What’s New With ‘Peer Review’ and What It Means to You

Jul 15, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 6.44.44 AMNew websites are being created where the technical talent your company is seeking (and often struggling to find) will be going to publish and discuss their work, evaluate other people’s work, and collaborate with their peers on new work.

These sites are underused or not used at all by most talent acquisition departments. They are fertile ground for those who understand the rules of engagement.

The Start of Peer Review

Peer review dates back to the 18th century and is used in all fields of study. It means the evaluation of work by an independent group of experts in the same field. For instance, I could claim that my wife’s homemade vegetable soup instantly cures influenza (it worked for me) but a peer reviewed medical journal will not publish the recipe unless infectious disease experts can replicate my results.

This is how experts self-regulate their professions. It has worked for a long time. It has also been a closed process controlled by a relatively small number of journals. It developed when print publications were the only game in town, but the Internet is disrupting this model with many new websites that challenge the status quo.

The ways that research papers are published and reviewed are undergoing important and far-reaching changes. These changes are extremely relevant to many corporate talent acquisition departments. There are opportunities to build your employer brand. New resources are being developed that individual recruiters and sourcers can use to find and contact highly skilled candidates.

This transformation is being led by scientists, technologists, and engineers but will grow to include almost all disciplines. We’re still in the early innings of these changes and organizations that position themselves appropriately will enjoy big advantages.

A Look at ResearchGate

ResearchGate is a good place to start. If you aren’t familiar with it, you should be, particularly if your company is involved in science, engineering, or technology. ResearchGate went live in 2008, in part as a way to push back against the traditional peer review process. It has over 4 million members and 50 million publications. Last year, Bill Gates led a $35 million Series C investment round for the website (Gates has been very choosy about his technology investments and his backing highlights the site’s potential). The site is not just for “hard” scientists, engineers, and technologists but also includes social scientists.

ResearchGate serves its users in many ways and provides a variety of tools. It’s a social network where researchers can find people doing similar work, share data, discuss new approaches, and collaborate cross-functionally on projects. A few months ago, it unveiled “Open Review” which allows users to give feedback on research reproducibility and discuss publications with the authors and the ResearchGate community. The goal is to “make progress happen faster.”

There are a lot of sites with goals like ResearchGate’s, not just in science and technology but across a variety of fields. I’ll touch on some others below. These are the sites where recruiters, sourcers, and talent-acquisition leaders should be planting their flags. From a strategic perspective, if you are looking to build a targeted employer brand for people with specific skills, these sites should be a cornerstone of your strategy.

A lot of the users of these sites are going to have Facebook accounts and they’ll use them to share their funny cat photos. But is that really where you want to reach them? And getting seen through the recruiter jungle that LinkedIn has become is increasingly difficult and expensive. From a tactical perspective, if you are hunting for someone to fill a specific job as soon as possible, try the most information-rich places. World-class sourcing isn’t always knowing a little bit about a whole lot of people, but rather a whole lot about the right people.

Some More Sites

Mendeley is the website most often compared to ResearchGate. It focuses on building tools that allow their users to generate citations, organize papers, annotate, etc. It also has social networking and collaboration functions that they continue to grow. It was purchased last year by Elsevier for an amount widely reported to be a little shy of $100 million. is one of my favorite sites in this category. It reportedly received about $11 million from Vinod Khosla (founding CEO of Sun, etc.) and has other big investors on board. It claims a community of 10 million researchers. The focus is on functionality that allows users to build a personal brand and use analytics to learn about who is viewing their research. It is picking up over 30,000 new users and 8,000 new papers a day.

Frontiers ( is a similar site with a science focus. It is smaller than the above but has interesting features including more multi-media content.

LabRoots and Epernicus are also smaller sites worth keeping an eye on and each have some unique data mining functionality. There are several others trying to carve out their niche. is not a social network but rather an older search tool that builds profiles and uncovers relationships. It is ambitious, useful, and hints at future convergences.

It’s still too early to tell who the ultimate winners in this space will be, and it’s an area that continues to attract investor interest.

Separating the Wheat From the Chaff

The peer review social platforms that are gaining traction all have one thing in common. The sites that matter and will continue to grow are the ones that provide real functionality to help their users.

When social networking first became popular there was an explosion of “me-too” sites that had nothing to offer but their specialization. We saw sites spring up with taglines like “we are like LinkedIn but only for Java developers” or “like Facebook but just for accountants.” These were failures. The question from the groups targeted was always “why do I want to join your site when I already belong to LinkedIn?” The answer was generally a feeble “because it only has people like you.”

Huh? LinkedIn has user groups representing just about every topic on earth where people can discuss whatever they like. And there are other legacy forums online that further fill this need. So, when evaluating any new site in this category, I look at what functionality it is actually bringing to the table. What can someone do (or learn) that they can’t do elsewhere? Is it worth doing? Is the technology designed to distract or empower?

Developing a Strategy

The rules of engagement for these platforms are different than with LinkedIn. In many cases, these sites try to limit their membership to people, organizations, and companies involved in research. They don’t want recruiters crowding their sites and mass-emailing job solicitations. However, in almost all cases, the conversations, papers, and profile information on the sites are public. Most (not all) do have job posting functionality, but that’s just the beginning of what proactive talent acquisition departments should be doing. Discussing the best ways to engage with these sites could fill another article. But the number one thing to keep in mind is respect.

For sourcers and recruiters looking to fill individual roles, make good use of the depth of available information to carefully identify the strongest matches. When contacting people, start by discussing exactly what it is about their body of work that made you reach out to them. For employer branding and pipeline development, work closely with relevant line management (engineering, IT, etc.) These sites represent a great opportunity for you to partner with leadership in other departments. Is your company’s work being showcased across these platforms? Do you have a plan in place to increase network participation when it comes to the critical skills your company is seeking? Getting your company’s work out there and the right employees actively engaged in these communities is a great way to quickly build your brand for targeted skill sets. These sites have the potential to provide significant value to your company’s R&D teams.

Get interested in what these new platforms offer. And then proceed respectfully using your creativity. Look to pull in partners every step of the way.

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