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Open Access and Academic Social Networks

What’s the difference between ResearchGate,, and the institutional repository?

ResearchGate and are social networking platforms whose primary aim is to connect researchers with common interests. Users create profiles on these services, and are then encouraged to list their publications and other scholarly activities, upload copies of manuscripts they’ve authored, and build connections with scholars they work or co-author with. However, like Facebook or LinkedIn both services are commercial companies whose business model depends on user data. They are not operated by research institutions as in case of institutional repositories, and not curated by library professionals who will check every uploaded item and ensure that making them publicly available does not violate any copyrights.

Open Access repositories

Open access repositories come in two basic flavors:

  • Institutional repositories are generally library-run websites that enable authors to upload a version of their manuscripts for public “open access” display. At WU it's ePubWU. The primary aim of institutional repositories is to make the scholarly outputs of the university as widely available as possible and to ensure long-term preservation of these outputs.

  • Subject-based repositories collect publications in a particular discipline or a range of disciplines, so that authors in a field can share and solicit feedback on their work from colleagues in that field, regardless of where they work.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the major differences between these two kinds of services:

Insitutional repositoriesAcademia.eduResearchGate
Supports exchange with other systemsYesNoNo
Long-term preservationYesNoNo
Business modelNonprofitCommercial. Sells job posting services. Hopes to sell data.Commericial. Sells ads, job posting services
Sends you lots of emails (by default)NoYesYes
Wants your address bookNoYesYes
Fulfills requirements of institutional or funder policiesYesNo (!)No (!)

What should I use?

In the end, both types of services have unique offerings, and both likely hold some value for researchers. Academic social networking sites, such as ResearchGate or, might be valuable when trying to find others in your field conducting related research, or for providing access to your papers to those people you know use the site.

The value provided by the institutional repository, however — particularly the long-term preservation and commitment to open access, should not be overlooked. Whether or not you decide these social networking sites are right for you, remember that institutional repositories enable you to share your research widely without trying to mine your address book. If you’re not already using ePubWU or another open access repository, take a few minutes to check out the services available to you, at no charge, from organizations who offer similar tools for broadening access to your publications, but who have no interest in making a profit from your work.

*UPDATE: ScholarlyHub is a recent initiative to build a nonprofit academic social network. From November 2017 until Juli 2018 a crowdfunding campaign takes place.

This article was originally authored by Katie Fortney and Justin Gonder (University of California Office of Scholarly Communication) and reused with some changes under the terms of Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For original article please see "A social networking site is not an open access repository".