There's social networks for just about everything these days: from music to film to friends to cars, the list goes on. Undoubtedly, Facebook is by far the king, with its 400 million users and endless amount of groups and subject matter. But what about when you really want to target a specific demographic of people and build tools specifically geared to them?
ResearchGate, a startup which recently joined our community here at Vator, gave me a tour of its highly targeted social network.
The company is specifically designed for the scientific community and has several tools Facebook simply doesn't offer. That's probably why the site has been growing at such a rapid rate, with about 2,000 sign ups per day and has over 300,000 users now across 200 countries.
I spoke with Ijad Madisch, co-founder of ResearchGate who told me it's been a two year process of listening to user feedback to build and evolve the site to where it is today.
One of the site's most interesting features is its semantic search utility. Since scientists are constantly sharing documents and research papers with one another, this is a great tool to help them share ideas and studies. Right now, the social network has about 35 million documents in its database but it's all about finding them.
Being that Madisch is a doctor himself, he designed these tools from personal experience. For example, the whole reason for this semantic search tool is the fact that there could be other scientists throughout the world working on similar studies and research. A scientist can easily search through these papers and find the scientist who wrote it, and easily connect with him or her through the social network and user profiles. Users can also comment on research papers.
“The key to making information accessible to the scientists that need it is making it easy for other scientists to publish that information. This way experiments, data and measurements can finally cease to be repeated hundreds of times around the globe and we can make greater strides in new discoveries," said Madisch.
At the same time, ResearchGate isn't fully trying to separate itself from Facebook. It's actually taken a couple pages from the book of the social networking giant and even a little from Twitter. Most recently, Madisch launched a microblogging tool. When a user logs into their account, they see these updates in a long stream, just like you would on Facebook. For example, if a scientist has uploaded a new document, this will show up as an update on their friends homepage of updates, something which seems to have become a standard on any social networking site.
The company also lets users connect their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts if they choose so, but doesn't take in information from those networks, as nobody wants to know if a fellow scientist is drinking a cup of coffee at Starbucks, instead, the site only distributes out updates and tweets. Our micro-blogging feature here on Vator works the same way.
I asked Madisch about how ResearchGate filters out users who aren't actually scientists. He said for the most part, the site takes note of email addresses, for example, most come from universities. Also, ResearchGate relies on its users for reports in case: if non-scientific activity is noticed, those users will get reported and removed.
Currently, ResearchGate has about 15 employees and two offices: one in Berlin and one in Boston. The company has been surviving off an angel round and is in talks to close some funding soon. Madisch told me there's several potential revenue streams for his social network including a job market feature, selling his platform or subcommunities to other institutions, and also a resource center for lab products where users can rate and comment on products. Sort of like a social shopping experience but focused on scientific equipment.
In the end, although ResearchGate is another social network, it's found a way to differentiate itself and prove itself more valuable to its users than a Facebook or Twitter. Upcoming, ResearchGate said it will continue to upgrade and add features to its main dashboard.