Just weeks after Amazon’s highly controversial acquisition of GoodReads, major scientific publisher Elsevier has pulled a similar content grab by purchasing Mendeley, a cloud-based social media platform featuring open source content provided by academics.
A detailed summary of the argument against Elsevier’s recent acquisition can be found at The Cost of Knowledge, but essentially, academics object to the purchase and monetization of what was once open source academic content. Elsevier stands to make significant profits from the information housed at Mendeley — and with no obligation to compensate the authors of that content. Further, Elsevier now has direct access to Mendeley users’ online reading habits and workflows — valuable information that can only further boost Elsevier’s bottom line, all without the users’ consent.
Both Amazon’s and Elsevier’s recent acquisitions demonstrate that as online communities grow and data accumulates, the monetary value of that community rises, which in turn exposes it to the claws of corporate greed. As users, we innocently participate in online communities that interest us, not realizing that our contributions — whether they be the generation of original content, or usage statistics of existing content — are for sale. This may be the beginning of the end of the open source movement: internet users are no longer individuals collaborating and exchanging information for the common good; they are rapidly and inadvertently becoming cogs in the corporate machine.