thing is a last ditch effort to get people to keep using it.

  3. Robert P. O'Shea says:

    Thanks for the advice about Google Scholar. It works a treat. I had previously invested a lot of time in Academia.edu and ResearchGate, mainly because my university’s senior managers refuse to show their own academics’ publications. My opinion is that ResearchGate is superior to Academia.edu because it makes it easy to post full-text versions of papers. I do not yet know if that is possible with Google Scholar.

    • bakerdh says:

      Hi Robert. I don’t think Google host reprints themselves, but they do often link to freely available copies in institutional repositories (e.g. the pdf link to the right of the title here: http://scholar.google.com/citations?view_op=view_citation&hl=en&user=xIDKgj8AAAAJ&citation_for_view=xIDKgj8AAAAJ:u-x6o8ySG0sC ). I’m amazed that your institution doesn’t have some sort of repository though, they’re becoming pretty much mandatory over here.

      • Robert P. O'Shea says:

        To be fair, I should have said the senior managers at my institution (and let’s be transparent here: Southern Cross University, SCU [http://www.scu.edu.au/]) refuse to show their own academics’ publications *on web pages that can be found via a search of the university’s web site*. They do maintain a list of the institution’s publications–they just do not show it to anyone.

        Instead the senior managers at SCU promote another service you could add to your review: bepress (http://www.bepress.com/). At least as far as it is implemented at SCU, it is hopeless:
        The institution has to buy into the service (I do not know how much this costs).
        Researchers cannot update their own information (it can take up to a year before new publications appear on the service).
        The information can be quite misleading (e.g., one researcher’s page shows a SCU address for a paper that was published before SCU existed).
        One cannot post pdfs of published papers (although one can post preprints).

        I’d give it a score of 1/5.

  4. Robert P. O'Shea says:

    Oh, and I love Neurotree.org. I use for fun but also to illustrate teaching in my unit in History and Philosophy of Psychology.

  5. bakerdh says:

    A minor update. It appears labome.org has turned into an open access journal called Research. The owner has sent me some rude emails asking me to remove the ‘libellous’ comments above, though it should be clear to anyone looking at the labome website that it is no longer a social media site as described above, and the post is over 2 years old anyway.

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