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Friday, 3 October 2014

Mendeley Open Day 2014

It just seems at the moment that I don’t seem to be in the office that much (to the relief of my colleagues), following on from the Altmetrics and MmIT conferences and the joint Sheffield universities’ social media symposium in the last few weeks I’ve not stopped on my travels. And one event I could not miss was Mendeley’s Open Day 2014. Seeing as I had been to the previous three held at Mendeley HQ in Clerkenwell - soon to be within the Silicon Roundabout in London - it made sense I should continue with the yearly tradition.
It was a wise decision as the event was hosted in the cool surroundings of Camden Market at Proud Camden; a cross between horse stables, a disco and comedy venue. Yet it wasn’t just the venue that made it all worthwhile, it was the many useful sessions run by the clever and obviously keen developers of Mendeley. For myself who has been to the three previous open days, at least I think this was the fourth - something confirmed by co-founder Victor Henning, there is always a lot of benefit from the long journey.


The day began with a brief introduction by Ricardo Vidal from Mendeley and kicked straight into action with some live data comedy from science comedian Rob Wells who delved into the funny and interesting side of data and web searches on Google Trends. This was a genius way to begin a day long event, by firstly grabbing everyone’s attention but also had the great effect of making the audience quite relaxed, it is an idea that should be tried at all future day long academic events.


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Mendeley Open Day - Image © https://twitter.com/rvidal
We then heard from the three co-founders of Mendeley Jan Reichelt, Paul Föckler and Victor Henning about the vision for the platform and highlights from 2014. The session was particularly interesting as we heard from Victor Henning who was the catalyst for creating Mendeley and through the support of his two friends made it a reality. Following on from Jan and Paul talking about the ‘now and future’ Mendeley we heard an honest and open talk from Victor who each time he pitched his idea of this new reference management platform to friends and colleagues was told it was a; “stupid idea”. As Victor calculated, that 500 weeks on from the start of Mendeley it had grown incredibly well, as a business, organisation and gained a loyal following. He talked about the stresses and triumphs of the three co-founders starting their platform and how in the end it was all worth it.
After a brief break we got down to the real business of the day as the audience was treated to a series of presentations from various project leads on the many areas of work they are undertaking to improve the Mendeley experience. At this point I really noticed how many of these faces were the same ones I’d seen at the first Mendeley HQ Open Day. Given this is a software company going places, it was obvious that the staff leading the charge at Mendeley believe in it, they drive the platform and  genuinely seem passionate about it.
Various presentations from key developers Steve Dennis, See Wah Cheng, Matt Green and Matt Coulson et al showed that Mendeley was not resting on its laurels. At this point you might start thinking, that with previous posts I have written about Mendeley, that this is just a PR pitch for them. The truth is, for myself and many of the 2,200 other Mendeley Advisors, we believe in the product, how it has changed research from discovery, to altmetrics to plain old referencing which makes it one of the best purely academic tools on the market - if not the best.
The audience were given glimpses of the various new interfaces, the new desktop, Web Library 2.0, profile pages and the new researcher profile. Other innovations such as improved discovery, suggested papers and for researchers and students working in my department and discipline, support for better Medline integration.
We saw how Mendeley was working on helping researchers drill further down into how their papers were being accessed and shared. Whilst Android was heavily mentioned as the Mendeley team showed the work they had done creating the first official Android app and were now keen to test it.
Speaking to William Gunn, Head of Academic Outreach at Mendeley over lunch I said to him that this very much felt like Mendeley 2.0, possibly the greatest shift in the company’s history since its initial launch, to which William concurred.
After lunch there were presentations on the various work being done with Mendeley APIs with Joyce Stack and an invited talk from Dr John Lees-Miller, co-founder of the WriteLatex tool. This was a tool that had passed me by but I was very impressed by its functionality that allowed researchers to reformat papers for resubmission to other journals and had a great collaborative aspect for writing said papers, I was very impressed. Whilst full respect goes out to Joyce for mentioning my Tweet about Mendeley being better than iTunes as it did not include a free U2 album (which it has been referred to for the academic community)
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The breakout stables at Proud Camden
The session also highlighted how researcher’s needs were changing in their use of Mendeley, that for early career researchers and students the productivity aspect of the platform became less important and the social aspect more so as they progressed in their careers, whilst both elements remained important for the majority of users.
We were then treated to a preview of the Super Secret Summer Video that was a compilation of advisors from throughout the world, all joined up by throwing a Mendeley beachball to each other off-screen and explaining why they loved Mendeley. Following that there was a useful presentation from Mendeley Advisor, Vicky Pyne, final year medical student from the University of Bristol talking about the various useful tools Vicky employs as part of her studying such as Evernote, Prezi and of course Mendeley.
In the next break, we all ventured off again to the seven activity areas, all within old stables to meet specialists, play games and give feedback to the Mendeley product. In one area, with what appeared to be a pole dancing pole in the middle of it, we were split it into specialist groups. The we were given a board with a cartoon image of dna on it with various aspects of Mendeley on each strand and asked to place various stickers by the many strands of Mendeley that make up that code. I would imagine that most people reading this blog post will be familiar with the tired old exercise of sticking post-it notes on posters to reflect your feelings about a topic. This had a new angle with various stickers meaning different things, some good, some bad - all unique. We added our own thoughts as to what was good and bad about Mendeley, my personal one being more support and integration with Google Docs. In amongst the various stables was a photo booth, a chance to meet the founders of Mendeley, a community space and an opportunity to meet the API, data and analytics teams.  
After the break, the Data Science Team gave a presentation about machine learning and why this was so important to Mendeley. Kris Jacks who leads the team talked about recommendation systems they were working on and how the software improves with experience.
There was an interesting announcement by Donna deWeerd-Wilson, Executive Publisher in the field of Economics at Elsevier. Donna told the audience they were launching with Mendeley a new programme for early career researchers and the creation of research ambassadors. This was piloting within environmental science and economics and will launch in January 2015. It aims to create a Science Digest that will be a freely accessible collection of layman translations of original research papers with societal impact and/or policy focus, which will be published next to the original article in ScienceDirect.
Finally we were treated to some more top notch geek comedy from Helen Arney, one third of Spoken Nerd, a scientific comedy trio. Helen sang songs about maths, love and produced the best geeky joke of the day when she talked about being the only woman on her science degree and dating a scientist from her class when she said: “The odds may be good, but the goods are odd”.
The day finished with the customary Mendeley Social, where visitors were treated to more great food and a free bar in probably the best location I have ever attended an academic event. To go with that we got our swag bags which again exceeded previous years and something like my 10th Mendeley t shirt, actually more like my 15th.
Despite all of the fun and frolics, the day was a very serious (well informally serious) insight into the many things Mendeley are doing and how they are still, 10 years on almost, trying to push the academic envelope. There were no signs of Elsevier except a few very low-key members in the workshops and on stage and there was no sign that Mendeley has become what many see Eslevier as. There were no suits, no corporate speak and no hard sell, Mendeley may have lost some followers when it was bought out last year by the publishing giant, but from what I can see from the work they are doing to develop Mendeley, it may well have been their loss. I look forward to the new versions of everything, the library, profiles, APIs, desktop and much more when they come out and with any luck my fifth visit to their yearly gathering; well it would be rude not to.
Useful Links
You can view some of the day here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLw2QJJ5mQP4gs8K2sK4MaSPERWjOXEVKC
Conference #tag #MDOD14

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