ResearchGate is academia’s most popular social network, with good reason. While some decry the platform for questionable user recruitment tactics, others love to use it to freely share their articles, write post-publication peer reviews, and pose questions to other researchers in their area.
ResearchGate quietly launched a feature recently, one that we think could be a big deal. It may have huge upsides for research–especially for tracking altmetrics for work–but it also highlights how some of the problems of scholarly communication aren’t easily solved, especially when digital persistence is involved.
The feature in question? ResearchGate is now generating DOIs for content. And that’s started to generate interesting conversations among those in the know.
Here’s why: DOIs are unique, persistent identifiers that publishers and repositories issue for their content, with the understanding that URLs break all the time. A preservation strategy is expected when one starts issuing DOIs, and yet ResearchGate hasn’t announced one, nor has DataCite (which issues ResearchGate’s DOIs).
Some other interesting questions: what happens when users decide to delete content, or leave the site altogether? Will ResearchGate force content to remain online, or allow DOIs to redirect to broken URLs?
And what if a publication already has a DOI? ResearchGate does prompt users to provide a DOI if one is available, but there are no automated checks (as far as we can tell). That may leave room for omission or error. And a DOI that potentially can resolve to more than one place will introduce confusion for those searching for an article.
As a librarian, I’m also curious about the implications for repositories. IRs’ main selling point is digital persistence and preservation. So, if ResearchGate does indeed have a preservation policy in place, repositories may have lost their edge.
We’ll be watching future developments with interest. There’s great potential here, and how ResearchGate grows and matures this feature in the future will likely have an influence on how researchers share their work and, quite possibly, what it means to be a “publisher.”