Academia is useful for networking. I have been exploring other disciplines recently, as well as the archaeology of regions outside of my specialty, and I've made some useful contacts through Academia.edu, and I've found some useful papers posted. I don't use Academia.edu like Facebook to be "friends" with a bunch of people. On Academia, you elect to "follow" people, but the relationship is not reciprocal. I only "follow" a few people, mainly interesting scholars in fields distant from my own. I get a notice when people sign up to "follow" me, and I usually look at their pages to see if they are someone I might want to know about (I've met a couple of interesting people this way).
Here are some things I like and dislike about Academia.edu:
- It is easy to set up a page, and to modify and update your page.
- It is fairly easy to post papers.
- You can post "status updates." These are sort of like tweets (short statements), but perhaps less intrusive.
- Academia.edu pages and papers turn up very high on Google searches. Academia tracks these cases, and you can see how people are searching and how they find your stuff. There must be lots of term papers about Gordon Childe and the urban revolution, since my paper on that topic turns up in lots of Google searches. I learn interesting things, such as:
Two days ago: "48 people from Finland and Sweden found your page on Google and Yahoo with the keywords: "Foundations of Social Archaeology. Selected Writings of V. Gordon Childe", "+spiro interpretation +"the grid" +"grand manner " -book -bok", and "+"the grid" +"grand manner " -book -bok" and 45 more."
- Papers are posted using scribd. This is an awkward interface, both for posting and particularly for viewing and downloading. One's papers are not listed in a convenient format.
- There is no way to link dynamically to blogs. I would think that the kind of people who might follow me on Academia.edu might be interested in my blogs. I have generic static links on my "about" page, but I can't get dynamic linkages to current posts.
- There is a "news feed" when I visit the site. Some of this is activity by people I follow, but most is not. These must be second-order linkages, or people who follow me, I don't know. Some of this information is useful, but there is far, far too much junk that I don't care about. It's nice that people are posting papers on weird and obscure topics, but if they are not MY weird and obscure topics, I'd rather not have to wade through this stuff while looking for something that I might be interested in.
- People can post generic questions, that others can respond to. This is a good idea, but the format in which these are listed in the news feed prevents rapid checking of whether the question or answers are of interest or not. I usually assume the latter.
Intellectual Aspects: Pro
- Academia.edu is an excellent way for students to set up a quick website and establish an online presence (posting papers, research interests, activities, etc.)
- It is easy to include links to your main website, or other places.
- There is a nice element of serendipity in finding odd interesting things.
Intellectual Aspects: Con
- There doesn't seem to be a way to form interest groups, like on the Open Anthropology Cooperative. This feature could provide a solution to the problem of junk in the news feed.
Use by Departments
I'm not sure what to think about this. I've seen cases when a large number of people in a department all sign up at the same time, probably in response to some central call to action. This could be an answer to one or both of the big problems with academic departmental webpages. The first problem is outdated pages. Departments don't have the resources or expertise to maintain their websites, and most examples are out of date. Don't you hate it when you visit someones university website to see what they are up to, only to find that their latest publication listed dates to 2006? Also, some departments have website nazis who control and restrict information to the detriment of scholarship. Having pages on Academia.edu can get around bottlenecks like this.
It's less clear to me whether Academia.edu can address the second big problem in academic websites: the lack of posted papers and information. It is easy to post your papers on Academia.edu, whereas it can be a hassle on a centralized academic website. But the root cause of the problem is apathy by faculty members (and grad students). Most people simply don't want to take the time to post their papers. When that is the case, having a site on Academia.edu is not going to change things.
I think that if I was a faculty member, or better yet a project or research group, trying to set up a website more accessible and updatable than an unwieldy departmental site, I might start a site using a Wiki platform. When the website for one of my projects got too unwieldy and complicated, we moved it to a Wiki, which is easily updatable by anyone on the project - you can see it here.). But that isn't the purpose of Academia.edu.
I don't know why any graduate students would NOT want to establish a page on Academia.edu, and I think it is useful for others to do so also. Look at it as a courtesy to your colleagues. If your departmental webpage is not what you want or need, then set up a page on Academia.edu. I happen to have a responsive and efficient department website, and I maintain my own university site. My usage of Academia.edu continues to be experimental, but the more people who join, the more useful it will be.