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Maybe you have joined or ResearchGate in the past to find out what they’re all about.  Maybe you haven’t, but you keep getting spammy invitations to join. (They can be nearly as persistent as LinkedIn when it comes to unwanted invitations.) Or maybe you were googling around and saw a paper that looked interesting, and landed on a site that told you to click here to ask the author for a copy.

Or maybe you’ve had a student ask you how to get hold of a paper when the author doesn’t respond. I’ve had that happen recently. It was for a paper published in 1991. This “request it from the author” method – particularly when the author has no interest in becoming a document supplier, doesn’t seem like the best way to share knowledge, but it’s deceptively convenient for students who feel at home on the web but are confused about using library databases. 

Maybe you’ve wondered “who’s doing this? What’s their business model? Do I really want my personal data and connections to be their product?” Because these are commercial sites, and they have to make money somehow. If they burn through their venture capital and discover they can’t come up with a reliable revenue stream, those profiles and relationships you’ve cultivated could disappear abruptly. 

Maybe you read Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s excellent critique and decided to hold off until something less dubious was available.

You’re in luck. Now there are excellent alternatives, and they aren’t mining your data for money.

Humanities Commons is a new, open-to-all platform for humanities folks built on a sharing platform originally designed for members of the Modern Language Association. It has room for societies to connect with members (and several are already there), for groups to form, for members to post their research or share their thoughts, for people to collaborate on documents, and for scholars to share their publications – just like the commercial sites. It’s still pretty new, so it’s hard to say what parts of it are likely to take off, but I can see this platform as both a home for people who may want an easy way to have a public academic persona without having to create a website or who want to move beyond the venerable Listserv email form of communication for a group, or who see value in being visible online, but who prefer not to donate their identity and associations to a commercial enterprise.

SocArXiv, which I’ve written about before, is out of its emergency-duct-tape-and-string phase and is now running through the Open Science Framework, which also hosts preprint servers for psychology and engineering. You can read more about the launch at the SocOpen blog. It’s easy to create a profile and start uploading things you want to share – white papers, preprints of formal publications, even copies of finished publications if you haven’t given the exclusive rights to a publisher. (Not sure what you agreed to? You can search SHERPA RoMEO by journal and get a summary of their policies. Better yet, search before you submit so you know what you’re getting into.) Though this site is primarily focused on making scholarship openly accessible and doesn’t have all the social capacities that Humanities Commons makes available, it is built on the Center for Open Science’s Open Science Framework and that’s pretty cool. You can create a project and have, ready made for you, a place to store files, a wiki, analytics, and opportunities to link your project out to GitHub and other common sites for sharing work. These projects can be public or private, and you have control over the rights as well as a limited amount of free storage. I could see using this with far-flung collaborators or with students working together on a project.

Can I also say I’m chuffed that, at the moment, the most-downloaded document is by Chris Bourg, the sociologist-director of MIT libraries? She’s walking the walk, as usual.

Thanks to the individuals, organizations, and funders that are creating these opportunities, we don’t have to surrender the social web of our academic lives to commercial entities anymore. We’re building our own, on our own terms, and these new non-profit platforms have a lot to offer.

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