Last week I was lucky enough to be invited down to Mendeley Towers based in the Big Smoke to take place in their first ever UK Mendeley Advisors Appreciation Day. The day was not only an opportunity for Mendeley to showcase their brilliant social reference management software, but an informal platform to explain some of the new innovations they had in the pipeline. In addition it was an opportunity for them to say thanks to the network of UK advisors who have been working in outreach programmes to promote the software.
The day was hosted in the very cool Mendeley offices, think Google on a much smaller scale – an open-plan with bikes, foosball table and lots of free food and drinks, breakout areas with comfy sofas. The morning began with a keynote from the three Mendeley co-founders in which they explained the origins of the software and how they got funding and settled on the name Mendeley. If you want to know more about the name Mendeley read this blog post written by co-founder Victor Henning.
The 50 or so lucky delegates were then thrown head first into a team pub quiz which covered all things Mendeley, including some interesting trivia, such as Mendeley once sharing the same office building as Michael Palin, although most of the American and European Mendeley staff didn’t know who he is. Luckily they had heard of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I was expecting the delegates to be made up of a mixture of teachers, information professionals and librarians - how wrong I was. I only came across four people with library and information backgrounds, with the majority of delegates being PhD students and researchers, with a lot of biochemists! One thing everyone did have in common was a passion for Mendeley and for some a growing interest in all things Altmetrics. It was a very proactive crowd, and predominantly male. The day was interspersed with ‘lightning talks’ from various Mendeley Advisors. It was nice to see Dr. Philip Fowler from the University of Oxford who like us at ScHARR had been successful in moving his students onto the Mendeley platform.
There was no shortage of sessions and presentations by key Mendeley staff on everything from visualisation of data to the new suggest papers function. Whilst desktop, Web and API designers threw their ideas and designs out to small focus groups who in turn were able to make suggestions for what they want adding to the software. This is the way Mendeley works, that it listens to its community and that has helped drive the software’s evolution. I was even able to air my long standing request for a ‘log out’ function on the desktop version to the man who can make it happen Steve Dennis. This is on the cards apparently, so people using Mendeley on public access machines will have peace of mind when turning the application off. Whilst there was an excellent working lunch session by Kris Jack on Mendeley’s new ‘suggest’ function that picks out papers you might like based on previously saved references in your Mendelely database. I suggested the option of being able to suggest papers to people you are connected to, which Kris really seemed to like. As for lunch, very much the gauge of how good an event has been , it was fair to say the food reflected the day - with loads of fresh salads and sandwiches from Pret A Manger and Innocent Smoothies to wash it all down.
Being in Mendeley’s headquarters felt like an academic version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in that we were shown some of the cool stuff Mendeley were working on. We had full access to the co-founders who were very keen to hear our feedback and ideas. One session I was ushered to along with other University representatives lead by Mendeley Co-Founder and President Jan Reichelt who wanted to hear our thoughts on pricing and the politics of bringing this new software into wider academic circles. Along with other advisors the discussion revolved around getting the software into institutions via SWETS and the wider issue of copyright. Mendeley not only facilitates the sharing of references, but the actual PDFs, something most institutional librarians and journal publishers would be uneasy about due to copyright implications. My thoughts are the same as Jan’s in that publishers and libraries will need to reassess what rights they give to researchers and students. With cloud storage, researchers and teachers working on the go with tablets and smartphones, cross-institution collaboration and academic developments in Altmetrics and Open Access the shift in how we work in academia is beginning to happen.
Small group discussions continued outside on the rooftop garden with the topic of copyright legislation and Mendeley still in full flow. Mendeley may on the surface seem no different from the likes of Napster in that it facilitates the breaking of licences and copyright, but the reality is that it reflects what most academics want - flexibility. The software has not come by chance either in that the growing interest and momentum for Open Access and Altmetrics is all part of one larger picture. Whether Mendeley can move established packages such as Endnote and Refworks from their reference management thrones is hard to tell. If anything they have picked up the baton from the likes of CiteUlike and Zotero and caused the established packages to seriously rethink what they do. For too long the likes of Endnote have stayed with simple applications that haven’t really evolved with the times. You only have to look at how Microsoft let their guard down allowing Google and Apple to step in any potential gaps in the market. The Mendeley model is still fresh and is not afraid to think outside of the box despite limited resources, whether another package appears and steals their thunder only time will tell.
The day was finished at what Mendeley called Beer O’Clock as dozens of massive rectangular pizzas were delivered to their headquarters with many delegates staying behind well beyond 6pm to chat more about research and Mendeley of course. As I strode back to the train station under rainy skies I felt quite invigorated to push Mendeley further as I can see from what is going on in the background that this software will become increasingly important to the academic community. It cares about how we work, of course it’s a business and needs to turn a profit, but being run by academics and creative minds will put Mendeley in a strong position once the Altmetric and Open Access floodgates finally crack open, and I want to be there to ride that wave.
More Photos from the day can be accessed here http://www.flickr.com/photos/mendeley/sets/72157631610622640/with/8019100296/