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Social site makes research papers more accessible

Published Jun 17, 2013

It has been called the Facebook for researchers. Researchgate is a web-based social networking platform where researchers from around the world are able to communicate with one another through uploading their scientific articles, follow research colleagues’ contributions and ask questions or exchange ideas on a forum.

Tommy Ohlsson, Professor in Theoretical Physics and one of the Researchgate users at KTH. (Photo: Christer Gummeson)

In recent years, a number of social media sites especially aimed at researchers have emerged but, Researchgate is one of the largest with more than 2.8 million registered users in a total of 193 countries.

With Researchgate, researchers can make full text versions of published articles available for open access (freely available to the public). In this way, it resembles KTH’s own publication database DiVA, points out Tommy Ohlsson, Professor in Theoretical Physics and one of the Researchgate users at KTH.

“The fact is that Researchgate is larger and more international so the texts placed there are much more widely accessible,” he says.

Ohlsson is a keen supporter of open access. For several months now, he has been a member of the board for the preprint database arXiv; this also offers users a way to make their scientific articles freely accessible on the Internet. 

Only researchers are able to communicate

However, arXiv is focused on certain subject areas, such as mathematics, physics, computer science and statistics. Researchgate, on the other hand, is intended to serve researchers in all disciplines. It is this breadth of coverage, among other things, that makes the website so interesting, Ohlsson says.

... One can reach wider circles of the scientific community

“There are quite a number of such sites, besides Researchgate and arXiv, for example Web of Science and ResearcherID. But the fact that Researchgate brings together researchers from all disciplines means one can reach wider circles of the scientific community,” he says.

In principle, it is also possible to reach out beyond the scientific community to an interested public, via Researchgate. Anyone at all has the possibility of reading all the articles and papers on the website. But for laymen, opportunities are restricted to reading the texts that are placed there.

To contact researchers via Researchgate, to ask and answer questions or participate in the discussions on the website’s forum, one has to be a registered user – and this is only open to researchers. Researchgate’s press service explains that membership is limited to researchers only in order to ensure that these obtain the maximum return from communicating and collaborating with one another. 

In practice, it is not so easy for a person who is not a registered user to find texts via Researchgate. According to the company’s press department, the search function is being reviewed, but for the time being the simplest way to search is by entering keywords into a search engine. By entering the search terms “neutrino interaction+Tommy Ohlsson”, one finds a Researchgate page with one of his articles on this subject.

Just over 1,000 members from KTH

Researchgate was started five years ago by the virologists Ljad Madisch and Sören Hofmayer with the IT-specialist Horst Fickenscher. However, it is really during the last year that the website has become more widely known in Sweden.

It now has just more than a thousand registered users at KTH, and about 6,200 publications from KTH can be found on the site. The total number of publications on Researchgate as a whole is more than 50 million, the great majority within biology and medicine.

Like Facebook or Twitter, each Researchgate user acquires his or her own page where they place a photo, a short presentation, information on education, research experience and such like. Researchers can also weave a closer contact network of friends or followers among other Researchgate users.

Ohlsson has 30 followers while he follows 25 researchers via the site.

“In most cases the following is mutual. Most of my followers are persons whom I also follow,” he says.

Text: Ursula Stigzelius