Mendeley in WIRED

There is an interesting article on the innovative and rapidly growing Mendeley system in the latest (June 2011) issue of WIRED, which gives some background to the hopes and vision of the senior Mendeley team.

Principle investor Stefan Glaenzer: “We are aiming to make Mendeley the biggest knowledge database on the planet [. . . ] In 19 months we have collected over 67 million articles. It took Thomson Reuters 49 years to come up with 40 million.”

Victor Henning, cofounder and CEO, is noted as explaining that the productivity/collaborative component of Mendeley will be monetised, the unique data aggregation will be monetised, Mendeley will be turned into a content distribution platform and targeted advertising will be introduced for Mendeley’s users.

They seem to have established the user base to support this: a claimed 800,000 users uploading seven million research articles (presumably full-text in comparison with the quoted 67 million articles, presumably of bibliographic details).

What is less clear is what monetization routes may be built, or indeed recognised, for the producers and copyright holders of the content which to be distributed, or whether the service itself is repayment enough for the value-added exploitation. Previously, academic authors, and by extension their employing institutions and the funders of their research, have been content to allow commercial exploitation of research articles by publishers. This realisation has helped to bolster arguments for open access, so will future commercial exploitation systems find it as easy to be accepted?

One of the key issues of course, is that traditional publishers have sought to exclusively exploit the material – the basis of subscription-model journals – while Mendeley and others are only using what has been given to them on a freely-reusable basis. This means that they are free to re-use it as they will, make money or not – and if anyone else comes up with a compelling service, then they can get hold of the information too and good luck to them.

Interestingly, as we know from the traditional model, once research dissemination habits have been formed, they tend to become embedded and resistant to change. In this situation, the first to establish a widely used and valued system built on top of freely reusable articles might establish a firm position. Might this happen with Mendeley? Could it be that Mendeley has been in the right place at the right time – as well as giving a service that academics truly value – to become a future dominant underpinning service for research dissemination and re-use?



About Bill Hubbard
Bill Hubbard is the Director of the Centre for Research Communications (CRC), incorporating the work of SHERPA. Bill has a background in Higher Education and IT; in particular in work aiming to embed IT into university functions and working practices. Previous work has looked at the use of Expert Systems in supporting decision making, designing information systems for managing research funding and a number of years working with the introduction of multimedia into university teaching. Bill's commercial experience includes three years as a project manager in virtual reality applications for communications, installations and broadcast, specialising in virtual heritage environments. Before this he worked as a senior lecturer at De Montfort University, Leicester, leading a BA degree course in Multimedia Design and has been an honorary lecturer in the School of Computing Sciences at the University of East Anglia. Bill speaks widely on open access and related issues - repository network development, institutional integration, cultural change, IPR and Open Access policy development. He is also involved in archaeological and heritage applications of new media and sits on the Channel 4 Award jury for new media archaeology.

2 Responses to Mendeley in WIRED

  1. Steve Hitchcock says:

    It’s interesting to compare Bill’s observations about Mendeley here with those of David Crotty at the scholarly kitchen on the decline of so-called Web 2.0 services

    It’s clear that Mendeley is very focussed and is betting heavily, and investing, in its product, perhaps unlike some of the other players mentioned by Crotty, although I’m sure there are some lessons there.

    If Mendeley wishes to be compared with Thomson Reuters, for example, then it won’t help just to compare the numbers. ISI, as was, launched when data was harder to copy and compile than it is now, and it was led by a visionary in Gene Garfield who was able to build valuable new services based on those insights. So when it comes to monetising the service, that will depend on exactly what is the service they are providing, and so far, as Bill suggests, that is not clear. In other words, where is its Gene Garfield idea?

    Whatever it is, we hope it will be built on an open information environment, that it will be built on quality, agility, speed to adapt, and ultimately services that add value and help improve research productivity, and that it won’t have to resort to setting up barriers and resting on acquiring exclusivity to the work of others.

    BTW, I haven’t actually seen the Wired article, and Bill doesn’t provide a link. Is it online?

    • Bill Hubbard says:

      Thats an interesting comparison piece Steve – thanks for bringing that up.

      I think one difference is that David Crotty’s piece is talking as much or more about the relative failure of blogs, and possibly link services, rather than the actual “science/social” facilities of Mendeley.

      I agree that the idea of science blogging as a way of changing research communications was never going to really be widely adopted (I still do not discount a very slow burn adoption over many years). I also agree with David Crotty’s point that the needs of a commercial entity can lead a system along a different path from the needs of its users. We have discussed some of the issues with commercial Web2.0 systems possibly underpinning future research communications in our RCS reports.

      However, one of the differences with Mendeley from my (limited and partial) perspective is the way I have heard Mendeley’s name coming back to me from academics who have not so far been technical enthusiasts or early adopters. It does seem to support sharing and sub-group development in a way which appeals to researchers. Although Mendeley as a product is certainly not shy about self-promotion, its growth does seem to be driven by researcher adoption more than leveraging a pre-existing brand to promote a new service.

      But in any case, as I conclude, the future might be Mendeley, it might be something else, but it is being built upon freely available materials (supplied by users, with all of the issues that may bring), so it can be seen as both a beneficiary and example of what can be built in an open access world.

      Steve wrote:
      >BTW, I haven’t actually seen the Wired article, and Bill doesn’t provide a link. Is it online?

      No – I cannot find it online . . . paper only I am afraid.


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