ATG Original: The Mendeley Roadmap—From Start-up to Professional Company

By Paula J. Hane

Mendeley has been frequently in the news since its acquisition by Elsevier in April 2013. I’ve been following Mendeley since 2008. Against the Grain featured co-founder and president of Mendeley, Jan Reichelt as its “ATG Star of the Week” on Aug. 8, 2013. The June 2014 issue of Against the Grain included Don Hawkins’ report of a May webinar that featured Reichelt. On June 26, 2014, Reichelt presented another webinar entitled “One year after joining Elsevier—The even better Mendeley!” Intrigued by the promise that he would discuss what has happened in the last year as well as share the company’s roadmap for the future, I watched and listened, and then followed up with him on email with additional questions.

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Launched in late 2008, Mendeley was the brainchild of three PhD students (Reichelt, Victor Henning, and Paul Föckler) wanting an easier way to manage their research papers and collaborate with colleagues overseas. Mendeley, an altmetrics-enabled citation management and networking tool, offers unique data regarding article readership to users. The company says its vision is to build a global research collaboration platform for researchers and institutions.

Reichelt says that Mendeley remains focused on product development and serving individual users and institutional customers. By joining with Elsevier, the company has access to additional resources, assets, and knowledge. Reichelt says, “The acquisition was Mendeley’s biggest funding round ever.” It has allowed Mendeley to “move from being a start-up to a professional company.”

Announcing the acquisition on its blog, the company promised: “For starters, we are doubling everyone’s storage space at no cost. Your free Mendeley account now comes with 2GB, Mendeley Plus and MIE accounts get upgraded to 5GB, and Mendeley Pro accounts to 10GB. There will always be a free version of Mendeley, and our functionality will continue to improve, now even faster than before…”

Mendeley 2104

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To know what to build, Reichelt says the company collects feedback from a multitude of sources:

  • Direct user feedback (support.mendeley.com, feedback.mendeley.com, user testing at Mendeley HQ)
  • Advisor group and community team
  • Elsevier sales teams and institutional customers
  • Data and analytics on usage of current features
  • Internal opportunities between Mendeley + Elsevier
  • Our strategy

(To learn more about these efforts, check out the 2013 Charleston Conference Penthouse Suite interview with William Gunn, Head of Academic Outreach for Mendeley.)

Over the past year, Mendeley has worked hard to integrate with Elsevier products. There was a lot of work to achieve back office integration. They implemented a better (faster, cleaner) OA search on Mendeley Web and in the new Mendeley Desktop version. In the Desktop Version in the PDF Viewer, you can now look up definitions for words. It can now extract contents, tables, and stats from open access research articles. They also launched an improved “related research” feature where a user can select a handful of documents and get recommendations based on that.

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Elsevier has deposited their citation styles in a public citation style repository. From ScienceDirect and Scopus users can now export directly into Mendeley in one simple click using “Save to Mendeley” functionality. This may seem like a small change, but according to Reichelt, this has made a great deal of difference to the end user. The company has noted an uptake of 60% more users using the products jointly. In addition, Mendeley readership statistics have been added to Scopus. [See also Nancy Herther’s article on the 10-year anniversary of Scopus.]

To accomplish all these improvements, Reichelt says they are growing the development team massively. “In 2013 alone we hired about 15 more people, and this year we will hire at least another 20 staff. This allowed us to bring out a new Mendeley iOS version (and we’ve recently started to build our Android team—it’s one of the most requested features on http://feedback.mendeley.com, so yes—we continue to listen!), to continuously iterate on new Mendeley Desktop versions (with cutting-edge features), and also to support the Open Source CSL Project. We’ve also started work on a new web library, will improve our institutional offering MIE (Mendeley Institutional Edition, which institutions like MIT have adopted), and are currently completely revamping our APIs (Application Programming Interface) ( including the open API for third-party developers, with Mendeley Desktop also moving to these new APIs.”

Mendeley desktop

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They are working on improving the social experience. Soon users will be able to receive digest emails to keep them up to date. Profiles will be revamped to make them more attractive. They plan to release a new customer-facing development portal based on the new APIs. The company has also agreed on an alumni policy and is now communicating that to its MIE customers.

E-mail Q&A With Reichelt

ATG: When the acquisition by Elsevier was announced, there were some negative reactions from users and industry folks. Even former employee Jason Hoyt, and co-founder of the new open-access publishing platform PeerJ, expressed some doubts about it. He said, “I think it will be challenging for Mendeley to become a truly transformative tool in science.” Do you think Mendeley’s open ethos has been compromised following the acquisition?

JR: I think Mendeley’s open ethos is still as much there as before. From a product perspective, we invest heavily into our open API and have just released a new developer portal, which we will gradually ramp up, and we’ve maintained all other open standards to which we have always been committed. With the support from Elsevier we have 1) supported the Open Source CSL project, 2) added 2,000 citation styles from Elsevier to the open citation style repository, and 3) have increased individual storage space for our users. And we continue to grow and energize and listen to our 2,000+ Mendeley Advisors around the world. The fact that we have this very open approach is a big attraction to our team and to Elsevier.

ATG: Nonetheless, do you feel that you have lost something in merging with Elsevier that you had as a start up?

JR: If you ask specifically about “what Mendeley has lost since the acquisition,” then I would say it’s some of the ability to make decisions in the agile way that a start-up can. We now of course have to look at a much bigger picture, e.g., when we look at our product strategy and the opportunities ahead, which involve more people and existing products, and hence present us with a more complex situation. This requires more time for analysis, preparation, and discussion, as well as implementation. We’re trying to find the balance between operating as a start-up in terms of how fast we can make decisions and deliver products, and being a part of something much bigger and pulling existing assets together.

ATG: I understand some 30 people closed their accounts when the acquisition was announced (have any of those returned?), but that Mendeley attracted new users. How many? How have your institutional accounts grown in the past year?

Jan Reichelt

Jan Reichelt

JR: I don’t know exactly whether some of these specific users have come back, we don’t track this. I know that people arecoming back though just generally, users who have tried Mendeley 2 to 3 years ago are now seeing the results of our product development and are getting real value. On the day of the acquisition, we had maybe about 3,000 additional sign-ups on top of the general growth we are experiencing, mainly because some users now know that together with Elsevier, Mendeley is in it for the long run. One of the critical points initially always was that people were unsure about our business model, and whether Mendeley would still exist in a few years. Now this concern has gone away. Our institutional customers are also growing, here we’re currently working hard in the background to make a significant overhaul of the whole product offering, basically getting from start-up mode to scale. We have dedicated information sessions about this for our MIE customers to make sure we continue to be transparent and deliver what MIE customers want (e.g., see also the alumni policy point below).

ATG: How have you navigated the corporate culture differences? What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in working together?

JR: The biggest difference is probably the start-up “let’s get it done, try, iterate” approach compared to a more corporate “we need to have a 15-person meeting and align everybody first” approach. The good thing is that Mendeley can still largely operate independently, because there is trust between the teams, and because we report progress both quantitatively and qualitatively, so both teams feel it’s working. My role in fact is making sure that we remain as flexible, fast, and agile as possible, and maintaining our culture whilst we grow, but also make sure that we gradually build more and more bridges between people and products. Both organizations learn from each other, Elsevier also helps us to further professionalize and scale, so there’s work on both teams to be done to grow together. I feel so far we’ve done a pretty good job at that, and we get great support from Elsevier, on every level.

ATG: Are 15-person meetings of the larger corporate culture really helpful? In what other ways is the corporate culture different from that of a start-up? From the broader perspective, do you find the culture different among countries—U.S., Netherlands, U.K.?

JR: Of course wearing largely the start-up hat, I don’t think that 15-person meetings are particularly helpful to make decisions or move things ahead quickly. These meetings help to share information, build opinions, and discuss. The way Mendeley has been operating is more as I described above, to make a decision, try things out, and iterate. I want to make sure that we engage in these larger meetings where necessary, but for the rest, let the Mendeley team continue to focus on product development and deliveryit’s a balance. And indeed the culture varies strongly between the different regions, which is an interesting experience. For example, the Dutch culture is characterized by very straight-forward and strong opinions (probably similar to Germans), but then looks for a lot of consensus between stakeholders. The British culture is probably a bit more soft or “polite” (if I may say so) about expressing opinions and standpoints, whilst the American culture is very strong on “getting stuff done” and less discussion, more assignment of tasks, and then execution. But I want to be careful not to generalize too much. At Elsevier and Mendeley you have a wide variety of approaches, and I like to work in an international environment.

ATG: Discuss Mendeley’s relationships with other publishers and if that has changed since the acquisition.

JR: Mendeley has always been a publisher-neutral platform, and it will remain like that. We’ve always had discussions and relationships with many publishers in the market, because our product can bring benefits to all publishers, as well as for the end-users and institutions. For example, we help bring more publisher content right to where people want it, and bring anonymized insights about usage back to publishers. We help increase engagement and usage. Elsevier is both a publisher and a provider of solutions to the market—Scopus is the best example, which is also publisher-neutral and brings massive value to end-users, institutions, and other publishers. Mendeley can actually learn from it, and Elsevier has the experience and additional relationships to make this work. So far, we’ve had both positive as well as challenging discussions with other publishers, but we’re making big progress in explaining our value, and demonstrating that what we are doing has real benefits to other publishers, and that we as an industry generally have to keep thinking about how we want to evolve.

ATG: Tell our readers about your “researcher centricity” concept and how this is driving your future developments.

JR: As a joint team, we’re thinking very hard about how we can bring value to individual users, in addition to the great quality publishing and information solutions that Elsevier provides, and the institutional tools we offer (SciVal, Pure, ….). So, we are thinking how we can provide more value, to make the content even more useful in combination with tech and data. Researcher-centricity has always been a core strength of Mendeley, that’s where get our user love from. We see it as key concept behind our activities and products; we want to look at the whole picture of the research process. For example, if someone has a Mendeley profile, why can’t we serve our personalized recommendations on ScienceDirect when someone does a search there? Or we should be able to pre-populate a Mendeley profile with Scopus information to make it easier to use and less tedious to curate. We’ve already implemented a one-click import to Mendeley from ScienceDirect in addition to the Web Importer feature, which supports 30+ external publisher and database sites. There are so many things we can improve upon by a) connecting products within our portfolio and b) connecting this to the “outside” world, e.g., institutions, publishers, or via the API.

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ATG: Do you have specific“integrated“products on the drawing board? Will we be seeing some new offerings in the near future?

JR: Yes, already integrated products are for example ScienceDirect and Mendeley, and Scopus and Mendeley (both via workflow integration, but also by displaying Mendeley readership on Scopus), and we see based on usage data that more and more users are using these products jointly and also more often, so we’re bringing real value to both individuals as well as institutions, leveraging the different products together via Mendeley. Also, Mendeley and Elsevier’s article submission system and reviewer platform could possibly be integrated. At some point, you will see some of Mendeley’s analytics in SciVal and Pure, and there’s already a workflow connection between Pure and Mendeley to help Pure subscribers pull in data from Mendeley seamlessly.

ATG: How useful is Mendeley to the small library or researcher who cannot afford the high prices of many of Elsevier journals or databases? How useful is a “free reference manager” in this case?

JR: I believe Mendeley’s free version already covers 80-90% of all use cases, and we have many happy users using the free version, so that’s great for the academic world. And since we are running a “freemium model,” Mendeley is especially useful for a small library, which can promote Mendeley for free on campus, as well as individual researchers, who don’t want to pay upfront for any other tool. Feature-wise, Mendeley is already on par, if not superior to (e.g., in regard to social and collaboration features) to similar products.

ATG: Mendeley has supported altmetrics. But some researchers have questioned the value of the “social layer.” How would you respond to them?

JR: It’s a healthy discussion to have—that is where we want to be. We’ve never said we would be the entity to “interpret” the data we capture via the social layer, we’ve always been the data provider and left it to the community to extract the value. That this happens via new companies like Altmetrics, ImpactStory, etc., is great to see. Altmetrics are a very important complement to citation impact, for many reasons, but of course, it’s not yet as defined and well understood as citation impact and analysis, so we simply need to give it a bit more time. I also strongly believe that we need to think about the value of the “social layer,” which is far more than just altmetrics. Research is inherently social, via co-authors, conferences, and working together in labs. Researchers are very “socially active,” but there hasn’t been much tech infrastructure to support this. The question I always pose is “what happens when ‘social’ becomes the driving force of how academic will discover and interact with content—and no-one has thought about it?” We can see this happening in other industries, where companies like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc., are able to capture massive amounts of value because they understand this, they understand that content plus tech and data is incredibly powerful. Altmetrics could be one way to capture and express this value.

ATG: In the June 26 webinar, you mentioned that the company has agreed on an alumni policy and is now communicating that to its MIE customers. Can you tell me what that policy is?

JR: As the demand for our institutional product (MIE) increases we are quite aware of the need to have an alumni policy to support researchers to take their scientific research content, repository, and more importantly collaborating contacts with them as they change their workplace (that’s also why you can back-up and sync everything on Mendeley to your web account). We have begun to offer a 12-month alumni “grace period” for any user, previously associated with an institutional license, to determine how they would like to continue forward with their Mendeley account. Within the 12 months, alumni will continue to enjoy the benefits of the institutional affiliation. I believe, comparing this with what others offer, plus the already generous offering we have on the market, that this alumni policy is really excellent value.

About Mendeley

Mendeley is a free reference manager and academic social network designed to help researchers organize their research, collaborate with others online, and discover the latest research. The company has offices in London and New York.

Premium packages are available to increase a user’s personal storage space, starting at $4.99 per month for 5 GB. Team plans increase storage space for team collaboration, starting at $49.00 per month for five collaborators. Mendeley Institutional Edition includes premium user features, including an analytics dashboard.

Mendeley’s open API powers more than 300 third-party applications that are making science more social and open, facilitating important interactions, and advancing discoveries across all disciplines.

 

Paula-J-Hane-198x300Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks. Her email address is paulajeanhane@gmail.com.

 

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