For about five years, Richard Price and the team at Academia.edu have been quietly building a social networking platform for academics and researchers.
For years, it was slow going. It took three years for the company to get its first million users while mainstream consumer social networking platforms like Twitter were taking off.
But now, Academia.edu boasts 4.3 million users — perhaps around one-quarter of an estimated 17 million academics globally. They have been picking up about 1 million new users every three months.
And to mark that progress, the company is picking up $11.1 million in funding led by Khosla Ventures, with participation from previous investors like Spark Capital and True Ventures. Khosla’s newest partner Ben Ling joins the company’s board.
The ultimate goal is to change the way scientific research is distributed and validated. Price envisions a platform where every research paper ever published will be freely available to the public.
“More outsiders will be able to come in and bring that beginner’s mind thinking to research,” Price said, pointing to 16-year-old Jack Andraka who studied papers from Science on applications for nanotubes and used that research to invent a new test for pancreatic cancer that is 26,000 times cheaper than previously existing tests and 400 times more sensitive.
The issue is right now, under the traditional peer review model where a handful of journals hold an overwhelming amount of power, research can be delayed by months or years before it can be consumed by academics in the field or even the public.
Price says peer review is too limiting. A recent Amgen study reported that 88 percent of peer-reviewed medical literature isn’t reproducible, making it hard for pharmaceutical companies and other medical device or health care companies to place bets on research.
Price says that open access to research will make it faster for academics to discover flaws.
On the platform, academics manage a social networking profile (just like they would on any other platform like Facebook or Twitter).
But they can also publish papers and send out updates about upcoming talks or conferences they’re attending. The platform sees about 150,000 articles uploaded every month, including a few that have gone viral like this one on medicinal mushrooms or this paper titled, “Evidence to Suggest that Copulatory Vocalizations in Women Are Not a Reflexive Consequence of Orgasm.”
Price wants to create a different kind of reputation system, taking cues from the follower model that Twitter popularized.
“A core problem for researchers is how to build their brand,” Price said. “To make yourself established in a field, the core way you do that is to share your work.”
While the company is still pretty much pre-revenue (except for job advertisements that appear on the site), Price envisions using a model that charges for-profit companies for access to data and insights on which research and researchers are gaining traction.