The occasional reader may think, “what is so difficult in understanding OpenAccess?”, but the problem is not the idea per se, it is more the realization. At first some facts: The old school publishing system has only around 50M paper total, most of them are hidden behind paywalls, and the quality of research is too low. So OpenAccess and similar aspirations were founded to overcome the problem. Some of the newly invented products are working very good, other not.
It is sad, but “academic social networks” are in the last category. In theory, Researchgate and Academia.edu are the best invention since sliced bread but in reality nobody is happy with them. Well established researcher on a subject with dozens of publications are complaining on reddit, that they get lots of spam mails from Researchgate from coauthors, who themself never have send out any of these e-mails. But the novice user to a social academic network is also unhappy with the service, because his uploaded content is not visible in Google Scholar. So at the end, nobody profits today from social networks.
But what is the problem? Technical the online-plattforms are well designed. They are tailored exactly to the purpose of reading and uploading scientific research. Even a bibliographic database runs in the background, and the categories and discussions groups were the scientists can debate over hot topics makes sense. Unfortunately the user makes mistakes …
To go more into the details it is important to compare social academics networks, with a very successful example of the web 2.0 which also has science-knowledge in mind: Wikipedia. This websites has only 20k regularly authors who are writing articles. The total number is compared to the members of Academia.edu which has 50M very small. But, Wikipedia is widely known and has a lot of unique content, and what is more important: Wikipedia is used also by non-academics.
So we have on one hand, the social academics networks, which are likes by nobody and which are for daily work useless because Google Scholar is by far the better search engine for academic content and on the other hand we have wikipedia, which is very successful with little invested manpower.
One possible explanation might be, that Wikipedia uses the wiki-syntax, while academic social networks are PDF file based. Another explanation might be, the the research-community works different from an encyclopaedia. Honestly, I’m not sure what the reason is.
OpenAccess advocates like Richard Price (CEO of Academia.edu) claims that it is only a question of time. In 5 years, Academia.edu will be the major platform for scientific exchange. But perhaps he is wrong, perhaps in 5 years, most of the remaining scientists have done a removal https://www.reddit.com/r/AskAcademia/comments/5rvo9a/should_we_all_delete_our_academiaedu_account_now/ But what could be the alternative for scholary communication? The alternative would be the old-fashion way which was used in the past (traditional book publisher and academic journals). The only transition which is working today is the change in direction of OpenAccess. Most of the universities are convinced that this is a good idea. Only a minority believes in paywalls. Academia.edu and Researchgate are going one step further. They not only claim, that papers should be free, they also say that traditional publishers are obsolete. And here is the controversy point. Apparently they are two positions available.
According to my knowledge, currently there is a pro OpenAccess but contra-academicsocial networks consensus between scientists. 100% of them agree, that publishing under openaccess is a good idea (mostly of them do exactly this), and 100% would also agree, that Researchgate is only a spam-centrifugal without practical benefit.
The reason number #1 why so many academics are using academic social networks is because they want to spread their papers as wide as they can. They see Researchgate not as an academic social networks, where they can interact with colleagues, but as a filehoster for increased visibility in Google scholar. The same paper which is hosted on Researchgate is also available on the homepage of their university, in the archive of another repository, at Academia.edu and so on. So the science-community is using the networks mostly as a backup tool like dropbox, but not with this purpose in mind what it was original created.
Instead of explaining how to overcomes todays problems, I want to give an outlook what will happen in future. If the trends are going further, the old publishing companies and universities will gain much attraction. Names like Elsevier, Harvard, Arxiv and M.I.T. are the bright stars in future publishing attempts and network building. With openscience has this nothing to do. It is the opposite. Future Academics will be more restricted than todays.
This brings us to the remaining question: how would openscience look like in future? Probably it has no future. Wikipedia will be extended a little bit with the possibility to publish research papers, but it’s more likely that openscience will not happen at all. That means, that the society remains divided: in 1 million researcher worldwide which are extremely well educated and working in paid jobs where they are writing papers to the current research questions. And on the other hand we will get 7 billion people without any academic background. Instead their daily activity is reduced to uploading videos to youtube and establishing livestreams in twitch.tv where they are sharing ingame-content with the world. This sad projection has the highest probability, because even today we have the same situation in the engagement in Wikipedia. 20k diligent wikipedia authors are creating the content for the whole world. So 99,9% of mankind never wrote any sentence in an online encyclopedia and likewise they will never publish any academic paper.
From this pessimistic standpoint, Academia.edu with his 50M users today is a bit oversized and even Researchgate with 10M users is to big. Worldwide there is only a need for not more than 1M scientists and 5 major academic book publishers. They are using classical peer-review which takes at least 2 years and they accept paper only if the APC charge was paid in advance. The sad news is, that with 1M academics plus 20k Wikipedians is is possible to deliver much more scientific content to the world, as they can ever read. I’m in doubt that with openscience and Academic social networks this situation can be improved.
The apprehension is, that Openscience and academic social networks are only a good wish. It is not a bottom up approach where million of people are interested in academics and want to upload something, but it is more an utopian project where the hope is, that the world can be transformed to something which is more educated. The reason why Academia.edu published no information about unique content which is uploaded there and which was written by amateur scientists is because these amateurs are not existing. If even Wikipedia is not capable to attract milion of authors worldwide for improving the website, it is impossible for Academia.edu and Co to motivate ordinary people for writing science-papers.