Academic networking sites or open access repositories?

African Studies Library

What’s the difference between ResearchGate, and an open access repository?

A group of students.

"I have uploaded my articles to, isn’t that open access?"

"What’s the difference between ResearchGate, and an open access repository?"

Social networks for academics

ResearchGate and are social networks whose main goal is to connect researchers with common interests. Profiles usually contain information about publications and research interests, copies of manuscripts, and opportunities to network or collaborate. These networks essentially provide a Facebook or LinkedIn experience for the research community. Both networks are commercial enterprises. Although has a ".edu" URL, it is not run by a university. The domain name was registered before the rules that would prohibit such use entered into force.

There are two different types of open access repositories

Institutional repositories (IR) are usually library web pages, on which authors can upload a version of their manuscripts as open access versions. The primary objective of the institutional repositories is to make the publications of the university available as widely as possible and to ensure long-term preservation.

Subject repositories collect publications in a particular discipline or a series of disciplines so that authors can get feedback from their peers in the field, regardless of where they work.

Major differences between these two types of services

ResearchGate and are, as mentioned above, commercial websites. They do not allow their users to reuse their own data (see here for more information). Their terms and conditions don’t allow libraries to extract data on behalf of the authors. In addition, papers on ResearchGate and can’t be searched by open access search engines such as BASE (Bielefeld Academic Search Engine), or plug-ins such as the Open Access Button or Unpaywall.

Institutional repositories, on the other hand, are committed to the openness and reuse of data, making their metadata compatible and interoperable with standards such as OAI-PMH (Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting). Open access repositories are non-profit organizations and receive their funding normally from higher education institutions or research funding organisations. Institutional repositories are committed to the long-term preservation of their holdings, while ResearchGate and can change terms at any time or close down completely.

Open access repositories, however, are not social networks. Users can not create a friend list, “follow” each other’s work, or manage a profile page. The success of ResearchGate and shows that this is a functionality that academics find valuable. Open access repositories and social networks offer different services, and both are probably worthwhile. However, the value of institutional repositories, particularly for long-term preservation and commitment to open access, should not be underestimated.

Adapted from Katie Fortney and Justin Gonder at California Digital Library.