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Mendeley: a fusion of iTunes and Last.fm for science?

15 Apr, 11 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

Recently crowned winner of the Telegraph’s Start-Up 100 Awards in the education, recruitment and jobs category, Mendeley, a research collaboration tool, has enjoyed a good deal of coverage in the press. It’s often referred to as “a fusion of iTunes and Last.fm for science” and  Dr Werner Vogels, chief technology officer of Amazon, was even reported to have said that if they got it right, they could change the face of science.

What is Mendeley?
According to their website, Mendeley is a cross-platform application that helps researchers manage and annotate their scientific paper collections. Researchers can also set up collaborative projects, work and discuss in groups, and share data on Mendeley’s web platform. Mendeley users’ research paper collections are anonymously pooled on the web platform, creating a crowdsourced research database with a unique layer of social information – each research paper is connected with socio-demographic information about its audience. This data is made available to the public via Mendeley’s API, enabling research groups to build applications on top of it.

What can Mendeley actually do?

  • It’s a bibliographic database, where you can keep your reference data (similar to Endnote, Zotero etc).
  • It extracts bibliographic data when possible from PDF files and picks out identifiers such as DOIs.
  • It helps organise and keep track of PDF files stored on your hard drive.
  • It lets you keep some of those PDF files on the Mendeley web site so you can access them, via the web, from somewhere else.
  • You can synchronise all this data across multiple machines, even iPhones and iPads (Android coming soon).
  • You can “cite while you write” depending on the software you use.
  • You can vacuum bibliographic data off the web from various places (ISI Web of Knowledge, Nature, Google Scholar, Pub Med and EBSCO to name a few).
  • You can collaborate with others by setting up a shared library for your team and for specific research projects – your documents, tags, and annotations stay in sync.
  • Automatically generate citations and bibliographies in Word, OpenOffice, Google Docs and LaTeX. 
  • Mendeley is cross platform, and OpenSource.

What’s the benefit?
At a basic level, users can “drag and drop” research papers into their library, which automatically extracts meta data, keywords, cited references, DOI’s etc, thereby creating a searchable database and saving many hours of work. This in itself is incredibly useful, but now the Last.fm functionality kicks in, providing users the opportunity to collaborate with researchers around the world, whose existence might have been previously unknown. You can also recommend other people’s papers and see how many people are reading yours.

Mendeley already has some of the world’s leading universities on board, with the largest communities coming from Harvard University, Oxford and Cambridge University, MIT and Imperial College London. At the time of writing, Mendeley reports that 895,000  people have signed up and a staggering 79 million scientific papers have been uploaded, doubling every 10 weeks. It has already eclipsed the biggest academic databases, which have around 20m papers.

How do I sign up?
Getting started with Mendeley couldn’t be easier. Either sign-up for a new account or log-in with your Facebook details at http://www.mendeley.com/.  Download the desktop software and Web Importer and away you go!

What do you think?
We’d love to hear any feedback you might have on Mendeley. Should we consider integrating an ‘add to Mendeley’ button into our journal articles so that you can add papers with a single click? There’s already a discussion occurring on doc2doc, our online community, so feel free to join in or post your comments below.

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