Collaboration has long been one of the most fundamental components of science. From handwritten letters and essays to professional publications like Science and Nature, scientists rely on each other to test their theories and to help formulate new ones. Given this inherently social nature of science, it’s surprising that no website has emerged as the de facto meeting place for academics online.
Academia.edu, a San Francisco-based startup that launches today to the public, is looking to fill this role.
At first glance the site bears a strong resemblance to Geni, the genealogical site that visually maps relationships between people. Professors, post docs, and graduate students are displayed according to their department and the professors they work under, as well as their specific fields of study. In the future, the site will also map which members have worked with each other on past research projects.
While this map may prove useful once in a while, Academia.edu’s real draw is its news feed, which allows users to stay up to date on current events in their field. News items include recently published papers, conferences, and project news. Users are asked to build profiles describing their academic backgrounds and current projects, and can choose to upload their journal articles or abstracts, depending on what their publishers allow. All content on the site is meant to be geared towards academics – this isn’t a place for scientists to socialize.
Whenever a new member joins the site, they are asked to identify themselves by both their department (for example, Computer Science), and then a more narrow field (example: Search Engine Algorithms). From then on, all activity submitted by this user will be added to the feeds of the fields they participate in. The site also allows users to specify certain members using a Twitter-like “Follow” system.
Academia’s success will lie in its ability to build a useful news feed revolving around its professional network – most professors simply don’t have to time to read every publication related to their field, and the feed could easily be a boon for them. The relationship map is a nice touch, but it isn’t practical for day-to-day use.