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15 February 2010 / erikduval

Mendeley review by my students

For my class on Human-Computer Interaction, I asked my students to review the science2.0 application Mendeley.

  • Their main finding is one that I strongly agree with: the relationship between the desktop application and the web site is not clear. This is very confusing when you register. Worse, I am still confused after more than a year… I know that Mendeley refers to last.fm, but the audioscrobbler application works in the background, to track what I play in iTunes. If Mendeley was truly similar, then it should track the PDF papers I read in the background?
  • The registration process is confusing: you can only log in from the main web page. There is no register link. (This may be less of an issue if most new users come to Mendeley after an invitation email from one of their contacts?)
  • Search is confusing: in fact, it is rather astonishing, but there is no search functionality on the main web page! Beyond, it is unclear when you search among Mendeley users, when in your own library of papers and when in the Mendeley papers universe.

Maybe you have some additional usability remarks on Mendeley? Would love to feed these back to my students…

BTW, this is an ‘open learning’ course: you can follow what they do on their blogs – linked off the course wiki. (Half of the blogs are in English.) Your comments are very welcome! Or you can follow some of the tweets through the #chikul10 tag.

13 Comments

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  1. Victor / Feb 16 2010 8:58 pm

    Hi Erik,

    Victor here, one of the founders of Mendeley. We certainly appreciate your students’ comments, I think it’s very good feedback! You’ve managed to highlight three of the main issues we are working on right now (of course, as we are still in beta, many UI elements are still in flux).

    Regarding the relationship between the desktop app and the website:

    Indeed this should be communicated more clearly. The desktop app is like an “iTunes for research papers”, i.e. you can manage, read, and annotate your PDFs locally. The website, on the other hand, is more like a “Last.fm for research”: It “scrobbles” your library to the cloud, so you can sync it across multiple devices and access it in a browser. It also generates a catalogue of research (more on that later), Last.fm-like stats about the most popular papers, and it gives recommendations for related research (these are currently only available on article pages, e.g. http://www.mendeley.com/research/evaluation-of-murine-norovirus-as-a-surrogate-for-human-norovirus-and-hepatitis-a-virus-in-heat-inactivation-studies/). We’re currently working on an improved “newsfeed” system which will display more of your desktop-app-based research activity on the website and let you and others comment on research papers you’ve added to your library; likewise, we’ll be pulling these newsfeeds, statistics and related research recommendations into the desktop interface right next to your research paper library. This should make the flow of information between desktop and web more visible.

    Regarding the registration process:

    This was just changed on Friday – there is now a registration form on pretty much any page on the website. However, there has always been a login box at the top right on every page – sorry if that isn’t obvious enough.

    Regarding the search:

    You’re right – there isn’t any way to search the catalogue of research papers on the website. This is not for a lack of wanting, but because we first had to build a scalable back-end to deduplicate millions of documents on the fly (every day, more than 100,000 papers get uploaded to Mendeley) which could then be indexed. We’ll soon be releasing a new interface for searching and browsing research papers, public collections of papers, and researchers.

    Hope this was useful,
    thanks again,

    Victor

  2. erikduval / Feb 17 2010 1:32 am

    Thanks, Victor: much appreciated!

    Just to make sure: how exactly are article pages created? Can’t seem to figure out how to find other ones than the one you linked to…

    In any case, VERY much looking forward to the new functionalities you mentioned: the potential here is huge!

  3. Sebastiaan Helsen / Feb 17 2010 5:46 am

    Wauw may I just say that hearing that more than 100,000 paper are uploaded to Mendeley everyday realy impresses me, maybe you should publish that on the homescreen because it certainly convinces me to find out some more about this concept. I also saw the sign up part in the home screen, this wipes out one of our main complaints discussed in class so keep up the good work😉

  4. Victor / Feb 17 2010 2:58 pm

    Thanks Sebastiaan and Erik!

    Erik, the article pages are generated this way: As mentioned before, every day our users are uploading more than 100,000 papers into their private Mendeley accounts. We then anonymously aggregate the bibliographic data into a central database and deduplicate it to create canonical datasets. Each canonical dataset gets turned into an article page, with anonymized tagging and readership statistics.

    The “related articles” recommendations on the right-hand side are based on automatic keyword extraction (the relevant keywords are highlighted in bold); the goal for the next two months is to personalize these recommendations based on your existing research paper library.

    The only way to find article pages right now is either from our users’ “Public Collections” (http://www.mendeley.com/collections/) or by browsing the Research Paper Catalog (http://www.mendeley.com/catalog/computer-and-information-science/). As I said, we’re currently working on making this data available in a more structured, searchable and user-friendly format🙂

  5. Bram / Feb 17 2010 3:34 pm

    Three months ago, there was a mentioning of an API. Is there any recent news on this ?

    http://feedback.mendeley.com/forums/4941-mendeley-feedback/suggestions/349524-provide-a-mendeley-client-extension-platform-and-a

  6. Victor / Feb 17 2010 5:13 pm

    Hi Bram – yes, we’re planning to roll out the API sometime in March.

  7. brian / Feb 21 2010 7:00 pm

    Thank you for addressing some of the issues related to the Mendeley software and the website. As a recent user of your product, I have accumulated a personal resource of many research papers and pdf files that are downloaded from the web or printed from selected pages of my ebooks. As I understand that my resources are copy-righted to their respective owners may you please advise if it is suitable to upload these to my public Mendeley account on your website.

    • Victor / Feb 21 2010 10:22 pm

      Hi Brian – your account is private, so nobody will see which documents you have in your library (hence they also won’t be able to access them). If you create a “Public Collection” of documents, these will only contain the bibliographic metadata, not the actual PDF itself. So in short, there isn’t a problem with you uploading documents to your Mendeley account – it’s just like a personal harddrive on the internet.

      • Sivan / Aug 19 2010 9:15 am

        Hi Victor,

        You seem very knowledgeable. Please can you tell me if the Beta version used by Mendeley is reliable and wont crash. I am a littler nervous to begin using it for my thesis. What should I do to protect myself? And how realistic is it that Mendeley will/can crash? Thank you so much

  8. Mr. Gunn / Sep 13 2010 10:45 pm

    Hi Sivan. I’ve been using the latest version of Mendeley and haven’t had a single crash. If you do have a problem, you should be able to simply re-open the program and continue as you were, because all your documents are backed up at Mendeley Web and there’s also a local copy of everything on your computer.

    Mendeley doesn’t backup the documents created by your word processor, though. You should continue to save those and back them up as you normally would. I recommend daily backups of your thesis in Word or Open Office format, and make sure at least one of the backup copies is stored on an external device (not just on your hard disk). One easy way to do this is to simply upload the document to Google Docs. The formatting isn’t preserved perfectly, but it’s a very secure place to store your writing, and you get the added bonus of being able to log in and make edits even if don’t have your computer with you.

  9. David / Oct 3 2010 1:31 pm

    An easier way to back up automatically and transparently is to install dropbox. Put your working folders into its “special folder” and it watches for changes to files and sends them to the cloud when you hit save.

    Makes the anxiety of data loss and USB key loss a thing of the past.

  10. thiemehennis / Feb 15 2013 1:25 pm

    I must say: I still very much dislike the desktop app. I think the alternatives have a much cleaner interface (Nature’s ReadCube) and some compelling features (Mekentosj Papers). In addition, I think that with several PDF’s opened (tabbed horizontally, another mistake I think) the application consumes a lot of memory and gets quite slow.

    Despite all this, I do think that Mendeley is still a great app that helps me sort my papers, but it certainly can be improved a lot.

    • erikduval / Feb 15 2013 6:44 pm

      I agree that Mendeley now feels very … 2003 or so. I would much rather have something more lean and mean. Will give ReadCube a try…

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