Saturday, April 23, 2011

How useful is ?

I've been on for a year or two now. Sometimes I am on the site several times a week, sometimes not at all. I initially joined as an experiment, and I have gained some things from it. A number of people have asked my opinion, so here it is. You should know that I am not an active user of Facebook, and I don't have a Twitter account; thus I can't really compare to the main social media sites.

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, and I've found some useful papers posted. I don't use 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

Mechanics: Pro

  • 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.
  • 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:
Today:  "45 people from United States found your page on Google, Bing, and Yahoo with the keywords: "ancient places starting with", "how did the military expansion of the aztecs impact their society", and "the expansion of urban commercial centers in the Aztec Empire

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."

Mechanics: Con:

  • 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 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
  • 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 can get around bottlenecks like this.

It's less clear to me whether can address the second big problem in academic websites: the lack of posted papers and information. It is easy to post your papers on, 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 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

I don't know why any graduate students would NOT want to establish a page on, 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 I happen to have a responsive and efficient department website, and I maintain my own university site. My usage of continues to be experimental, but the more people who join, the more useful it will be.


RawheaD said...

I started using it in hopes of using it as an outlet for gray literature (conference papers, interim reports, my dissertation); stuff that people tend to cite, but can be next to impossible for other people to get a hold of.

If (1) everyone did the same and (2) the site is able to sustain itself, I think would be a valuable resource based solely as a repository for such works.

ArchAsa said...

I also use it mainly as an easy and convenient way to upload papers and links to publications. And I have gotten a few responses and found a few interesting people to follow I might not otherwise have heard of. But you're list is excellent of the pros and cons. I also miss a way to integrate my blog and/or Twitterfeed. And the Newsroll is too cumbersome. If there was an easier way to just see updates of journals I follow it would be better.

As it is I barely have time for another networkning activity online, but I will kepp using and linking to Academia and hopefully it will get more usable as more people sign up. It's better than ResearchGATE at least...

William Gunn said...

Thanks for that analysis, Michael. I hope you don't mind me dropping in here to mention Mendeley; I think it might serve your purposes a little better.

Mendeley isn't explicitly designed as a social network, but as a way to manage your research paper collection and easily cite and format bibliographies in your word processor. You can have a profile on Mendeley as well, and you don't have to fill out a bunch of information or use a third-party site like Scribd (which makes people register with them just to download your paper). With Mendeley, you just drop your papers in the special "My Publications" folder and they automatically appear on your public profile, directly linked as PDFs or .doc files from your profile. This makes them easily indexable by Google Scholar or by people searching Mendeley's research catalog. You can get better stats reports from Mendeley, too, showing you how the readership of your papers has grown over time and such. You can't see the search terms your paper showed up for, but I hear that's being worked on. I think blog integration would be a great addition to Mendeley profiles as well. One neat thing Mendeley allows you to do is to easily embed your profile on other sites. You can get a little customizable code snippet that you can paste anywhere you can put HTML to show your papers and other profile info. If you're looking for grey lit, like RawheaD mentioned, Mendeley is probably your best bet.

With regards to the serendipity and discovery angle, Mendeley does only show you updates from people you've specifically chosen to follow and it uses groups to limit the chatter to focused subjects.

So go take a look and see if Mendeley might serve your purposes a little better. If nothing else, you can host your papers directly there, without artificial barriers to downloading them and so they show up properly in Google Scholar, for anyone searching there. If you have further questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Anonymous said...

i deleted mine months ago

Michael E. Smith said...

@William Gunn - Well, here I must admit embarrasingly that I am among the Mendeley-challenged. I have no excuse, particularly since my research group is using the program. So I will use this as the stimulus to get going on Mendelay, and see how it goes. Thanks for the comments.

Judith Weingarten said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this. My papers all appear in Scribd as well as downloadable as pdf (I'm not sure if that is because I've uploaded them as pdf, or it's standard).
I think the site is particularly useful for interdisciplinary connections -- which are awfully difficult in real life -- and as a way to follow younger scholars whose work would not necessarily be on your reading list.
May I suggest you forward the link to this post to at the bottom of the news page they ask for comments. Yours are excellent.

Matt said...

I find it most useful for keeping up with publications by scholars/journals outside of my own field. I don't get a whole lot else out of it.

Adrian Myers said...

Thanks Michael for the excellent summary, I agree with your assessment.

I recently spent several months testing, followed by a test of SelectedWorks (

I ended up deleting my page in favor of the SelectedWorks page. There are two central reasons for this:

1) SelectedWorks is easier to use and the interface is smoother (both for me and for visitors to my site)

2) But MORE importantly, restricts downloading of PDFs to people with account logins. Though of course it is free to create an account, I'm sure that this extra step blocks some people from downloading papers.

A couple other reasons:

3)I don't find the "stats" and "keywords" of all that useful. At first, I admit, I was intrigued to see that people were searching for my work. After I got used to the idea, those emails announcing that someone had looked at my paper became just another round of spam (and yes, I know you can customize the emails settings).

4) Personally, I don't want an interactive, social media style experience around academic papers. I want my papers to be easily accessible to anyone who wants them, free of charge (and I want the same access to YOUR papers!) - that's where it ends for me. I am 29 years old and I can already see the distance growing between me and the next generation of electronics and communication, as I have little use for Twitter, Facebook, etc. My email address is easily available to anyone who knows how to use Google, so I prefer to just be contacted that way. Obviously this makes me a Luddite to some, but I don't think this is quite the same as if I said something like "no email, just snail mail me", since email (my preferred method of communication) does travel at the speed of light - which is fast enough for me!

5)I could have of course kept both sites, but I like to have a well-ordered web presence, so one site seems appropriate.


Anonymous said...

honestly, all the blogs, facebooks, academia.edus, etc. are making me feel like I am lost in academia with no direction or, at least, making me recognize that I had no anticipation of this direction

Michael E. Smith said...

@Adrian- Good observations. I hadn't thought previously about the fact that people who are NOT members of cannot download papers. I've never thought it was an ideal repository, or pseudo-repository, but it does seem useful for students and others as a place to post papers.

Selected works is another kind of thing, more of a repository. I'm not sure how exclusive they are. They want departments to pay for a subscription, but they will allow individuals to sign up.

I use both services. As opposed to the surfeit of junk in the Academia newsfeed, SelectedWorks is more minimalist. I have had some queries with email notifications (on SelectedWorks) for over a year, and I have gotten precisely ZERO useful citations from this source (and few overall notifications).

Anonymous said...

I think that originally anyone could access papers on without having an account. This restriction - that only signed-up members can view papers - is a relatively recent development (possibly because some users have been asking for enhanced privacy features?).

I find it especially good for discovering people in other fields with shared interests.

Anastasia Tsaliki said...

I have an account and it has helped me to find people I've heard of or have read their papers and I'm interested in their work. However, I find the paper posting online system and interface kind of fussy and I prefer to post my papers on the minimalistic Selectedworks. Then, I just update my status on stating that I've posted the so and so paper on that URL. This saves me having to post everything twice, but ensures I have a presence on both sites.

andrea raimondi said...

try Mendely

Anonymous said...

Hello, I find your article very helpful, but I just have a question for you or for other Academia users. Do you think that it is safe to publish a paper there? And if a paper is published on Academia, will it be considered as a published academic paper? I really want to know the answer to this as I'm about to start my PHD program and I need to have some of my papers published. Thank you

Michael E. Smith said...

@Anonymous- does not "publish" papers in the senses of providing peer review and/or making them available in a recognized venue with a history of publication on a topic. People can POST papers to, whether or not they have been published elsewhere. For a scholar, publication in a peer-review venue should be the first priority, and then making those published papers available for others (e.g., through is the next priority. Most people avoid posting original research on the internet until they have had a chance to publish it in a recognized journal or book or internet venue.

LogoGuts said...

For a scholar, publication in a peer-review venue should be the first priority, and then making those published papers available for others (e.g., through is the next priority. Most people avoid posting original research on the internet until they have had a chance to publish it in a recognized journal or book or internet venue.

sanahwinari said...

thanks michael.. that impres me. you got a nice analysis..

Kermit Thefrog said...

Everybody here seems to me to completely miss the point. Academics publish because they are required to publish in order to reach tenure. I ASSUME that anything published in Academia will not count towards that. In addition, a peer-reviewed paper is going to be fact checked. Is there some kind of peer-review process involved in this site that will ensure that bogus content is not running rampant? If not, what good would a citation be? Numerous other questions that need to be answered. What about papers that have been published in regular journals. Can they be uploaded to without infringing on copyrights?

Duana said...

Do you know if there is any way to find out if your papers have been quoted or used outside of

Michael E. Smith said...

@Duana - If I understand you properly, the answer is Google Scholar. There are other programs for tracking citations (e.g., Web of Science), but Google Scholar is the best source, with the most citations tracked.

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