From this perspective, knowledge translation tools make a lot of sense. If you can pay a small amount to guarantee or at least increase the chance that your work will be read by your peers, than that's money worth spending. A trial done my TrendMD of 3200 studies shows that cross-promotion of research can generate 50% more citations in a year. And these effects were particularly strong for Health and Medical Sciences. If we take citations as a valid measure of impact, than that's a good result, particularly if your work would normally not even be read, let alone cited. And once your work is out there, so is your name.
The flip side is that promoting your work is not necessarily cheap. A TrendMD campaign can cost around $200US, which for an established academic at a prestigious university need not be a whole lot, but for a researcher struggling at a small university or in a country where salaries and funding are a fraction of what they are universities like mine may represent a significant sum of money. Even a small campaign, like promotional Tweets, can represent a lot of money. So from this perspective, it would seem that these tools are likely to exacerbate the problem of inequality, the Matthew Effect.
Nothing is free
Instead of seeing knowledge translation tools as an additional challenge to equality, TrendMD argues that it is in fact an opportunity: $200US is a lot of money, but it is significantly less than the $1000US or more that you would have to spend to present at a major conference. And getting noticed at a conference takes work as well. If there are presentations parallel to yours by famous speakers, you might just be speaking to a nearly empty room. I've experienced this as well: in the second year of my PhD I talked to a room of four people, while a colleague was talking to well over fourty.
One solution, I think, it to move away from these massive conferences and focus on regular, small-scale conferences. The linguistics community in The Netherlands has a range of small conferences that are cheap and highly relevant to all. We are working to expand this on an international level with the first European Conference of Conversation Analysis, a small conference aimed to be accessible to PhD students, and early and mid-career researchers. Similar conferences could be organised throughout the world. There is then still a use for larger conferences where the global community can get together, but their import would be significantly less. Your success as an academic will depend less on the funding you have available - or so I hope.
Knowledge translation tools may be part of the solution. They cannot replace conferences, since conferences are about more than sharing work. Being part of a community means more than just having your work read and cited. It means meeting and talking to people: most of my impact I've generated by building my network in this way. But that does not mean that these tools can't be useful.
And there are publishers that are determined to prevent the rise of open access, because it threatens their highly successful business model. But that does not, of course, mean all publishers are greedy. As JMIR Publications rightly pointed out to me on Twitter: publishing is not free and some publishers do make an effort to make science open. Not all publishers are getting into fights with major universities the way Elsevier is.
If they want to help, then we need to make sure that it's not only the Haves that can use these tools. I can pay to fast-track an article, because my line managers bring in a lot of funding, which increases my chances for future grant applications, but many others cannot. The price for people like me may thus have to go up so the price for others can come down, the same as with Article Processing Fees. In the end we may need a socialist system for academia in which the Haves pay not just for themselves, but also for the Haves Nots. Although whether Socialism can work with Capitalism...