I confess I joined Academia.edu for the same reason I joined Facebook: my friends pressured me into it. There are also, of course, professional and philosophical arguments to be made in the scholarly online community’s favor: it’s a great way to network and share ideas outside of one’s particular department or the (to say the least) fraught world of peer review and academic publishing.
Intrinsically, idealistically, I love the idea of Academia.edu. It is a lovely idea to use a social networking model for furthering academic discovery and sharing. It builds on the essential freedoms offered by the web—free publication, a broad reach, a curated community—and enacts a model I have no philosophical quibble with, one of openness, generosity, and sharing.
All of these lovely ideals, though, come up against the more worrying reality of the academic world and our careers in the material world. I can’t be alone in feeling reluctant to share my work online, disseminating it among people who might be less than scrupulous about citation and attribution. Furthermore, many academic presses and journals will (understandably) only take on previously unpublished work, and our careers are highly dependent on publication by reputable presses and journals. The counterpoint to these concerns is stories like this one, where someone used Academia.edu precisely for its intended purpose: to share research and gain recognition beyond her institution’s own politics and perceived limitations.
These questions only highlight for me the importance of Academia.edu. Like other social media platforms, it doesn’t cause the problems of transitioning into new professional, communicative, and economic modalities, but rather illustrates some of the defining tensions of this transition. I remain reluctant to share my ideas, but this is a consequence of living in the world as it is, where fear of plagiarism and the cutthroat system of peer review and academic publication can stifle creative, original research and a generous, collaborative culture. I hope that Academia.edu is a an indication of where things are going, although at the moment professional pragmatism may still trump a full engagement in this evolution.