Saturday, October 6, 2012

Science network Researchgate has 2 million users

Facebook recently broke the news that it had reached the milestone of a billion active users on its network. An insanely impressive feat, indicating that one in seven earthlings is frequently found using Facebook. As social media is expanding, niche networks also grow. This is evident when looking at ResearchGate: the social network for scientists has recently broken the 2 million user milestone. While not even near Facebook's numbers, it is an impressive feat for a network that is tailored towards research only. The network also has exciting plans, hopefully leading to a transformation in scientific collaboration, participation and sharing of data.

The idea
It is not the first time that Beta Blog has written about ResearchGate: a previous piece discusses its functionality and how researchers can make use of the network to find new collaborations, share ideas and spread their data. This is an interesting concept, as science is currently still dominated by old-fashioned journals that are being released weekly or monthly, although many of them also publish online. In addition, they often require a peer-review process, which makes that publishing an article can be a cumbersome experience. The fact that ResearchGate has managed to attract 2 million scientists shows that social networking also work for science. While it is not known how many people are actually active on ResearchGate, it is clear that many scientists do make use of it, leading to new collaborations and fruitful discussions.

One of the founders of ResearchGate recently sat down with GigaOm, explaining what the network still has in store for us. One of the most interesting things to note is that ResearchGate wants to take over the role of journals, by providing a service for scientists aimed at publishing their research papers. In addition, a reputation system is currently being tested and developed, in order to indicate the impact that a scientist has on the research community. Such features would be a welcome addition, as it is known that science is largely driven by publications and their corresponding 'impact factor'.

ResearchGate will have a tough time attracting scientists to publish their papers on the network. Publications are largely dominated by powerful scientific journals, of which Nature and Science are an example. Because it is beneficial for a scientist to publish in a highly acclaimed journal, most of which charge high prices for access, publishing on ResearchGate would not yield much scientific impact or boost the researcher's status. Because scientific journals have a lot of power over the spread of scientific knowledge, it is good to challenge their position and find alternative ways to spread data.

Due to the power of the established scientific journals, users have to pay heavily for access to papers. Some journals dare to charge more than 30 dollars for access to a single publication. Because the concept of a scientific publication is to spread knowledge, ideas and results, the current situation can be regarded as perverse. Access to scientific information is restricted by journals that basically decide what is being published and this results in a very long wait before the information flows into the scientific community. Initiatives such as ResearchGate, therefore, ought to take the power away from the journals.

ResearchGate seems to be doing well and has interesting ideas to make the network more relevant in the future. Because scientific journals are hampering access to data and slowing down the spread of information, these attempts are very much welcomed. By using ResearchGate, access to information is instant and free, while the possibility to respond immediately to publications and challenge the presented data in front of the whole scientific community, is the ultimate peer review. While ResearchGate is not the only attempt to transform the archaic scientific publication system, it certainly is an interesting one.

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