Keep your desktop desktop tidy Mendeley style – Quantum Tunnel Podcast

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A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the headquarters of Mendeley in London for a social event which they call “Open Office Friday”. It was a very causal evening with very enthusiastic and interesting people and surrounded by pizza, beer and table football. The ideal combination, and indeed a very good way for Mendeley to hear directly from their users and take suggestions and comments. But what exactly is Mendeley?

Well, let us start with an example that I’d like to think is a very common situation. As a researcher, not only are you interested in generating knowledge, but also in what other people in your field (or related fields) are doing. Therefore it is not unusual to have your own bibliographic collection. Dealing with a handful of papers (even physically printed) is a perfectly manageable situation, however, when you start gathering more and more of this precious sources of information, the task can become a big challenge. Well Mendeley is a tool that can help you with that and more.

Mendeley is a combination of a desktop software and a web based social tool. The desktop part of the combo is a free academic software for managing and sharing research papers. The web part provides you with online backup for your papers and can be used to see research trends in your chosen discipline.

I have often heard it being described as a Last.Fm or Groove Shark for research papers. In Last.fm you can build a profile based on your musical tastes and the website automatically recommends music that you might like, based on your profile and you can in principle get in touch with people that share your musical tastes. Mendeley does pretty much the same.

Uploading PDF files to the desktop application is very easy, all you have to do is drag an drop the document to the Mendeley library and voilá. The software will extract the appropriate metadata from the file and will prompt you to check if things are OK, if for whatever reason that is not the case, you can manually edit the information for the paper. In my experience the automatic recognition works pretty well and if has not been a hassle to fix those entries that went a bit wonky. Once the paper is in the library you can run full-text searches and even annotate the papers. They also have plugins to generate bibliographic entries in Word, OpenOffice and for the geeks out there BibTeX as well.

But, the fun does not stop there. We have the on-line side of things remember? From the desktop application you can set up sharing and synchronisation settings for your entire library or for part of it, which might be a great idea for creating your own paper repositories. The site can also provide you with some useful statistics such as how often your papers are downloaded, who reads them and where, trending topics in your area, etc. The website also has a bit of a social network flavour, where you can discover people with similar interests to yours and track colleagues publications. I personally have not used this service as much, and as I put it to some of Mendeley’s people during the Open Office event, is because I do not necessarily go to the website all the time.

In any case, I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to interact with some of the developers, designers and in general the people behind Mendeley, as well as fellow users. They ended up putting up a board where people could write what they liked and disliked about Mendeley, as well as suggestions. In my case, as I mentioned earlier on, I have not used the social tools provided by the website. Victor Henning told me that they have been working on bringing to the desktop version more of these social elements, so that you don’t have to go to the website to actively look for this kind of information. I also had the opportunity to have a preview to the new logo, thanks to Steve Dennis. Carles Pina, a developer at Mendeley, introduced me to some new tools that are available in the latest version of the desktop application, for instance he mentioned that the setting page in the desktop is actually a webpage, which implies that they are already giving some steps towards bringing the web side of things closer to the desktop. I also had a chat with Ian Mulvany, vice president of new product development regarding the future of scientific publishing and the daunting task of dealing with data.

For those interested, Mendeley has recently released an API. I wish I had talked to Rosario Garcia de Zuñiga a bit more about that, but there you go, maybe next time. All in all, Mendeley as a company seems to me to be an enthusiastic and creative enterprise. As a product, it is great tool and one that I wholeheartedly recommend. Give it a go and let me know what you think.

Mendeley 1 Mendeley 2 Mendeley 3

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