17 Responses to “Scholarly Communication, Monetary Networks, and the Control of Knowledge”

  1. Anna Battigelli Says:

    This is an excellent and timely post, Eleanor. The questions you ask are provocative and require thought and attention. These are pressing issues. Thanks for the many links, which help us all understand the issue in better detail.

    The emergence of the ACI Scholarly Blog Index reflects a problem: we need a filtering mechanism akin to scholarly publications’ juried readers to filter scholarly from non-scholarly blogs. It’s hard to argue against such a filter. Admittedly, however, we may not want those filters to be funded by investors who expect a profit and may likely call for monetizing access to their index. As you put it, who should be in control of the dissemination of that work? Access will continue to be a pressing problem.

    The cases of both academia.edu and, according to some usage polls, the apparently more popular ResearchGate raise analogous problems. On the one hand, both of these sites offer scholarly networking, which is great. They also cut through disciplinary boundaries. And they are free. Today, one would have to belong to MLA or ASECS in order to search member rosters, for example. Both academia.edu and ResearchGate circumvent that paywall, and that is a good thing. It’s not a good thing, however, if a turn to monetizing those networks makes them impermanent, at least for many users.

    This seems to make a case in favor of using the MLA Commons. My question there is whether the MLA Commons has the agility that academia.edu has. I would love to hear from members who use it, and I suspect others will be interested as well.

    Again, thanks, Eleanor. This topic merits discussion.


  2. Dave Mazella Says:

    Hi folks, thanks for posting this and kicking off discussion. As useful as Academia.edu is, the fact that it is a private company that can fold and take all our information with it, or sell it to some other company, makes it really troubling. I also think that the tendency of this kind of platform is to start off with something genuinely useful, and gradually ruin it with new features designed to make it more mediated and “social,” along the lines of Evernote or Dropbox. So I’d much rather use some combination of Twitter and Google, for example, than something subscription-only, since the paywalls only limit impact and comprehensiveness. As I told Anna offline, I prefer open, disorganized spaces to closed, proprietary ones, no matter how organized. But that still means we have to figure out how to pay people for the kinds of resources we really need. That takes institutional investment, at precisely the time that institutions are walking away from existing commitments.


  3. Dave Mazella Says:

    One final comment: having a more functional MLA Commons would be wonderful right now, but no one at MLA seems to understand how social media operates in tandem with scholarship. I think there’s something about academia.edu’s multidisciplinarity and openness (and casualness about copyright etc) that makes it more useful than most of the attempts I’ve seen from the MLA. Maybe someone involved with the MLA Commons could chime in?


  4. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thanks so much, Dave and Anna. Your remarks both help to flesh out this discussion. First, I agree that the very real need that ACI Scholarly Blog Index is addressing, and that its efforts from this perspective are admirably. As for the academic-owned-and operated sites, much of MLA Commons is accessible to the general public–but not all. Private group discussions can be started and similar features that are not open. Still, like you Anna, I wonder about needing to have a membership in a given society in order to participate fully. And the ties of MLA Commons to MLA–a single society devoted to language and literature–coincides with Dave’s point about what he likes about academia.edu: What I have always appreciated about this site is its multidisciplinarity and openness. A site of exchange run by a single professional organization, even if that society has a very large umbrella, will probably nonetheless exude some sort of disciplinary silo effect.

    I have an account at MLA Commons and receive multiple notifications of papers posted or conversations begun, but I have not been an active user. I would also like to hear from others who use MLA Commons with any regularity (I just saw that Linda Troost posted a piece on team-teaching a DH course and perhaps if she is reading could chime if she is a regular user of MLA Commons). I also have a skeletal account with ResearchGate that I set up at the urging of my university’s Office of Sponsored Research. Yet, this site seemed to have little intersections with my work–not even much on technology and the book. To be fair, that might have changed.

    My academia.edu is woefully in need of updates, but I do check in regularly, often prompted by alerts and email notifications. While I have not posted any papers or publications, I have responded and sent work to academics that requested copies–and have had a number of excellent exchanges offline.


  5. Anna Battigelli Says:

    David’s comment on MLA’s inadequacy at blending social media with scholarship raises a host of questions.

    Should the two functions we are discussing–the first a primarily social site enabling networking and discussing papers, the second a professional and scholarly filtering and categorizing service for the Wild West of blogging–be blended or kept separate?

    I have enjoyed reading John Richetti’s papers on academia.edu, for example. Academia.edu provides a good space for that kind of discussion. Does MLA Commons work as adequately for discussing drafts?


  6. Dave Mazella Says:

    So here’s my question: what value does the “curation” of a company like ACI add to the content it aggregates? What kinds of connections does it make possible, either socially or intellectually? And what if those “connections” turn out to be intrusive or unhelpful, like the idiot badges Dropbox keeps trying to get me to click on? My gut feeling is that scholars, at least experienced scholars, like feeling like they have access to the full range of information, however disorganized, and doing the organizational, “curating” work themselves for their own purposes?


    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      I tend to agree, Dave… and while I appreciate organization, the organizing and linking are or should be intellectual activities. We’ve often spoken here about the need to know the selection process, agents involved,m and more in databases.


  7. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    I wonder that as well about MLA Commons as a place to discuss drafts, but based on its FAQs, it seems as if it would.

    The responses to questions 2,3, and 4 are most relevant:

    2. An area for collaboratively authoring documents, such as calls for papers.

    3. The opportunity to share items deposited with CORE, the MLA repository, directly with their most likely readers: members of a given forum.

    4.A private file-storage area for items that members wish to restrict to the forum, such as syllabi and works in progress. that some collaborative

    And can create various types of groups that would work for such exchange:

    • Public groups are groups that everyone can see. The Welcome Group is a public group: you can see everything that’s going on in the group even if you’re not a member. A public group has a big Join Group button on the front page; if you click that, you can become a member.

    • Private groups are groups that can be joined only by permission. If you’re not a member, you can’t see what’s in the group. There might, however, be a Request Membership button on the left side of the page. If you click that, the administrator of the group will be sent a message saying that you want to join it; if the administrator thinks that’s fine, you’ll become a member of the group. You can also become a member of a private group if an administrator of the group invites you to become a member.
    • Hidden groups are even more private than private groups. They don’t show up in the Groups Directory. Unlike a private group, you can’t request membership in a hidden group; you can only be invited to it. (Or, of course, you could start your own.) Creating a Group

      As for how separate the two functions should be, it depends in my mind on the nature and composition of the entity whether it could and should serve as both filtering, aggregating body and networking site.


    • Dave Mazella Says:

      To respond to Anna and Eleanor’s thread about the awkwardness of MLA Commons. What the MLA Commons resembles is not so much the kind of commercial platform that people learn to use and work in (FB, Twitter), but a big Learning Management System with features that no one willingly explores. There’s something generic and foursquare about the design that seems to discourage users from using it for its social purposes. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s trying to house so many different functions at once?


    • Kathleen Fitzpatrick Says:

      Hi, all. Anna emailed to let me know about this discussion, for which I’m extremely grateful. I’m glad to have your feedback on MLA Commons; we’re working there toward the kinds of openness that you’re seeking, and your thoughts about how we might better achieve it are very welcome.

      A couple of quick things to know about: we are in the midst of a site redesign, and the new layout will, once launched make things much more social, surfacing more of the interactions that you are interested in (members whose work you are following, groups and projects related to your interests, and so forth). We are also working on a pilot project in which we are standing up Commons instances for a few other societies and connecting them via a federated authentication and identity management system. The result will be Humanities Commons; members will be able to log on there and get access to the resources of all of the participating societies to which they belong, as well as to spaces for cross-society collaboration.

      I’ll look forward to hearing more of your thoughts about how we might make the network more useful and engaging. Our goal, as I’ve noted elsewhere, is to create a scholar-managed and -supported space for interaction and collaboration, and we’re happy to think with our members about better ways to do that.


    • Anna Battigelli Says:

      This is great news, Kathleen. Thanks for sharing it.

      We clearly need scholarly digital space that allows for the networking and sharing of drafts made possible by academia.edu. But we also need the stability offered by MLA’s long-term commitment to academic exchange. If you can share more about prospective changes, I’m sure readers would like to hear them. I would also like to hear how others are using MLA’s Commons.

      One thing academia.edu is good at is creating a user-friendly site. I’m sure MLA can do the same while preserving multi-dimensional functions necessary for a professional organization.

      The possibility of joining what you call the many “silos” of many university servers into one aggregating source is promising indeed.


    • Dave Mazella Says:

      I’ve got lots of specific thoughts about this problem, but I think MLA needs to take onboard the critique of Audrey Watters et al. about the limitations of the LMS, which is that these kinds of platforms wall off rather than engage with the messiness of the open internet, which ultimately make them less useful than the internet itself when engaged by a knowledgeable researcher. So it might be more helpful to think in terms of functions and resources and audiences rather than features. What sort of value could MLA provide that other resources could not, and how might be piggyback on existing things to add further value?


    • Dave Mazella Says:

      For example, the argument here: “We in education can reclaim the Web and more broadly ed-tech for teaching and learning. But we must reclaim control of the data, content, and knowledge we create. We are not resources to be mined.” http://hackeducation.com/2014/09/05/beyond-the-lms-newcastle-university


    • Anna Battigelli Says:

      Do we want two opposite things simultaneously? The first is Dave’s celebration of “open, disorganized spaces to closed, proprietary ones, no matter how organized.” This is something that commercial social networking may be good at providing.

      The second is a systematized and comprehendable way of becoming familiar with what is on the web. That is something that professionals have to help with. It isn’t just a tech thing, though obviously it requires a mastery of technology.


    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      We probably want multiple things. The service provided by ACI Scholarly Blog Index is a needed one, and in some ways they have the experience, having been curators for a long while as Newstex as well as evidently knowing the staff they need (see job ad in The Chronicle’s vitae that ran in 2014, for instance). Yet, this services seems to incorporate aspects of social media (and doesn’t everything today to get the word out and more?). At the same time, academic.edu evidently wants to branch out into the peer-review publication business…

      Again, I think some outfits/organizations would be equipped to handle a mixture of functions and resources, while others might not so much–and there’s also the issue of control of the data about the data generators and data users.


    • Anna Battigelli Says:

      This morning as I checked ACI Scholarly Blog Index to see how efficient the search function was, flash screens popped up asking me to join ACI for .99/month or 9.99/year.

      The searches were interesting, and filters can be applied to break them down further, but they did not seem to have the granularity of categories offered by MLA, Nevertheless, the use of key words and library of congress subject headings provided some help.

      As academics, we need to become more entrepreneurial and willing to think about digital curation, which like any curation requires scholarly background. MLA does this everyday in its bibliography. Maybe MLA needs a scholarly blog index. There is something to Dave’s promotion of disorganized freedom, but there is also a need to systematize, if not control, knowledge.


    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Yes– the ACI is ultimately a commercial operation–and its roots are not in academics. And you are right about its lacking the type of categories offered by MLA. Even while it has sought librarians and cataloguers, it does not seem to have sought disciplinary specialists. That’s why I feel as if MLA could handle–if it decided to undertake–the task of something like ACI as it applies to the study of literature and languages.

      My post may well have confused matters because I was using ACI more as a springboard to discuss the scholarly networking sites rather than focus on ACI as a digital curator. I agree with all that you are saying , Anna, about this need for expertise in this arena–and partnerships with ALA and the like would help…

      I also took Dave’s remarks about disorder and openness as comments about the social exchange–the ways that acedmia.edu and ResearchGate operate, for instance–rather than referring to ACI and tools aimed at organizing and systemizing scholarly blogs the ways that other forms of scholarship are currently handled.


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