#DeleteAcademiaEdu: The Argument For Non-Profit Repositories

It has been a hectic morning attempting to read and respond to the flurry of activity surrounding my column this week over at Forbes, which argues that scholars should remove their work from the for-profit platform Academia.edu. I am neither the first nor the last academic to harangue members of the academy to take this step, and thus I wanted to outline here some of the historiography of the debate, my argument against the for-profit platform, the alternatives, and end with a call to action (i.e., I shall follow the historian’s order of operations).

My predecessors:

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “Academia, Not Edu,” Planned Obsolescence: Falling indelibly into the past (October 26, 2015).  Associate Executive Director and Director of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association (MLA) remarked on her blog, “the first thing to note is that, despite its misleading top level domain (which was registered by a subsidiary prior to the 2001 restrictions), Academia.edu is not an educationally-affiliated organization, but a dot-com, which has raised millions in multiple rounds of venture capital funding” (quoted in my Forbes piece). Her follow-up piece is here. 

Guy Geltner, “Upon Leaving Academia.edu,” Mittelalter (December 7, 2015).

Discussion on Guy Geltner’s text, “On leaving Academia.edu,” started 23 November 2015. Source: Academia.edu. Image via his blog, Mittelalter under a CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Paolo Mangiafico, “Should you #DeleteAcademiaEdu?Duke University LibrariesScholarly Communications at Duke (January 29, 2016).

New Takes:

Stuart Elden, “Delete your academia.edu account… (there are other ways to share your work), ” Progressive Geographies (January 24, 2017).

Ethan Gruber, “OPEN ACCESS, ACADEMIA.EDU, AND WHY I’M ALL-IN ON ZENODO.ORG,” Pocket Change: The blog of the American Numismatics Society (January 23, 2017).

As the column focused on, Academia.edu has already been heavily criticized for their less than smooth (that is a generous take) attempts at monetizing our work. However, the new premium feature introduced a few weeks ago was simply the last straw for me. By offering to reveal more data to users about the status of those viewing their work, the already steeply hierarchical world of academia is going to be further stratified. Why should we value a full professor over an adjunct or graduate student? We shouldn’t. Moreover, what does this mean about the data they are selling to corporations or to the state? Here is a small section of their privacy policy, which you must acknowledge to have an account:

Screenshot of Academia.edu’s Privacy Policy, which allows them to handle, modify, delete, and use our content in any way they would like.


Institutional Repositories: This won’t work for everyone, but many universities and colleges have an institutional repository for faculty, staff, and students. At the University of Iowa, we have Iowa Research Online, which is part of a consortium of linked repositories from the Big Ten schools called the Big Ten Academic Alliance. Speak to your school’s librarian, or look at the list on OpenDOAR.

Screenshot from the North America section of OpenDOAR, a directory of Open Access Repositories.

Zenodo: Another open repository for research data is called Zenodo. It is funded by the OpenAIRE Consortium (an open access network) and CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The site is a non-profit and integrates easily with your GitHub account. It allows users 50 GB of storage for each dataset, though you can contact them and lobby for more. Digital humanist Ethan Gruber launched his migration tool to allow people to migrate documents from Academia.edu to Zenodo: tool [here] and blog post on the technique [here].)

Humanities Commons: As I noted in the piece, Humanities Commons is a non-profit network open to all scholars to post their work and access the scholarship of others. As they say on their site, it ‘is a project of the office of scholarly communication at the Modern Language Association [MLA]. Its development was generously funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.’ They work with the institutional repositories to help preserve scholarship online and keep it both protected and free.”

We do need to work more on combining the various institutional repositories and presenting one searchable interface to users (no doubt about that), but that is going to take time, planning, and serious funding. Open Access is necessary but not always cheap. The MLA’s Humanities Commons is a great start, but other academic societies, such as the SCS, AIA, and the AHA must follow suit and support their OA platform as well by encouraging members to join. It is also yet another reason why we must maintain and support public funding institutions like the NEH and NEA, in addition to private foundations like Mellon. These endowments and foundations allow us to avoid the hazards of venture capital initiatives.

It is up to us to seize agency, turn away from Academia.edu, and take control of our own scholarly work. This means becoming more serious about supporting our libraries, our academic associations, and our non-profit funding agencies. The alternatives may not yet be perfect, but we can’t start to build an open-access future without first leaving behind the for-profit present.


9 thoughts on “#DeleteAcademiaEdu: The Argument For Non-Profit Repositories

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  1. Reblogged this on Progressive Geographies and commented:
    Sarah Bond – author of the original Forbes article I linked to – explains more here. In particular she discusses why this is important now – i.e., what has changed recently – and some more alternatives. Well worth a look.

  2. I wasted about an hour filling in required steps in Gruber’s utility procedure including uploading many files already uploaded on Academia. Almost all failed to transfer.

  3. The warning about deleting your account—that it “cannot be undone”—isn’t true either. Several times I’ve accidentally logged into an old (deleted) account, and it simply brings up everything I’d supposedly irreversibly deleted.

  4. https://kpfa.org/episode/against-the-grain-january-30-2017/
    “As universities become increasingly infiltrated and transformed by capitalist logics, what do free universities add to the educational, social, and political landscape? Fern Thompsett, a Ph.D. student at McGill University, co-founded a free university in Australia; she’s also researched more than two dozen free university projects in North America. Thompsett describes both the free-of-charge and radical-emancipatory aspects of free universities.”

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