I don’t know how long I’ve been loading papers to academia.edu. Four or five years, I would guess. Possibly more, but not much. The website went public in 2008, but I doubt I used it during its first year. I liked it from the start: It gives me a place online for papers and chapters that aren’t getting much notice, someplace I can direct people to if they are interested in my work. It allows me to judge what the reactions to my work might be–by the available number of views, at least. It also lets me keep tabs on what others are doing, either people I “follow” or who are working in categories I have selected.
Last January, I received a mass email from Richard Price, the website’s founder:
I’m the founder of Academia.edu. I wanted to invite you to beta test our new feedback feature: “Sessions”.
When you upload a paper, you’ll have the option to create a private Session around your paper. People whom you follow, and who follow you back (mutual followers) will be able to provide feedback on your paper. The Session lasts 20 days. Here’s an example Session: https://www.academia.edu/s/b2e796fba7e2dd5e44751e9cabbf772c
We’d love for you to test this feature out with us. If you’re interested in getting feedback or thoughts on something you’ve written, you can use the upload link to add a paper and then create a Session.
Upload to create a session: https://www.academia.edu/upload-a-paper
In my usual pompous and obtuse fashion (no one can accuse me of being an “early adopter” of anything), I responded:
It sounds like a good feature, but not like something I would use. I only put up papers once they have been published, at which point I no longer want feedback. I would be hesitant to upload a paper for public comment before publication, even if limited to people I follow.
Were I at a different point in my career, I probably would use this feature. Now, quite frankly, I haven’t the time to utilize what could be a useful function and I only work on projects where I already have a contract–and would worry that work meant to be confidential for the publisher might become public too early. That’s frustrating for me, for I do like the idea.
Good luck with it, but I think I have to pass for now.
I hadn’t looked into it, didn’t know that it is not necessarily public comment that is involved–there’s an invitation system. I was simply being a snob.
A few months later, however, I did decide to give it a try. In the meantime, I had been invited to comment on a couple of papers and had done so. The process, I found, is intriguing and possibly useful for the writer. For one thing, like the comment feature in Microsoft Word, it allows for linking comments to specific passages. So, I wanted to find out for myself. I uploaded a paper needing revision and invited relevant academia.edu members to comment.
The comments proved useful. I was an idiot to have dismissed the feature.
Two days ago, on Nature’s website, Price answered questions about the Sessions feature. His description of the feature is quite interesting, as are some of his comments, including this:
Our motivating question was: how do our users get feedback directly from their peers? You could argue that Sessions is a peer-review experience: all the people participating are academic peers in a room, but it’s not mediated by an editor or a journal. It’s mediated by a network, and people are just joining because they see the content.
I do think that it’s important to be innovating with peer review. And the line between feedback and peer review is very blurry. We’ll see how it goes.
When academia.edu recently contacted me about participating in another new feature, this one allowing selected scholars to recommend papers to the broader academia.edu community, I agreed immediately.
We don’t know, of course, what the impact of sites like this will be over the long run. I don’t want to seem too much the cheerleader, but I am encouraged by attempts such as these to break the logjambs of peer review and even of citation. Academia.edu isn’t the only one (Mendeley is another, though one owned by Elsevier, one of the proponents of proprietary–and not open–scholarship) experimenting in this area, but it is certainly worth paying attention to.