Competitor Academia.edu, which also coordinates data through Facebook, actually has more members, almost 3.4 million, against ResearchGate's 2.9 million, but it has only gone through a Series A funding round of $4.5 million. Both companies prefer to be compared with LinkedIn (LNKD).
The two also define their markets somewhat differently -- Academia.edu encourages the sharing of raw data and is open to all academics, while ResearchGate claims it already has half the world's scientific researchers on its membership roles. What's most exciting is how sites like ResearchGate encourage global collaboration among members. Two examples from today's news:
ReadWrite noted the grad student in the Phillippines who posted his failed formula for getting energy from waste oil on the site, then a Spanish scientist
found a tweak that made the formula work.
AllThingD writes about how an Italian researcher with equipment but no samples met a Nigerian with samples but no equipment on the site, and how they've published papers about a new, deadly form of yeast
on ResearchGate itself.
The point for Gates, and for some of the other big-name backers of ResearchGate, is to reduce friction among researchers, encourage collaboration and speed breakthroughs. The old world of peer-reviewed research that costs thousands to publish and access is giving way to a more open and collaborative process. Whether this model can get its discoveries through the maze of "intellectual property" laws and into the market is still open to debate.
At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Follow @DanaBlankenhorn This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.