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London, EC1R 5DF, United Kingdom, http://www.mendeley.com. Price: free basic service, premium package to be available in early 2010. Mendeley.
A large number of citation management tools are freely available today, both desktop and web based . Mendeley is an impressive player in this field, with ambitions that go far beyond offering a useful tool to individual users: Their hope is to provide a true social research environment, revolutionizing publication metrics along the way.
Mendeley's initial model was the popular social music service Last.fm <http://www.last.fm>. Last.fm users share their listening habits and benefit by having access to the listening patterns of millions of other users to discover new artists or songs. Users' own data become the fodder for new discoveries. This is one of the foundations of the social web: give up some data to get something in return. Mendeley users provide anonymized data on what they are reading and how they organize those readings. Mendeley will use these data to create an open, interdisciplinary database of citations, recommendation and collaborative filtering tools, and “usage-based metrics” based on how often articles are read, rather than waiting until they are cited. As the founders admit, success will depend on getting a “sufficient number of participants” . So how do you convince busy researchers to give up their data? By offering something of utility to them today. Mendeley's enticement to participate is its citation management tools.
Mendeley's core offering is the Mendeley Desktop tool. Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, it serves as a simple but powerful tool for managing citations and stored articles, and it provides capabilities similar to other current citation managers. Citation databases can be imported from EndNote, BibTeX, Zotero, or other tools supporting the RIS format, originally developed by Research Information Systems. The Web Importer browser plug-in allows capture of citations from online sources including PubMed, EBSCO, Google Scholar, and many electronic journal vendors. Portable document format (PDF) files can be added via drag-and-drop to one's library or by a simple button click. Mendeley then attempts to extract citation metadata from CrossRef, ArXiv, or PubMed. If it cannot be found there, it tries to extract citation elements from the metadata in the PDF itself. If that fails—and it often does—there are options to locate the rest of the metadata from Google Scholar or to add it manually. Documents can be tagged, made a favorite, and organized into “collections,” and PDFs can be annotated, which alone is an excellent feature. Users can either keep their own PDF storage arrangement and have Mendeley link to PDFs, or they can have Mendeley organize PDFs. Mendeley can also be set to “watch” a given folder on the user's computer and automatically import any new PDFs saved in that location.
Plug-ins for Word and OpenOffice enable users to insert and format citations for manuscript bibliographies, with support available for hundreds of journal styles. (The Word plug-in is for Windows only at time of writing, but soon to be available for Mac as well.) This element is not as robust as those of some other citation management tools; for example, it does not seem possible to edit the styles. A simple “copy citation” feature allows easy pasting of formatted citations into other word processing tools, including Google Docs.
In parallel with the desktop tool, a web-based library lets users synchronize and access their data from anywhere there is web access. Mendeley provides 500 MB of free online private file storage, with more to be available via the premium package. The free online component provides some social networking options, including contacts and shared and public collections. Free shared collections can include citations as well as PDFs and can be shared with up to ten individuals. Users are responsible for their own copyright awareness. “Public” collections are reading lists and do not contain full-text files. Users can subscribe to any public collection via really simple syndication (RSS) to discover new items and then add those citations to their own libraries.
At the time of this writing, users cannot yet take advantage of advanced social tools in Mendeley, but a forthcoming “premium package” is expected to offer more advanced metrics as well as a recommendation tool, along with more storage space and the ability to have larger groups for shared collections.
Documentation is good and includes a getting started guide, a good frequently asked questions (FAQ) section, and a lively support forum where new features are proposed and discussed. Mendeley staff are active on the forum, and it is encouraging to see so many feature requests flagged with “started” and “planned” labels. Mendeley has also initiated discussions with librarians on which features or services might make us more likely to add Mendeley to the range of bibliographic tools that we support, teach, and recommend.
Even without the lofty ambitions of a social research environment, Mendeley is a good choice for researchers or students looking to manage citations and documents without investing in expensive software. In a crowded marketplace, however, it remains to be seen whether it can compete with other players for the attention of a sufficiently large number of users to become a truly transformative service.