Research Gate is in the sights – the new Napster?

This is a comment on the recent insightful piece on Research Gate in Inside Higher Education

I try to look at these companies through the lens of what we know has changed in other industries as they are transformed by the ease of sharing information. The clearest analogue to Research Gate is Napster – a first mover in music sharing. By putting their heads above the parapet Napster attracted the ire of the incumbent music publishers, and many lawyers bills later was co-opted and decimated. If this holds true then I think unfortunately Research Gate’s business model is essentially flawed, relying on essentially illegal activity, and drawing the attention of the big boys is bad business.

The model for the incumbent profiteering academic publishers is a little different. I’ve been thinking they are more like the incumbent telcos in the 90’s. Far too large to move with any kind of agility, they were sidestepped when ISPs could provide the same services faster, cheaper and with better service – or worse service cheaper. I’m looking at journals popping up all over the place, hosted by libraries, or using blog software, or supported by commercial OA publishing platforms with ancillary services like overlay journals, and direct social media connections. I remember when a tcp/ip connection cost UKP100 per month in London, and the revolution that happened when the Tenner a Month plans were introduced. In the early days you had to hand whittle your own email client, but it got slicker, fast. I see the same thing happening here, at the moment libraries and other publishers offer a similar service to the incumbent publishers, but that will change fast as the small players meet their clients needs agilely and more completely.

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