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1) Knowledge Commons as Sites of Connection

Published onJan 14, 2023
1) Knowledge Commons as Sites of Connection

Historical and Theoretical Approaches to Knowledge Commons

† Benkler, Yochai. 2003. “Freedom in the Commons: Towards a Political Economy of Information.” Duke Law Journal 52 (6): 1245–76.

Benkler analyzes the pervasive social influence of the Internet, with a focus on the economic and political changes affected by the rise and ubiquity of digital spaces, networks, and action. He argues that the Internet has caused two new social phenomena to occur: “nonmarket production” (production by an individual without intention to generate profit) and “decentralized production” (production that occurs outside of the sanctioned centres of industry). In turn, these phenomena facilitate new opportunities to pursue democracy, individual freedom, and social justice. The forms of production incited by the Internet permit individuals and communities to gain control over their work, means of production, and networks of relations, and consequently to garner more influence. Benkler concludes by rallying readers to take advantage of the opportunities the digital environment boasts in order to build more just and democratic social, economic, and political systems.

▲ Benkler, Yochai. 2006. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Benkler introduces the concept of the Networking Information Economy, his term for the contemporary systems of developing, organizing, and communicating information, as opposed to the Industrial Information Economy of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The first of the book’s three parts elaborates on the characteristically centralized corporate and/or State control of communications systems such as newspaper, television, and radio due to the high cost factors of production in the Industrial Information Economy, and its difference from the Networking Information Economy, characterized by the role that computers, networks, and increasingly affordable media production outlets play in decentralizing control of communications. Benkler’s central argument is that the Networking Information Economy promotes the proliferation of non-hierarchical groups of information production—a drastic change from rigid hierarchies of the Industrial Information economy. Benkler sees the commons-based peer production model as an intrinsic piece of this transformation. In Part 2, Benkler elaborates on the drawbacks to the industrial mass media system, detailing how commons-based peer production circumvents these drawbacks by allowing contributors to self-assign tasks and by promoting a much larger and more diverse cohort of contributors. He posits that the commons-based peer production involves increased autonomy of both producers and consumers, who are increasingly hybridized into a new type of media subject: the user. Part 3 critiques two hypotheses of how the Internet would change culture, community, and social interaction more broadly: Internet users would live in a world not dictated by physical interactions and experiences with others, and the Internet would provide a new avenue for expanding users’ fields of community. Benkler criticizes these early views for assuming that Internet communication would replace existing methods of communication rather than coincide and cooperate with them. Overall, Benkler offers an optimistic view of the power of the Networking Information Economy to transform the information economy into a freer, more accessible information culture.

Bollier, David. 2002. “The Enclosure of the Academic Commons.” Academe 88 (5): 18–22.

Bollier documents how institutions of higher education have become closed off from each other and from the publics they once served: economic pressures have fragmented the academic knowledge commons—traditionally understood as an open, public, and free site of scholarly exchange—into closed, increasingly opaque sites of commercial exchange. He argues that the effects of this transformation have been largely negative, and that, independent of market pressures, universities must now work to maintain—or reclaim—the “gift economy” of open knowledge creation and sharing according to which the academy has traditionally operated. To mount this argument, Bollier draws from sociologists and legal scholars in order to discuss some of the key events and forces that have contributed to the enclosure of the academic commons. He concludes that an ethos of generosity and cooperation is required to preserve not only the integrity and accessibility of academic knowledge, but also the integrity, openness, and continuing value of universities as public-facing institutions.

Bollier, David. 2006. “The Growth of the Commons Paradigm.” In Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice, edited by Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom, 27–40. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Bollier explains that natural resource-based as well as information-based commons, which are increasingly ubiquitous in the United States (as elsewhere), face similar challenges while also offering new and welcome perspectives on larger discussions about governance and effective, responsible resource management. Indeed, despite the diversity of these commons, and despite persistent American attitudes about freedom, the individual, and capitalism, the author contends that the socially-oriented commons paradigm plays an important if unacknowledged or misunderstood role in the theorization, development, and creation of communities around shared spaces and resources. Weaving together political, economic, and public policy history, he provides an overview of several notable commons (including the Internet itself) and their possible futures. In closing, he narrows in on the threat of privatization or “enclosure,” but reiterates that commons are actually foundational to—rather than independent of, or necessarily antagonistic toward—commercial interests and enterprises.

▲ Borgman, Christine L. 2007. Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure, and the Internet. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Borgman interrogates developments in scholarly infrastructure and modes of communication in the Digital Age. She contends that scholarship has been and continues to be a fundamentally social process, tracing this history to the present in light of new technologies that significantly alter the way in which scholarship is performed, disseminated, and archived. Because the methods and culture of scholarship are changing so rapidly, Borgman argues that we are at a critical juncture where we should think carefully about the way scholarly infrastructure will be built in the near future before we do the building. Borgman focuses on how the “data deluge,” a term for the current emergence of enormous data sets pertinent to scholarship, should be taken into account when theorizing the future of preserving and managing scholarly information. While the book speaks to issues in digital scholarship with an interdisciplinary scope, there is a recurring focus on data and the need to think about how digital infrastructure being built in the hard sciences will need to be rethought for applications to social sciences, while the humanities are left somewhat marginalized in some data-centric discussions. Chapter 5, “The Discontinuity of Scholarly Publishing,” discusses the incongruity between increasing avenues for scholarly communication and the persistence of restrictive intellectual property law. Borgman reviews models for distributing scholarly work, including a brief account of commons-based approaches. Overall, the book is foundational for understanding the issues facing the future of digital scholarship at the time of its publication, and it will likely remain useful for its explanations of myriad terminology and processes in the study of both physical and digital scholarly communication.

▲ Boyle, James. 2008. The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Boyle discusses the history of intellectual property law. The central argument is that the current US system of intellectual property law does not fit the original purpose of these laws: to promote innovation and creativity. According to Boyle, the traditional logic is that increased intellectual property rights means that potential competitors will need to create their own models (especially pertinent in the modelling of machinery in Industrial Age America), rather than copying existing models of their competitors, which should breed a culture of innovation. In the information age, however, this system of copyright law has become a restrictive machination that undercuts the need for robust knowledge commons in the sciences and other intellectual domains. For Boyle, common intellectual property has always been the greatest piece of public inheritance contributing to innovation, and he sees giving producers and consumers increased ability to freely circulate and consume intellectual work as a necessary step toward promoting a culture of innovation today. Chapter 8 focuses on Creative Commons, a non-profit organization that releases copyright licenses free of charge to the public, for which Boyle was Chairman of the Board at the time this book was published. The author explains how the transformation from the publishing industry as the mechanism for distribution of intellectual materials to a culture of online self-publishing has necessitated a change in the way we think of intellectual property rights. Boyle’s ideal future includes a great expansion of open source and open access resources without completely negating the need for private intellectual property rights. Overall, the book outlines the need for a reworked relationship between intellectual property law and intellectual commons.

▲ Burke, Peter. 2000. A Social History of Knowledge: From Gutenberg to Diderot, Based on the First Series of Vonhoff Lectures given at the University of Groningen (Netherlands). Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity Press; Blackwell Publishers.

Burke expands on the various agents and elements of social knowledge production with a specific focus on intellectuals and Europe in the early modern period (until c. 1750). He argues that knowledge is always plural and that various knowledges concurrently develop, surface, intersect, and play. Burke relies on sociology, including the work of Emile Durkheim, and critical theory, including the work of Michel Foucault, as a basis to develop his own notions of social knowledge production. He acknowledges that the church, scholarly institutions, government, and the printing press have all affected significantly knowledge production and dissemination: often affirmatively, but occasionally through restriction or containment. Furthermore, Burke explores how both “heretics” or humanist revolutionaries and more traditional academic structures developed the university as a knowledge institution. He also writes a chapter-long history of “selling knowledge,” relevant for arguments toward open access in the knowledge commons. Finally, Burke’s way of looking at the formation of early modern libraries both as sites of (increasingly but not quite) public access to knowledge and as sites of censorship and gatekeeping mark a significant contribution to understanding the knowledge commons in historical context.

▲ Burke, Peter. 2012. A Social History of Knowledge. II: From the Encyclopédie to Wikipedia. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Burke develops his research from the first volume, A Social History of Knowledge: From Gutenberg to Diderot, by expanding his scope from the early modern period into the twentieth century. He continues to rely on certain foundational notions for this volume: knowledge is plural and varied; knowledge is produced by various institutions and conditions instead of solely by individuals; the social production of knowledge is intrinsically connected to the economic and political environments wherein it develops. As with the first volume, Burke focuses mainly on academic knowledge with brief forays into other forms or sites of knowledge. He also continues his history of libraries, noting the proliferation of secular public libraries in the nineteenth century. Paradoxically, he also describes the privatization of other knowledges in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, wherein industrialists strived to copyright their innovations away from public knowledge and Western governments’ increasingly bureaucratized public record-keeping, making access to this knowledge difficult to understand even if physically accessible to the public. Finally, Burke’s treatment of state authorized knowledge in several authoritarian governments of the early- to mid-twentieth century serves as a warning that some self-described purveyors of public knowledge have historically had hidden or otherwise objectionable agendas, facilitating adulterated knowledge through gatekeeping and propaganda.

▲ Bush, Vannevar. 1945. “As We May Think.” The Atlantic (July 1).

Bush develops the idea for a “memex”: a machine that would index human memory on a grand scale. While Bush thinks in terms of the contemporaneous technologies of the 1940s, the memex concept envisions a knowledge commons that would only become possible with technologies developing after that time. Bush was an engineer, inventor, and science administrator who served as head of the US Office of Science and Research Development during WWII. Though Bush initiated the Manhattan Project as head of the Office of Science and Research Development, he voices concern with the increasing role of science in producing weapons of mass destruction rather than contributing to more general public understanding of the world. Bush develops the concept of the memex as a way to increase collective memory in the hopes of reducing human propensity for destruction in the future. Bush’s ideas have had tremendous influence on information science and the development of hypertext, the World Wide Web in general, and online knowledge commons such as Wikipedia in particular.

▲ Chambers, Ephraim. 1728. Cyclopædia: Or, An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. London: Ephraim Chambers.

The Cyclopædia was one of the first encyclopedias to be published in English. The Cyclopædia presents a landmark effort to combine all of Western knowledge into a single resource for public dispersal. It was the main inspiration for Diderot’s Encyclopédie (1751–65) and a major influence on collaborative work in Europe for centuries. Though incomplete and Eurocentric, as a purported gathering place for “all knowledge,” the Cyclopædia serves as a major text in the history of a knowledge commons.

▲ Derrida, Jacques, and Eric Prenowitz. 1995. Mal d’Archive: Une Impression Freudienne (Translated in English as Archive Fever). Paperback ed., [Nachdr.]. Religion and Postmodernism. Paris; Chicago, Ill: Éditions Galilée.

Derrida meditates on what archives are and how they operate. He examines the notion of the archive through readings of Sigmund Freud, with an interest in the relationship between the archive, memory, and the psyche. Perhaps most relevant to the digital commons is Derrida’s perception of the historical inversion of the archive. He takes the example of Ancient Greece, where public and state records were housed in a private citizen’s house, but the contents were generally accessible to any citizen who wanted to peruse this public archive in that private space. Now, we archive the minute details of our personal lives online in full display for the public to access from anywhere with an Internet connection. Archive Fever was written in 1995, and this is arguably the case much more so now than then, due to the rapid development of social media. The aims of a digital research commons run along the lines of this fever for archive as well, as open access repositories fill with more and more academic material.

De Angelis, Massimo, and David Harvie. 2013. “The Commons.” In The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization, edited by Martin Parker, George Cheney, Valérie Fournier, and Chris Land, 280–94. London: Routledge.

De Angelis and Harvie provide an overview of historical and contemporary conversations about commons of various kinds. They argue that, while discussion of commons—and particularly knowledge or information commons—is increasingly widespread, enclosure is an ongoing threat, not an historical fact. The authors also maintain that further consideration must be given to how resource-based and information-based commons (which are dependent on immaterial as well as material resources, such as software and hardware), will negotiate their longstanding relationship to capitalism in light of recent social, economic, and ecological crises. Their wide-ranging discussion revisits key theoretical concepts advanced by such figures as Karl Marx, ecologist Garret Hardin, Nobel Prize-winning political economist Elinor Ostrom, and activists within the Foundation for P2P [Peer-to-Peer] Alternatives. Ultimately, while the authors issue a warning about the practical, material costs of digital commons and their dependence on capital, they reaffirm the significance of the commons as a model for thinking through—and possibly beyond—the crises they explore in this chapter.

▲ Diderot, Denis, and Jean le Ronde d’Alembert. 1751. Encyclopédie, Ou Dictionnaire Raisonné Des Sciences, Des Arts et Des Métiers (English: Encyclopedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts). Paris; Chicago, IL: André le Breton, Michel-Antoine David, Laurent Durand, and Antoine-Claude Briasson.

Within the context of the Enlightenment, Diderot and others aimed to provide a comprehensive account of the arts and sciences by collecting all relevant knowledge in a single location. In a preface, Diderot states that the Encyclopédie would be dispersed to the public and future generations. The Encyclopédie is a major accomplishment in cooperative production and dispersal of knowledge, as over 150 scholars contributed to the work, including such figureheads of the Enlightenment as Rousseau, Voltaire, and Montesquieu. The final edition consisted of 28 volumes, with 71,818 articles and 3,129 illustrations. This monumental collaboration and dispersal of secular knowledge represents a commons space for intellectuals to share research with the public on an unprecedented scale. Under the Ancien Régime of France, Diderot and others were imprisoned for their contributions to the work, and the Encyclopédie has long been cited as a key intellectual text for stirring up the secular liberal ideas that led to the French Revolution and the creation of the First French Republic.

Glass, Erin R. 2018. “Engaging the Knowledge Commons: Setting Up Virtual Participatory Spaces for Academic Collaboration and Community.” In Digital Humanities, Libraries, and Partnerships: A Critical Examination of Labor, Networks, and Community, edited by Robin Kear and Kate Joranson, 100–115. Kent, UK: Elsevier Science & Technology. 3265

Glass introduces the concept of “participatory” digital commons and discusses some of the differences between these platforms and institutional repositories, on the one hand, and for-profit academic or non-academic social networking sites such as and ResearchGate, on the other. She maintains that participatory commons can help libraries to simultaneously engage new publics and strengthen existing mandates to preserve and share knowledge. Situating her work in relation to the fields of library studies, media studies, and scholarly communication, Glass also summarizes findings from two of her own commons-based projects, Social Paper and KNIT. She encourages libraries to embrace the participatory affordances of such projects, and she reminds researchers of the important role libraries can and will continue to play in supporting this kind of collaborative and engaged scholarship in the future.

Joranson, Kate. 2008. “Indigenous Knowledge and the Knowledge Commons.” International Information & Library Review 40 (1): 64–72.

Joranson provides an overview of knowledge commons, Indigenous knowledge, and some of the ways in which practices, discourse, and critical frameworks relevant to each do and do not intersect. The author posits that comparative analyses of knowledge commons and Indigenous knowledge reveal significant shared concerns about the documentation, dissemination, and preservation of knowledge; at the same time, she differentiates between the two, noting that further study of each also invites consideration of the unique insights that Indigenous knowledge discourse and practices can offer on topics such as enclosure, resource scarcity, and differences between Western and non-Western information ecosystems. Briefly examining each of these topics with reference to existing scholarship on commons and Indigenous knowledge, Joranson reframes these conversations primarily in terms of the evolving role of librarians and other information specialists.

+ Jordan, Mary Wilkins. 2015. “Public Library History on the Lewis and Clark Trail.” Public Library Quarterly 34 (2): 162–77.

Jordan follows the Lewis and Clark Trail to visit public libraries from Saint Louis to the Pacific Ocean. She notes that local history and genealogy are considered of high importance in public libraries, while they de-emphasize knowledge of their own histories. She notes that Benjamin Franklin is credited with starting the first public subscription library (The Library Company of Philadelphia) in 1731, and that this type of library tended to be supported and used by white males looking for education and entertainment. In the early twentieth century, women’s clubs often created travelling libraries to share ideas and knowledge among communities. In her visits to these libraries, Jordan explored the physical structures, watched the patrons, and surveyed different library services, specifically querying who used them and why. She notes that 28% of the libraries had paper handouts about the library’s history. She concludes that public library history belongs to the community, and that it is the responsibility of each library to collect and share its history.

Levine, Peter. 2002. “Building the Electronic Commons.” The Good Society 11 (3): 1–9.

Levine discusses how the Internet serves as an example of a commons, as well as how existing theories of the commons fail to adequately account for this fact, both in theoretical and practical terms. He contends that taking up the Internet as a commons can help resolve some of the issues traditionally associated with commons, such as the “tragedy of the commons” (Hardin) and the “provisioning problem,” which refers to the difficulty of convincing people to freely contribute their time and resources to a commons (Ostrom). Levine summarizes others’ arguments for the early Internet as a form of commons, though he also suggests that the vision of the commons they communicate has all but vanished due to enclosure. In the process, he articulates his own conception of the commons in response to popular theories, particularly those advanced by legal scholars Yochai Benkler and Lawrence Lessig. In the second half of the article, he outlines four objections to Lessig’s conception of an anarchist commons before concluding with a proposal to establish an association for managing and protecting the commons of the Internet.

Madison, Michael J., Brett M. Frischmann, and Katherine J. Strandburg. 2019. “Knowledge Commons.” In Routledge Handbook of the Study of the Commons, edited by Blake Hudson, Jonathan Rosenbloom, and Dan Cole, 76–90. London: Routledge.

Madison, Frischmann, and Strandburg introduce the “knowledge commons research framework” as a means of analyzing and comparing knowledge-based commons. In the process of outlining their framework, they make multiple claims for the ways in which it intervenes in ongoing theoretical discussions about governance, resource scarcity, intellectual property rights, openness, and the production and dissemination of information. Their suggested framework for analyzing knowledge commons builds on definitions and prior frameworks developed by information studies and legal scholars, for example, but is particularly indebted to Elinor Ostrom, Charlotte Hess, and Ostrom’s Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework. Nevertheless, the many questions generated by their study redirect the conversation in new and potentially generative directions by foregrounding how overlapping, contingent, and evolving factors contribute to the complexity of knowledge commons as well as to the diverse motivations and roles shaping user interactions within them.

Martin, Shawn. 2019. “Historicizing the Knowledge Commons: Open Access, Technical Knowledge, and the Industrial Application of Science.” KULA: Knowledge Creation, Dissemination, and Preservation Studies 3 (February 28): 23.

Martin examines the history of knowledge commons alongside histories of open access and academic publishing. He asserts that further attention to these intersecting and sometimes contentious narratives can shed important light on more recent conversations about open access in the field of scholarly communication, as well as in academia more generally. With reference to the scholarship of Christine Borgman and Robert Merton, he develops this assertion through brief but wide-ranging surveys of two historical periods—spanning approximately 400 years in total, from the seventeenth century to the present—identified by another theorist, Jurgen Osterhammel: the “Republic of Letters” and the “modern knowledge society.” Martin suggests that, in many ways, contemporary scholarly communication and knowledge production practices resemble those of earlier researchers, underscoring a persistent tension in today’s scientific communities and knowledge commons between open access ideals and the practical, economic pressures that frequently prevent them from being realized.

+ McLuhan, Marshall. 1962. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

McLuhan traces the ways in which mental outlook, expression, and various forms of experiences have been modified by the phonetic alphabet and by printing, as well as their effects on forms of thought and social structures. He argues that contemporary means of media and communication have resulted in the “global village,” a term that describes a feeling of connectedness that resembles a village-like setting. According to McLuhan, the relationship between humankind and technology is two-way, and technology actively partakes in reinventing humankind. He points to the popularization of literacy and moving type and their extensive effects on culture and society; according to McLuhan, these technologies gave rise to nationalism, standardization, and the assertion of rationalism, among other significant developments. Although this book focuses on mechanical technology, McLuhan argues that the new electric galaxy has long moved into the Gutenberg galaxy, and that this shift subtly introduces an element of grotesque into contemporary life.

▲ Suber, Peter. 2006. “Creating an Intellectual Commons through Open Access.” In Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice, edited by Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom, 171–208. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Suber explores possible models for access to scholarly articles: up-front funding models versus price and permission barrier models (non-open access [OA]), open access repositories versus open access journals, royalty-free versus royalty-producing content, and public domain open access versus copyright-holder consent open access. Suber is committed to a vision of open access platforming as an intellectual commons, and he is optimistic about its economic future due to the lower costs of producing and distributing open access literature compared to traditional publishing models. He details the systems of reasoning that currently hold academic institutions back from funding open access platforms, even though helping to solidify these platforms now would build participation and credibility in them, which would reduce the costs of obtaining paid journal subscriptions later by displacing the need for these paid journals. The issues are: 1) open access will save universities money, but not until they have transitioned away from the more standard scholarly communication model; 2) universities may fear that they are paving the way for “freeloading” universities to reap the benefits later; 3) toll access journals are often perceived as more prestigious, and so attract more established scholars. Suber also provides suggestions for subverting these issues, including alternative approaches to open access platform processing fees, or cancelling expensive journal subscriptions and redirecting those resources into open access institutional repositories. He provides author-centred strategies for achieving open access, including educating authors about it, helping authors provide open access to their work, removing disincentives for authors to provide open access to their work, and creating incentives for authors to provide open access to their work. However, Suber also lists the barriers to universal access that will remain even if price and permission barriers are removed: challenges for those who are differently abled; a lack of diversity of languages in research; government and institutional filtering and censorship of information; and varying degrees of Internet connectivity around the world. Nevertheless, Suber ends with a clear message that the transition toward open access intellectual commons is happening, and that the transition will ultimately be permanent.

▲ Willinsky, John. 2006. The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship. Digital Libraries and Electronic Publishing. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Willinsky discusses reasons for promoting open access, drawbacks to gated access models, and possible models for non-profit research commons. The author posits that open access is a tradition with a long history, from the library of Alexandria to the advent of small-town public libraries in nineteenth-century America, arguing that this tradition should and can be continued through digital scholarship today. He discusses forms of access, copyright, a history of associations, economic factors, cooperative scholarship, development, the role of the public, the influence of politics, definitions of the right to access, as well as methods of indexing open access materials. Willinsky is the founder of the Public Knowledge Project (initially begun at the University of British Columbia, now based at Simon Fraser University) and a major early voice in the Open Access movement. At times, he takes a philosophical approach to the access principle, analyzing the question of the right to access through Immanuel Kant, Jacques Derrida, and Richard Pierre Claude; but he also assumes a postcolonial angle through a discussion of the need for open access for researchers in areas of the developing world that struggle with high academic journal subscriptions costs. Willinsky suggests that digital resources, such as research commons, are bringing the means of production back to researchers. He concludes with models for building research commons and other systems for open access, such as the creation of a formal publishing and archiving cooperative between academic libraries and archives.

Winter, Caroline, Tyler Fontenot, Luis Meneses, Alyssa Arbuckle, Ray Siemens, and the ETCL and INKE Research Groups. 2020. “Foundations for the Canadian Humanities and Social Sciences Commons: Exploring the Possibilities of Digital Research Communities.” Pop! Public. Open. Participatory 2 (October 31).

Winter et al. introduce the Canadian Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Commons, an open online space where Canadian humanities and social sciences researchers and stakeholders can gather to share information and resources, make connections, and build community. Situated at the intersection of the fields of digital scholarship, open access, digital humanities, and social knowledge creation, the Canadian HSS Commons is being developed as part of a research program investigating how a not-for-profit, community-partnership research commons could benefit the humanities and social sciences community in Canada. This paper considers an intellectual foundation for conceptualizing the commons, its potential benefits, and its role in the Canadian scholarly publishing ecosystem. Additionally, it explores how the Canadian HSS Commons’ open, community-based platform complements existing research infrastructure serving the Canadian humanities and social sciences research community.

(Academic) Social Networking Sites as Knowledge Commons

▲ Adema, Janneke. 2016. “Don’t Give Your Labour to, Use It to Strengthen the Academic Commons.” Liquid Books.

Adema explains and critiques the model, and in particular the function of’s “Editor Program.” She sees’s model not as a solution to the increasingly corporate culture of knowledge production and sharing, but as a system of monetization designed to stimulate the knowledge economy. Generally, her critique is focused on the ethics of academic labor. After considering whether’s system could be driven to a more open access-friendly model by volunteer academic editors, Adema suggests that leaving corporate platforms entirely in favour of not-for-profit alternatives that are run ethically and have institutional support may be the best solution. She cites a recent editorial board exodus from Elsevier’s toll access journal Lingua to the open access alternative Glossa as an example.

▲ Adema, Janneke, Gary Hall, Fitzpatrick Kathleen, Aventurier Pascal, and Parry David. 2015. Really, We’re Helping To Build This . . . Business: The Files. Liquid Books.

In this compilation of files, 11 authors critique and other dot-com sites that present themselves as open access platforms while taking investments from venture capitalists they will eventually have to pay back. The authors see as an extremely influential company that is poised to collect—and potentially exploit—a tremendous amount of data. They argue that’s efficacy and longevity may ultimately be compromised by its profit-driven model and the kinds of actions that such a model can engender. The authors see sites like as a problematic form of academic social media in which increased user participation builds social capital within a network of competition for recognition, often addressing this function in terms of the Foucauldian “technologies of the self.” Finally, the authors gesture toward theorizing a more economically progressive academic social networking site that does not rely on venture capital investments, heralding the idea of commonly owned, open-source, and economically and socially progressive social media, which seeks to nurture/interact with scholarly research as a commons.

Bhardwaj, Raj Kumar. 2017. “Academic Social Networking Sites: Comparative Analysis of ResearchGate,, Mendeley and Zotero.” Information and Learning Science 118 (5/6): 298–316.

Bhardwaj evaluates four academic social networking sites—ResearchGate,, Mendeley, and Zotero—using a detailed checklist of features organized according to 12 overarching categories: general features; search and browsing fields; analytics and altmetrics features; interactivity and intelligence; site navigation; user interface; bibliographic display; privacy settings and text display; session filters; output features; help features; and content-uploading features. He contends that all of the sites in question lack significantly in several of these areas. While he ranks ResearchGate the highest according to his quantitative analysis, he urges academic social networking sites and their developers to address the limitations highlighted in his study. At the same time, he offers his findings as a resource to academics and academic institutions interested in choosing a suitable platform, for example, or developing more robust research-sharing and evaluation policies of their own.

† Cao, Qilin, Yong Lu, Dayong Dong, Zongming Tang, and Yongqiang Li. 2013. “The Roles of Bridging and Bonding in Social Media Communities.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 64 (8): 1671–81.

Cao, Lu, Dong, Tang, and Li develop a theoretical model investigating the contribution of bonding (social networks among homogeneous groups) and bridging (social networks among heterogeneous groups) to the individual and collective well-being of virtual communities, through information exchange. They argue that bridging and bonding have positive implications on information quality but not quantity, also noting that information quality is more critical than information quantity after a disaster. They situate their work within the social capital theory, referring to Nan Lin (“Social Networks and Status Attainment,” 1999), Pierre Bourdieu and Loïc J. D. Wacquant (An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology, 1992), and Mamata Bhandar, Shan-Ling Pan, and Bernard C. Y. Tan (“Towards Understanding the Roles of Social Capital in Knowledge Integration: A Case Study of a Collaborative Information Systems Project,” 2007). The authors conclude that bonding has an impact on bridging, and that both have a positive impact on information quality.

▲ Duffy, Brooke Erin, and Jefferson D. Pooley. 2017. “‘Facebook for Academics’: The Convergence of Self-Branding and Social Media Logic on” Social Media + Society 3 (1).

Duffy and Pooley describe the growing trend of academics engaging in self-promoting practices such as creating and maintaining a brand for themselves, especially in the digital world. They analyze’s Silicon Valley startup aesthetic and business model, as well as the social culture manifested on the site, in order to argue that the popularity of scholarly social networking sites such as is tied to—but also compounds—the intense pressures academics face to market themselves and their work. Duffy and Pooley pinpoint the social media characteristics of, such as the prioritization of feedback mechanisms, analytics, and user-generated materials. These elements contribute to the authors’ assertions that goes hand-in-hand with unhealthy aspects of academic culture within the neoliberal university. The authors conclude with a warning about the risks of sites like causing academics to internalize market pressures, as well as’s guise as a for-profit company with enormous collections of user data and membership barriers to access while purporting to be a viable path to an open access future.

▲ Eve, Martin Paul. 2015. “’s Peer Review Experiments.” In Really, We're Helping To Build This . . . Business: The Files. Liquid Books.

Eve critiques’s system for reviewing and recommending articles, while addressing its strengths and laying out a schema for possible review systems on similar platforms. He argues that while there is value in creating a structure of trusted curation,’s system of asking senior academics to become editors, expected to review and recommend four to ten articles per month on the site, is problematic. Eve references eminent scholars in the field, such as Hall and Fitzpatrick, to note that while such a social system of review (a peer-to-peer review structure) is likely better than existing structures, these structures must be designed and implemented thoughtfully if they are to be effective. Eve posits that any such system should meet the following criteria: 1) it should not require a quantified degree of engagement (i.e., four to ten articles per month); 2) it should allow for qualitative discussion beyond the usual editorial mechanisms for inclusion or exclusion; 3) it should be transparent about ranking, particularly when it comes to the use of algorithms; 4) it should be transparent about metrics related to the ranking or reliability of reviewers themselves. Though Eve sees these as criteria for improving the site’s peer review function, he concludes with a caveat that the peer review system will continue to face problems because the company will be distracted by privileging venture capitalist exit strategies to appease its investors.

▲ Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. 2015. “Academia, not Edu.” Really, We’re Helping To Build This … Business: The Files. Liquid Books.

Fitzpatrick reviews the problems with and the state of possible alternatives in 2015. The problem with, for Fitzpatrick, is that the corporation’s main objective is not to improve scholarly communication but to profit from it. She shares Gary Hall’s criticisms of’s exploitation of academic labour, and they both share a drive to pursue alternative platforms for sharing research in a way that subverts’s business model and competes with the ubiquitousness of’s network. While Fitzpatrick appreciates institutional repositories as an alternative, she also points out the networking limitations here, and she goes on to suggest not-for-profit disciplinary repositories instead. The article ends with a call to researchers to contribute their work to the MLA Commons, a repository hosted by the Modern Language Association (though only available to Modern Language Association members), presenting it as a growing alternative to Of note, MLA Commons has now evolved into Humanities Commons, which is open to all.

▲ Fortney, Katie, and Justin Gonder. 2015. “A Social Networking Site Is Not an Open Access Repository.” In Really, We’re Helping To Build This … Business: The Files. Liquid Books.

Fortney and Gonder break down the terms of use of and ResearchGate in contrast with institutional repository models. They highlight the fact that both sites include clauses barring contributors to the site from taking their own research data and using it elsewhere once it has been published on or Research Gate. The authors compare these sites’ practices to other data-rich giants such as Facebook, glossing how and ResearchGate pressure users into connecting with Facebook in order to increase their access to member data. Like the other authors in the Files project, Fortney and Gonder conclude by reiterating the importance of reading terms and conditions when using sites like, and recommending the use of institutional or subject repositories instead.

▲ Geltner, G. 2015. “Upon Leaving” Billet. Mittelalter. Interdisziplinäre Forschung und Rezeptionsgeschichte (blog).

Geltner writes about his reasoning for leaving the scholarly social networking site and the feedback he received from the scholarly community upon doing so. He argues that’s business model is financially unsustainable, and because of this the site is moving in the wrong direction as far as the Open Access movement is concerned. Geltner is a medieval historian by profession, but he speaks to a much larger community concerned with these issues. He notes that the message he wrote announcing his departure from the community received 22,000 views within four days of posting it. Moreover, the post generated a huge amount of discussion over Geltner’s reasoning, with 2,000 followers making contributions to the debate, including the company’s CEO, with a number of discussants opposing Geltner’s decision.

Gold, Matthew, and George Otte. 2011. “The CUNY Academic Commons: Fostering Faculty Use of the Social Web.” On the Horizon 19 (1): 24–32.

Gold and Otte reflect on their experiences implementing an academic social network system, the CUNY Academic Commons, as a springboard for larger discussions about connecting researchers from distributed campuses, facilitating collaboration, and building virtual communities using integrated open-source solutions. They describe the project, its genesis, and their development and user-testing process, while also highlighting the benefits of using a commons that combines the interactive features of social networking sites with the file-sharing and storage features of digital repositories. Throughout, they assert that their platform’s ground-up, user- and developer-informed approach has been crucial to its success (measured in terms of site use, collaborative outputs, and other statistics). After focusing on the particular history and details of their own commons, they adapt Jonathan Zittrain’s notion of “generativity” in order to briefly explore the possible effects and affordances of open academic social networking sites more generally. In this brief final section, they express optimism about the ability of such platforms to transform academia and digital spaces, though they also acknowledge that this transformation will require time and effort.

Goodwin, Spencer, Wei Jeng, and Daqing He. 2014. “Changing Communication on ResearchGate through Interface Updates.” Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 51 (1): 1–4.

Goodwin, Jeng, and He examine the effects of interface design on informal scholarly communication as it takes place on the Research Q&A, group forum, and topic tags sections of the ResearchGate platform. After briefly surveying existing research on the design of scientific tools and social networking sites more generally, they address what they identify as a gap in the scholarship regarding academic social networking sites in particular by asking how changes to ResearchGate’s design either encouraged or prevented user access and retention. The authors maintain that, in contrast to scholarship emphasizing the barriers that can prevent academics from accessing social media sites and other scholarly communication tools, the design of ResearchGate across several iterations did not significantly alter a general trend toward positive social interactions within its user community.

▲ Hall, Gary. 2015. “What Does’s Success Mean for Open Access?” In Really, We're Helping To Build This … Business: The Files. Liquid Books.

Hall explains the position that holds in the pursuit of open access platforms with a focus on their business model in comparison to others. He argues that and sites like it are very different from institutional repositories, including in terms of their foundational ethics. In part, this is due to the fact that is a multinational corporation and will eventually have to return a profit for its venture capitalist investors; it will either move drastically away from an open access model or shut down. Hall critiques Academia’s business model from a two-pronged perspective, focusing first on the company’s way of building profit from aggregating research created by academics without remunerating these academics for their labor. He then explains how Google, Twitter,, and other financially motivated companies build their user bases by providing free content and selling the data related to how that content is used (who controls access to content is less important than who controls access to the data generated about the use of that content). He concludes that the Open Access movement is in danger of being outflanked by centralized for-profit entities, such as, which can harvest and leverage large datasets from users without having to pay those users.

† Hart, Jennefer, Charlene Ridley, Faisal Taher, Corina Sas, and Alan J. Dix. 2008. “Exploring the Facebook Experience: A New Approach to Usability.” In Proceedings of the 5th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (NordiCHI08), 471–74. New York: Association for Computing Machinery.

In the framework of user experience design, Hart, Ridley, Sas, Taher, and Dix examine a selection of users’ reactions to the popular social networking website Facebook. The authors put forth the idea that previous standards of evaluating digital environments need to be reimagined for our current technological moment to privilege user experience. Their findings indicate an overall positive reaction to Facebook despite the site’s meeting only two of the ten traditional usability guidelines. The authors call for a more holistic approach to design that pays heed to the pleasurable social knowledge creation experience of many individuals as they participate on social networking sites such as Facebook.

Jordan, Katy. 2014. “Academics and Their Online Networks: Exploring the Role of Academic Social Networking Sites.” First Monday (October 25).

Jordan examines the structure of digital academic social networks and the ways in which researchers at different career stages employ them. Conducting a survey of researchers at the UK-based Open University, the author employs mixed-method Social Network Analysis to provide insight into their use of, Mendeley, and Zotero. She concludes that researchers’ disciplines played an important role in determining the structure of networks, and that academic rank influenced the position of researchers within these networks more than factors such as active use of the platform in question. Drawing on existing studies of academic as well as non-academic social networking sites, her analysis therefore suggests that prevailing ideas about the democratizing nature of digital academic spaces are misguided (or, at the very least, far too simplistic). She closes with an acknowledgement of the limitations of her study, but also invites further consideration of the digital platforms and networks of various kinds that wittingly or unwittingly preserve social hierarchies.

Jordan, Katy. 2019. “From Social Networks to Publishing Platforms: A Review of the History and Scholarship of Academic Social Network Sites.” Frontiers in Digital Humanities 6.

Jordan offers a survey of the history and distinguishing features of popular academic social networking sites, as well as a comprehensive overview of existing scholarship on what she identifies as the three leading platforms of this kind:, ResearchGate, and Mendeley. Jordan organizes her analysis according to five overreaching themes in this body of scholarship, maintaining that each is further informed by questions about whether academic social networking sites are primarily publishing platforms or platforms meant to facilitate social connections. In the process, she also summarizes apparent tensions in both others’ work and in her own findings. The survey closes with a few additional observations about the impact of factors such as neoliberalization and the increasing need to understand how academic social networking sites are used and studied in non-Western contexts.

▲ Joy, Eileen A. 2015. “Open Letter to Rosemary Feal, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and the Modern Language Association.” Santa Barbara: Punctum Books. Accessed February 19, 2019.

In this letter to Rosemary Feal, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and the Modern Language Association (MLA) in general, Joy addresses the problems with the MLA Commons platform by suggesting changes to the platform to make it work as a viable alternative for Mainly, Joy argues that the MLA Commons is not truly an Open Knowledge Commons if there are certain features to which only Modern Language Association members have access. While she does think the MLA Commons could have the ability to subvert the model, she supports an uninhibited and radically open knowledge commons model, which the MLA Commons was not at the time this article was written. Joy has three major recommendations to improve the MLA Commons model: 1) model the social networking capabilities of but keep none of the impediments to access, namely MLA membership and disciplinary requirements; 2) transform PMLA (the MLA’s academic journal) into an open access journal; 3) encourage public participation in the Modern Language Association meetings, rather than barring public access. Of note, since the publication of Joy’s letter, the MLA Commons has evolved into the open access Humanities Commons platform, which does not require MLA membership to join. PMLA remains toll access, and the MLA convention also retains a registration fee for attendees.

† Liu, Alan. 2011. “Friending the Past: The Sense of History and Social Computing.” New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation 42 (1): 1–30.

Liu identifies media-induced sociality in oral, written, and digital culture. He proceeds to analyze Web 2.0 and social computing practices, and concludes that Web 2.0 lacks a sense of history, despite its intricately interconnected state. Liu attributes this state to two concurrent historical shifts: a social move from one-to-many to many-to-many, and a temporal shift from straightforward conceptions of time into the contemporary conception of instantaneous and simultaneous temporality. Reflexively, Liu argues that conceiving of time in this new instantaneous/simultaneous framework may ideologically proprietize the Internet and allow for ownership of social practices by organizations such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google. As such, Liu opts for a more traditional sense of temporality and history characterized by narratological linear time. He cites the social network system of his Research-oriented Social Environment (RoSE) project as a platform that integrates history with Web 2.0 infrastructure and allowances.

¤ Lovett, Julia A., Andrée J. Rathemacher, Diana Boukari, and Corey Lang. 2017. “Institutional Repositories and Academic Social Networks: Competition or Complement? A Study of Open Access Policy Compliance vs. ResearchGate Participation.” Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication 5 (1): eP2183.–3309.2183

Lovett, Rathemacher, Boukari, and Lang set out to compare whether faculty members at the University of Rhode Island deposit their work more with ResearchGate or with the institution’s own repository. To do so, the authors perform a population study and survey of over 500 faculty members. They found that scholars who are prone to depositing with one system will likely deposit with another. As such, Lovett et al. argue, librarians should not consider social networking sites as competition for institutional open access repositories. The authors do, however, suggest that further education still needs to be done about what open access policies entail, the difference between commercial and academic repositories, and the benefits of publishing open access.

Meishar-Tal, Hagit, and Efrat Pieterse. 2017. “Why Do Academics Use Academic Social Networking Sites?” The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 18 (1).

Meishar-Tal and Pieterse discuss the popularity and affordances of two academic social networking sites, ResearchGate and, contrasting academics’ stated motivations for visiting such platforms with detailed statistics about the ways in which they actually use them. Analyzing the results of a questionnaire sent to faculty at three different academic institutions in Israel, they conclude that whereas individuals use social networking sites such as Facebook primarily for interacting with others, they tend to value academic social networking sites primarily for self-promotion, information consumption, and belonging to—but not interacting with—peer groups. They correlate the results of this questionnaire, which was carried out using quantitative methods and with reference to “Uses and Gratifications” theory, with a literature review of the purported benefits of academic social networks. The authors also acknowledge the limitations of their study and call for further analyses in a similar vein.

Nández, Gemma, and Ángel Borrego. 2013. “Use of Social Networks for Academic Purposes: A Case Study.” The Electronic Library 31 (6): 781–91.

Summarizing the results of their 2011 survey of users from 12 Catalan universities, Nández and Borrego discuss who uses this academic social networking platform, why they use it, and how they use it compared to other social media platforms such as Facebook. They suggest that scholars require better institutional support and leadership regarding use of social media and networking sites (including those explicitly created with academic communities and researchers in mind). Additionally, they contend that libraries and academic publishers can benefit from paying attention to the ways in which academics use such platforms. While their discussion is largely descriptive, they situate it in relation to existing scholarship in media studies and scholarly communication.

Ovadia, Steven. 2014. “ResearchGate and Academic Social Networks.” Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian 33 (3): 165–69.

Ovadia differentiates between ResearchGate and, which he identifies principally as academic social networking sites, and citation management sites such as Mendeley, Zotero, and CiteULike (which went offline in 2019). Focusing on the former type of platform, he argues that reputation management via altmetrics (i.e., non-traditional bibliometrics), such as’s document view feature or ResearchGate’s “RG Score,” is one of the most valuable aspects of academic social networking sites—despite the fact that such altmetrics have not been adopted evenly across institutions. Additionally, Ovadia observes that these platforms facilitate potentially valuable research-sharing and informal interactivity between researchers, though he acknowledges that copyright issues must be taken into account at all times. Overall, he cautiously advocates for the use of academic social networking sites while suggesting that not all users will find them worthwhile for the same reasons, and others might do best to avoid them altogether.

▲ Pooley, Jefferson. 2018. “Metrics Mania: The Case Against” Chronicle of Higher Education (January).

Pooley discusses the metrics analysis functions of He argues that the site’s increasing focus on its Analytics page encourages obsession over these numbers. Policies that seek to measure quantifiable “impact” have already become an anchor of the neoliberal university.’s Analytics page displays data on how many times the author is cited, who cites an author where, how many times an article is read, what the author’s rank is within the hierarchy, etc., which provides the quantified research desired by some university administrators. For Pooley, this is dangerous because it takes advantage of researchers’ desire for visibility and encourages researchers to obsess over quantifiably measurable production, citation, and influence. Both of these factors can lead to researchers privileging quantity over quality, manipulating analysis (known as “p-hacking”), or undertaking self-plagiarism. As an alternative, he suggests using non-profit sites created by and for scholars, citing Scholarly Hub and the Modern Language Association’s Humanities Commons as examples. Overall, Pooley presents a bleak view of a platform that capitalizes on an anxiety-provoking labour system.

▲ Rushforth, Alex. 2015. “The Facebook-ization of Academic Reputation? ResearchGate, and Everyday Neoliberalism.” In Really, We're Helping To Build This . . . Business: The Files. Liquid Books.

Rushforth takes Phillip Marowski’s analysis of Facebook as the archexample of everyday neoliberalism and applies it in a structural analysis of scholarly social networking sites like and The author argues that and ResearchGate, like Facebook, encourage the atomization and instrumentalization of users and their social interactions. Rushforth relies heavily on ideas from Marowski’s book, Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste, seeing the space the individual encounters as a marketplace of ideas. Rushforth concludes that Marowski has given us reason to investigate further how neoliberalism has crept into the modern university.

▲ Tennant, Jon. 2017. “Who Isn’t Profiting Off the Backs of Researchers?” Discover Magazine.

Tennant takes aim at and for profiting from researchers’ free labour without much transparency. He concedes that’s policy of sharing data analytics with users who subscribe to the site’s premium feature engenders classist and hierarchical attitudes, but he argues that researchers having access to metrics concerning how their work is being circulated can also be a helpful, welcome feature. On another note, Tennant uses the term dark sharing to describe a common scenario in which texts that have already been published elsewhere are being illegally posted on and hosted by and ResearchGate. He argues that dark sharing compromises the Open Access movement because it lacks the supports typically provided by journals and repositories, and it also breaks copyright law, which does not reflect well on the Open Access movement generally. The article concludes with a call to academics to transfer their texts from to Zenodo, a non-profit open access platform. For Tennant, the amount of energy spent circulating frustration about for-profit access models would be better used actually building open access infrastructure.

¤ Veletsianos, George. 2016. Social Media in Academia: Networked Scholars. New York: Routledge.

Veletsianos aims to nuance the conversation around academics’ participation on social media networks such as Facebook or Twitter. Contrary to the common narrative, Veletsianos urges his readers to consider the role of social media for academics as individuals. Social media is usually discussed in relation to increasing publication citation counts or one’s status as a public intellectual. Instead, Veletsianos contests that we should think of academic uptake of social media as a symptom of those involved with higher education; that is, academics want to connect and share aspects of themselves more broadly, so they turn to social media—social media does not cause them to connect and share more. This is an effective method as Veletsianos repositions the human subject as an active rather than passive agent in the larger realms of social media and networked scholarship.

Φ Winter, Caroline, Tyler Fontenot, Luis Meneses, Alyssa Arbuckle, Ray Siemens, and the ETCL and INKE Research Groups. 2020. “Foundations for the Canadian Humanities and Social Sciences Commons: Exploring the Possibilities of Digital Research Communities.” Pop! Public. Open. Participatory 2 (October 31, 2020). Commons as Sites of Connection > Historical and Theoretical Approaches to Knowledge Commons)

Noteworthy Examples of Digital Knowledge Commons n.d. “Share Research.” Accessed June 4, 2021. is a popular research-sharing platform and academic social networking site that enables users to create personal profiles, track citations, access online courses, share academic research, connect with other users or members of the public, engage in open discussions, and more. The platform also provides various supports and built-in features for non-English users (currently, it claims to provide tailored feeds for resources in 26 languages). Of note, though, some user statistics, search features, professional and academic tools, and repository items are accessible only to paying “premium” members.

Canadian Humanities and Social Sciences Commons. n.d. Homepage of Hsscommons. Accessed July 16, 2021.

The Canadian Humanities and Social Sciences Commons is a not-for-profit online research commons and academic social networking site in both of Canada’s official languages (English and French). It provides researchers and members of the public interested in the humanities and social sciences an open environment to share, access, re-purpose, and develop scholarly projects, publications, educational resources, data, and tools, with built-in support for more than 30 types of research materials. Based on HUBzero, an open source software platform developed at Purdue University, the Canadian Humanities and Social Sciences Commons includes a subject repository for open access publications that assigns digital object identifiers upon upload and follows FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) guidelines for data management; a project development environment that can integrate with popular repositories and data management tools such as Google Drive, Dropbox, and GitHub; individual user profiles, with single sign-on authentication through ORCID and the Canadian Access Federation; blogging capabilities; subject interest groups; tools to facilitate member interactions; and more.

Creative Commons. n.d. “When We Share, Everyone Wins.” Creative Commons. Accessed July 25, 2021.

Founded in 2001, Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that provides the public with free copyright licenses (“Creative Commons licenses”) for a variety of creative and academic works. Today, these licenses have been widely adopted, including by Wikipedia, Flickr, as well as many digital research commons—such as the Canadian Humanities and Social Sciences Commons, the CUNY Academic Commons, and the Humanities Commons. As a result, Creative Commons licenses and the Creative Commons network’s public domain tools have created a large, distributed digital commons of open resources, dramatically expanding the number of works that are freely available in the broader digital commons of the Internet. In addition to providing a range of non-commercial as well as commercial licenses, the Creative Commons currently supports community-based initiatives and digital tools that aim to improve access to open knowledge and OERs.

CUNY Academic Commons. n.d. Homepage. Accessed July 16, 2021.

The Academic Commons of the City University of New York (CUNY) is built on the open source, WordPress-based Commons In A Box platform. Operating as a central hub for knowledge exchange and communication among faculty and students, it is designed to help build community and support commons-based teaching and learning initiatives. Additionally, although it was founded in 2009 specifically for individual colleges within the CUNY system, it also supports a variety of far-reaching and public-facing projects—in part thanks to its emphasis on OERs. Through the CUNY Academic Commons, users can create and join groups, blogs, websites, private or public courses, and more. Individual users can also message and follow other students or faculty, share resources, and participate in discussion forums.

† GitHub, Inc. 2017. GitHub.

As a code repository, GitHub is predicated on transparent and hierarchical project management and organization. GitHub facilitates effective version control by backing up code for a project; allowing collaborative annotation or commenting on lines of code; providing varying levels of access for different team members; hosting unlimited collaborators; and supplying integrated issue tracking. Repositories can be private (secured, limited access) or public (open for community collaboration). GitHub is an exemplary instance of a collaborative project management and indexing tool specifically geared toward digital endeavours.

Humanities Commons. n.d. “Humanities Commons—Open Access, Open Source, Open to All.” Accessed June 4, 2021.

Built on the open source Commons In A Box platform and hosted at Michigan State University, the Humanities Commons is a not-for-profit digital research commons that provides academics and members of the public interested in the humanities with tools to create, develop, and publish research in its open access repository, “CORE” (Commons Open Repository Exchange). As an academic social networking site, it also allows users to create personal profiles and blogs, connect with others over shared research interests, join special interest groups, and more. In the Commons Open Repository Exchange, users can assign Creative Commons licenses to their publications or other research materials, and items uploaded to this central repository are automatically assigned digital object identifiers.

† Mendeley. 2021. “Reference Management Software & Researcher Network.” Mendeley. Accessed July 28, 2021.

Mendeley functions as a free reference management system and an academic social network. Users can generate bibliographies, collaborate with other users, and import resources. The program can be accessed online and as a desktop, iPhone, or iPad application. While the standard tool is free and provides users with two gigabytes of web storage space, additional storage can be purchased. The tool also includes a PDF viewer where users can add notes and highlight text. Citations can be exported as BibTeX and into several word processors. The social networking features include newsfeeds, comments, and profile pages. User statistics about papers, authors, and publications may also be viewed.

ResearchGate. n.d. “ResearchGate—Find and Share Research.” ResearchGate. Accessed June 4, 2021.

With millions of users worldwide, ResearchGate is a noteworthy example of a for-profit academic social networking site and research-sharing platform. Marketed primarily to academics working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, it allows users to upload research materials to its repository, share their work, pose questions, and connect with other users who share similar research interests or areas of expertise. Additionally, ResearchGate provides users with a propriety metric or “RG Score” that appears to measure bibliometric impact. Other statistics about users and publications uploaded to the repository can also be accessed.

† Roy Rosenzweig Center for New Media. n.d. “Zotero.” Zotero.

Zotero is an open source reference management system for users to store citations and other content in a variety of file formats. Most library catalogues and common online research environments contain Zotero links, and Zotero integrates with word processors and other writing environments (e.g., email and Google Drive), making it easy to save reference information while working. Users can also assign tags to library items and organize research into collections and subcollections. The tool functions and automatically synchronizes across multiple devices and web browsers. One of the capabilities that differentiates Zotero is the ability to create topical research groups that can house shared libraries, notes, and discussions, offering a collaborative research environment.

† Slashdot Media. 2017. SourceForge.

SourceForge is a web-based source code repository comprising a suite of tools dedicated to facilitating open source software development and dissemination. SourceForge resources include version control, integrated issue tracking, threaded discussion forums, documentation, download statistics, a code repository, and an open source directory. The repository induces social knowledge creation by hosting and indexing open source projects and providing easeful access to these projects for the community at large. Notably, SourceForge was the first service to offer free hosting for open source projects.

+ Wikipedia Foundation. 2019. About page, Wikipedia. Wikipedia:About

Wikipedia is a multilingual, online, open access encyclopedia. The foundational principle of Wikipedia is that the encyclopedia is developed from a neutral point of view that anyone can use, edit, and distribute. Content is written collaboratively and mostly by anonymous volunteers. Since its conception in 2001, Wikipedia has grown into one of the most largely referenced websites with more than 38 million articles and 374 million unique visitors each month.

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