The first question, "Why Are We Not Boycotting Academia.edu?", which was the title of a December 8, 2015 symposium organized by The Centre for Disruptive Media at Coventry University, is a crucial one. Unfortunately, it is also, at this moment in time, an apparently easy one to answer. The main reason "we" are not boycotting Academia.edu is because, as an organization backed by an estimated $17.7MM in venture-capital funding, Academia.edu has been able to successfully fulfill a need for a well-designed, easy to use, freely accessible, global repository of scholarly work across the disciplines. In fact, there is so much scholarly content posted currently on the site, including, it is worth mentioning, information about the 2015 Coventry University symposium organized by Gary Hall and Janneka Adema, that Academia.edu has become difficult to avoid.
Yet, as a privately-owned, venture-capital funded, commercial venture, Academia.edu has also been the object of some scrutiny, thanks largely to the attention brought to it by the 2015 symposium, a video recording of which can be accessed at Archive.org. The subject of two 2015 articles in the US-based magazines The Atlantic and The Chronicle of Higher Education, Academia. edu was, more recently, profiled and criticized in the Canadian magazine University Affairs for its ongoing use of the .edu domain despite the fact that the site has no educational affiliation or function. And, however educational its wider mission to facilitate access to scholarly work may be, its business model, ever evolving and not publicly disclosed, is a for-profit one that depends on the free donation of intellectual property originally funded by a range of government and non-profit sources.
The pubicly available facts about Academia. edu are astonishingly consistent: It has a, somewhat inexplicably, large and growing user base that totals an estimated 46MM account holders (December, 2016) and 36MM unique visitors per month. It is free to use for its registered users and it is designed and architected to be at once easy to use and feature-rich, meaning, even if you do not regularly visit the site, it will stay in touch with you via e-mail to keep you abreast of new research posted by those "academics" whom you "follow" and the "impact" of your work based on the number of users accessing it. Further, unlike other existing scholarly databases, such as JSTOR or ProjectMuse, Academia.edu offers users access to analytics related to the reception and readership of scholarly work and a daily-updated percentile rank, i.e., top 1%, 4%, etc., of work and profile views relative to those of others "using," perhaps more rightly referred to as, "posted," on the site.
As a registered user of Academia.edu, I have some first-hand experience with the site's functionality, its ease of use, and, as a result of both, several questions about its user base and the demographics of its 36MM unique monthly visitors. Although advertising itself as a platform with 46MM registered academics, the lack of any requirements for registering an account means that its user base is highly diverse and almost certainly not comprised of 46MM "academics," unless that term is understood in the very broadest sense possible. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 there were just over 1.3 MM job positions in post-secondary education in the US. Assuming that the US represents the largest post-secondary job market globally, the fact that this number, in its entirety, represents less than three percent of Academia.edu's user base is just the most obvious indication that the demographics of Academia.edu's user-base are wide-ranging. Further, having posted the table of contents to my 2014 first year writing textbook on Academia.edu, I know from comments posted by users downloading this material that over two thirds of those accessing this resource are undergraduates. While I am not suggesting that undergraduates should be prevented from accessing Academia.edu nor that they should not be encouraged to access research on the site, I do think it is worthwhile pointing this out as one discrepency in Academia.edu's advertised...