Yet Another Publication List?

Cerstin Mahlow recently had a very good blog post on storing your publication list online with services such as ResearchGate, Mendeley, or Academia.edu. Cerstin expressed a preference for CiteULike, and I agree with her on that, and I also agree with the rest of her post. I’d like to add a few thoughts of my own.

There is currently a proliferation of services that include management of publication lists and/or references: Academia.edu, CiteULike, Google Scholar, Mendeley, Microsoft Academic Search, ResearcherID, Zotero, to name just a few. There are differences between these services—some offer “social” functions, while others focus on reference management proper, some are primarily for managing your own publications, while others are primarily designed for managing references—but in all cases publications play central role, and even if it’s not the primary function, there is usually some way to maintain a “profile” with a list of publications. This is hardly surprising, since these services target academics.

At some point, LinkedIn has also added “list of publications” as a profile feature. This definitely makes sense if you also want to target academic employers and job seekers. About a year ago, Mendeley was sold to Elsevier, kinda funny, since Mendeley set out to “revolutionize” publishing, and now they’re part of precisely that company that many consider to epitomize traditional publishing. Also about a year ago, ORCID was launched as a standard identifier for researchers. Initially users could just enter a minimal profile, but recently they added the possibility to also enter your list of publications into your profile. Of course this makes perfect sense, because a researcher’s profile is just not complete without a list of publications. Even more recently, last week or so, Google Scholar added a “library” for storing references, thus moving into the direction of an “all-in-one” service. Again, this makes perfect sense: If you have a Scholar profile and search for papers using Scholar Search, adding a way to store references is the logical next step.

What bothers me about this? Well, first of all, while this als makes perfect sense for the service providers, from a researcher’s view, all these new services only help to exacerbate the problem that Cerstin aptly described in her post: You end up with a multitude of publication lists to maintain and eventually many of them will be incorrect or incomplete. This clearly cannot be in the interest of researchers. What makes matters worse, is the fact that most of these services are totally clueless with respect to the actual requirements of researchers—which suggests to me that all these companies only want to rip researchers off.

Cerstin has already described some of the problems with ResearchGate: They are, for example, unable to handle edited volumes; you can’t even edit your own publications, you have to beg their support to do it. You can delete your own publications, but this does not stop them from automatically adding them back with incorrect information; they assign your publications to some other person with a similar name and other persons’ publications to you, and so on. If you ask me, ResearchGate is a total desaster. Also, a paper in a proceedings volume is not called a “proceeding,” thank you.

But Mendeley is not better. In the beginning, it only allowed for journal papers, only later support for “exotic” publication types such as books, chapters, and proceedings papers was added. The whole system is built on the extraction of metadata from PDFs—you can’t import BibTeX or anything else, why would anybody want to use this?

Or take ORCID. They have, apparently, learned very little. First of all, they deemed it necessary to create yet another place for storing your list of publications. ORCID offers two ways to add publications to your profile: “Import Works” and “Add Works Manually.” “Import Works” doesn’t allow you to import BibTeX files, God forbid! It only allows you to link to a handful of services, all of them pretty much irrelevant to me (like the Australian National Data Service Registry). As an alternative, you can type in your publication manually—yeah, right. In any case, they have not understood that researchers simply do not need yet another publication list on yet another site. And, like most such services, they attempt to lock in users by not offering an export function.

But what if all these services aren’t really intended to help researchers? Many of them are commercial, so perhaps they’re really designed for making money off other people’s work? Like Facebook, for example? Given the obvious lack of understanding for researchers’ needs, I think this is not completely unlikely. There is no free lunch, and if companies offer a service “for free,” they intend to make money in some other way. I don’t believe for a second that Elsevier bought Mendeley just to do a favor to researchers, when they otherwise have no scruples about asking ridiculous subscription rates from the same community.

The same goes for Google’s services. Google likes to tell you that their mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” but in fact, Google is in the business of selling advertising. Period. Google Scholar currently does not contribute to the sales of advertising, and Google has allegedly considered shutting it down. The recent addition of Scholar Library may mean, however, that Google has found a business model for Scholar—and it’s likely to be similar to the ones of Mendeley or ResearchGate, which probably consist of coaxing users to provide as much information as possible, and then using this information for making profit.

So, what’s the conclusion? Perhaps this: As researchers are gaining independence from publishers, they’re becoming voluntarily more and more dependent on other service providers, who also try to take advantage of them.


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