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?

Bill