Earlier this month, Springer Nature and ResearchGate announced that we will be working together on a pilot designed to remove barriers to research and to make the sharing of science easier. This may have been surprising to those who think of us as an established publishing house and a rogue start-up, respectively, when, in fact, we’re both trying to challenge the world of academic publishing to better meet the needs of researchers and the wider research community. This pilot is an opportunity for us to do just that and to combine our expertise in publishing high-quality research and building an online platform for millions of scientists and their work.

As part of this pilot, authors who have published in one of 23 Nature-branded journals since November 2017 will have the full versions of their articles posted in their ResearchGate profile, immediately creating more visibility for their work and easing its discovery. This is a significant development because authors of articles published in these journals are usually not permitted to share such downloadable versions of them.

But we are seeing shifts in the publishing world, such as Plan S, a set of principles that would see signatories agree to only fund primary research that will be freely available to the public after publication. This is an overarching ambition that Springer Nature shares, and it has proposed a series of recommendations to enable it. While these shifts aren’t why we’re working together, we do believe they are symptoms of a much larger change that’s connecting us and that we must respond to.

Flash back to the streets of late 19th-century Berlin, where Werner von Siemens’s electric trams put horses out of work. It wouldn’t be long until trucks powered by Rudolf Diesel’s newly invented namesake engine joined them on the German capital’s streets. Here, Julius Springer opened his bookstore and publishing house. Soon he specialized in scientific journals, and from these journals the world learned about Diesel’s and Siemens’ inventions, which boosted progress during the industrial revolution.

In 2019 the city’s signature yellow trams continue to run past ResearchGate’s headquarters, just two miles from where Springer founded his publishing house more than 175 years ago. Scientists’ discoveries are still the harbinger of economic and societal change, and they are still published in scientific journals. But the way scientists want to communicate their research is being extended because we’re in the middle of another revolution.

This digital revolution was fueled by an invention that was meant to change how scientists communicate from the very start. When Tim Berners-Lee came up with the idea for the World Wide Web, he created it for scientists to share their research—so if one scientist left CERN near Geneva, another could pick up their work, using hypertext to connect one scientific finding to another and make sense of them in context.

Having all data from research studies at scientists’ fingertips is becoming ever more important as stand-alone research articles fail to express the entire story of their genesis. Articles remain very useful independent summaries, but the bulk of the work is often in the connections between those articles and in the underlying data sets. It is by building on these data that researchers can create new results. But to successfully work with these data, they need to be kept in a place where scientists can easily access the information, as well the article that describes it, and talk to the person who produced it to fully understand its value. 

This is the case at ResearchGate, where scientists share all research that belongs to a study in projects they present on their profile. Research articles that are part of such projects get three times more comments on the network. Springer Nature also supports the sharing of research data. It has a set of standardized research data policies that can be easily adopted by journals and dedicated Research Data Support services where expert research data editors help authors organize, curate and deposit files in a useful and accessible way.

In short, scientists’ communication needs have changed. Julius Springer met them in his time. Now it increasingly takes our combined action to meet such needs today, and that’s why we’re embarking on this pilot. We already know that many researchers still value publishing in reputable journals, and we also know that they want to collaborate and create visibility for their work online.

In fact, in a recent survey run by Springer Nature, a journal’s reputation was given as the second most important reason for scientists to choose to submit to it. Another recent survey found that the most important reason for scientists to use ResearchGate was increasing the visibility of their research. These results give us something to start with.

In this pilot, we’re combining Springer Nature’s experience in publishing quality science with ResearchGate’s network of 15 million scientists worldwide, and its reach of 150 million monthly visits. It will create more visibility for authors’ articles and allow them, by using the network, to discuss their research with peers in context. 

In the upcoming months, we’ll closely monitor how researchers work with this model, which is just one option of many. We’re looking forward to hearing from scientists whether they like it and what else they need. In the end, this pilot is about finding a new dissemination model that works for them, today and in the future.