When it comes to academic research, it’s easy to think that academics are always privy to what their peers are up to, and are up-to-date on the latest research papers in their field. Unfortunately, that’s not usually the case. Academia.edu is a site that’s looking to help change that, by helping researchers connect to each other and find material that’s relevant to their field of study. The site recently closed a $1.6 million Series A round led by Spark Ventures, with participation from angel investors including Mark Shuttleworth (Thawte founder, Ubuntu); Thomas Lehrman (Gerson Lehrman Group co-founder) and Rupert Pennant-Rea (Chairman of The Economist).
CEO Richard Price believes that the community of academics has largely been neglected as the web has evolved, and he’s looking to change that with Academia.edu. The site, which launched in September 2008, serves as a sort of hybrid between LinkedIn, Facebook and Geni, all with a focus on research.
When you sign up, you create a user profile as you would on most social networks, but with one big difference: you tag yourself with topics that are related to your research. The site can be used to keep in touch with your peers, but one of its biggest selling points is its News Feed, which includes a stream of research items that the site believes you’ll be interested in based on those tags. This is similar in some ways to Facebook’s News Feed, with one key difference: Facebook tends to suggest items your firends are interested in. Academia.edu does this too, but it has more of a discovery focus, and tries to surface articles you’ll be interested in even if they haven’t been shared by one of your coworkers.
Price says that the service has 137,000 registered users, has been growing by around 15,000 users a month, and gets over 600,000 unique visitors a month.
Over the last few years there have been quite a few entrants in this space, but Price believes that many of them stagnated in the economic downtown. The remaining competitors include Mendeley, which offers a desktop client for sharing and discovering on research papers, and ResearchGate, which, like Academia.edu, is a web-based network for academics.