Social Reader: Making Research More Accessible?

February 26, 2015 • Specialist Journalism • by

ResearchGate, a social networking site for scientists and researchers, dubbed ‘Facebook for Science’, has launched a new social reader  – the RG Format – which it claims will help academics manage their work and time more efficiently.

The new RG Format is designed to allow researchers to openly share their own papers and read and comment on others, also to contact those who have left feedback on their work. According to ResearchGate, academics only find time to read for one hour and five minutes on average during their 60-hour working week. Email and meetings take up another 17 hours.

Six million researchers already share more than two million articles every month on ResearchGate. The website allows scientists to swap ideas and share papers – whether or not they have officially been published in a scientific journal.

Unlike other social readers, the commentators are not anonymous. Users can only leave a comment after they have registered on the website.

Replacing the PDF?

ResearchGate hopes its new RG Format will eventually replace the Portable Document Format (PDF), which has long been the primary method for researchers to share the results of their work. Launched in 1991 by Silicon Valley-based software company, Adobe, the PDF is almost as old as the web itself.

But Dr. Ijad Madisch, who co-founded ResearchGate in 2008, told the EJO that the PDF format was a “dead-end” as it does not allow two-way dialogue. He said PDFs are normally in a very academic style and behind a pay wall. “If we can use a more active format, it will allow readers to connect A to B much faster,” he said.

Everything researchers see with the RG Format is put into a social context: a split-screen allows users to view the text on the left, as well as additional information such as citations and figures on the right. They can immediately connect with the authors, and other researchers who have cited or commented the work, in one click.

“Reading is the starting point of all research,” said Madisch. “You connect with what’s known to create new knowledge. But, when you think about it, you’re also connecting with the author. And the publication you are reading is probably just a small part of what he knows.”

With this new format, researchers can concentrate more easily on what they’re reading, while simultaneously putting it into context, said Madisch. This “social research” will quickly bring scientific discussions to a new level.

Open Sourcing Scientific Research

ResearchGate is one of a handful of websites working to make scientific research more accessible. Previously these papers were reviewed by peers, with only a select few chosen for publication. Anyone who later wanted to access the materials had to pay a steep fee.

General open-access science journals such as arXiv and Public Library of Science have allowed anyone to view these scientific papers that once sat behind a pay wall. Some are targeted towards niche fields: the collaborative blog MathOverflow allows mathematicians to earn so-called reputation points for their attempts to solve problems.

Some of these sites, like ResearchGate, facilitate comments. PubPeer allows anonymous reviews, and PubMed recently opened up its large library of biomedical research to online comments.

Yet ResearchGate is the first to introduce social reading – a format recently embraced by traditional media outlets. They attempt to grow their user-base through enabling easier sharing and viewing of content.

The Washington Post, Amazon’s Kindle and Facebook are a few examples of such outlets and devices already that have used such social reading methods for digital media curation and personalisation. Users can easily highlight passages, or publically post them on social media.


Pic credit: ResearchGate


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