Academia.edu is a social network for academics, especially scientists, and a platform where they can self-publish their scholarly work.
The San Francisco startup thus is fulfilling the original vision of Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the web essentially to share documents and communications of these types.
“There are two huge inefficiencies in science we are trying to address,” says founder and CEO Richard Price. “The first is it takes an average of twelve months for a journal paper to get published. Or longer, in many cases.
“As a distribution system we bring the time lag down from twelve months to publishing it instantly.
“The second inefficiency is the single mode of publication form – the academic paper– this is the only one that historically has gotten credit. To get jobs and grants you have to be concerned how your resume will be perceived and that in turn depends largely on when and where you've published.”
On Academia.edu, 1.9 million papers are now available. Academics can self-publish the pre-publication version of their papers as submitted to the journals, and thereby share their work with interested parties around the world long before they officially appear in print.
This radically accelerates the process by which authors receive feedback, from the traditionally slow publishing cycle of print journals to Internet speed. “On our site, the conversation is more like what happens on the web – instantaneously,” says Price.
The types of communications can also be less formal than footnoted letters submitted for print. On Academia.edu, an author might get comments, post updates, or links to blog posts.
The site recently introduced a analytics dashboard that measures web metrics that can reveal how a paper is influencing others. “What we’re trying to do is introduce new metrics,” says Price, “like comments, downloads, followers, etc. -- credit metrics that indicate the influence a work has around the world among other scientists.”
Academic authors can share these metrics with their tenure committees or grant applications.
“We regard this as the future of science,” says Price. “There was no way to measure online influence before now.”
Price believes that his service, which is free, is fostering new connections between academics that will speed up scientific progress overall.
“Lots of scientists are finding each other on this site and collaborating. It astounds them how many people are out there interested in their work.”
About 75 percent of the scientists using the site are located overseas.
The company has had frequent contact with the White House Office of Science & Technology, which promotes greater openness in research and sharing of scientific findings, almost all of which are government-funded.
The company, which employs 12, represents a threat to the traditional academic journals, of course, but government pressure has created the option for pre-publishing these kinds of papers online.
“The journal industry is not excited by us,” Price allows. “But academics are excited – they are keen to see their work more broadly distributed.”