“Social networks for researchers” in question

Some “Social networks” for researchers use terms and conditions that are in contradiction with the will of sharing and organizing knowledge in a “libre and open-access way”. Although these platforms are potential means of communication in research communities, researchers must be aware of terms of use of these websites. In addition, researchers and institutions must ensure that their research-publication policies are in accordance with these platforms.

Few years ago, a new type of social network appears on the web, “Social networks for researchers/scientists”. For Instance, ResearchGate, Academia and BiomedExperts are originally designed as social portals. Other websites such as Mendeley have progressively introduced social services in their platforms. Utility of these websites have been questioned in diverse blog-posts, Forbes, Blogs.Nature, Presans, MyScienceWork to cite a few.

Personally, I don’t consider that the means of communication provided by these platforms are very useful. I spent very little time on these “social networks”, and prefer to explore collaborative tools for smaller networks (colleagues, collaborators, university, and communities on my research topics).

Beside the potential utility of such platforms, I would like to address in this post potential issues related to terms and conditions of these websites. In my opinion, terms of use of these websites are in contradiction with the will of sharing and organizing knowledge in a “libre and open-access way”, which is not a surprising fact. More important, is the potential conflict between terms of use of these websites and data-handling/publication/copyright policies of research institutions, when such a policy exists.

I illustrate this point with two examples of websites that were recommended to me by colleagues. Note that I do not criticize these platforms for researchers (they present some interesting innovations), but I point out some important aspects for appropriately using them.

First, the content you post on these websites is subject to a licence agreement. For instance, on Academia.edu, the content you post on the website (including abstract, papers or data) is subject to the following licence agreement (in Terms of use):
“By making available any Member Content on or through the Site or Services, you hereby grant to Academia.edu a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, view, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site or Services. Academia.edu does not claim any ownership rights in any Member Content and nothing in these Terms will be deemed to restrict any rights that you may have to use and exploit any Member Content.” (source: Academia.edu, Terms of Use)
These aspects of content rights have to be carefully considered for publishing some research results on websites.

Second, the majority of these platforms restricts or blocks the access of content to non-registered user. These restrictions apply on your list of publications, abstracts, posts or full-texts. For instance, below is a notification for the access of full-texts on ResearchGate.

Clearly, the majority of these “social networks” for researchers are not Libre or open-access platforms, they just monetize research material. Again, researchers have to consider these aspects when they provide content and spend time on these websites. More important, researchers and research institutions must ensure that their data-handling/publication/copyright policies are in accordance with these websites. It is high time for researchers to consider content rights for their research results, and for Universities and funding institutions to provide clear guidelines on research communications and data-handling.

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