Upload to Mendeley: charting new social territory for researchers and academics
Since its launch Mendeley users have uploaded more than 280 million documents between them
It’s almost too easy to picture the traditional academic as a lone figure, dwarfed by mounds of books and journals, emerging occasionally to give a talk on their research to similar dusty dons. Times are changing, and Dr Mendeley Victor Henning, cofounder of the online academic database, is among those at the vanguard of a digital revolution for the modern researcher.
Since its launch in 2009, mendeley.comhas gathered a user base of two million who have, to date, uploaded more than 280 million documents between them. It began as a software tool for organising papers from scholarly journals but has become a platform for connecting like-minded researchers and helping academics discover new papers. This is one of the many technology services, including Altmetric, Academica.eduand Zotero, that are enabling university researchers to go digital and get social.
The idea for Mendeley was hatched after Henning and his cofounders, Jan Reichelt and Paul Föckler, got tired of managing the unwieldy collection of documents on their computer hard drives, a problem that is familiar to so many frustrated master’s and PhD students.
“We all had the same problem of organising hundreds of documents and we thought, Why isn’t there a [better] way of doing this? Obviously you have iTunes or WinAmp for organising your music collection so why not have similar software for academic literature?”
The software began by pulling relevant data from documents – the title, author, keywords – in order to keep track of the collection and automatically turn a collection of PDFs into a structured database. It soon turned into a social-networking platform revolving around the sharing of academic literature.
“From the beginning it was about visualising and helping people discover research,” says Henning, “such as finding out how the different fields of science relate to each other; were people reading the same sort of thing?
“That’s when we stumbled on the social part: if we can get hundreds, or thousands, or even millions of scientists to use that tool, we can crowd-source all of the information that they put into the tool to build a big, open academic database that people can use to discover research but also discover research trends.”
The idea, he says, is quite similar to the music recommendation site last.fm, essentially “scrobbling” (the term Last-fm gives to the publishing of its users’ music-listening habits) research data instead of songs and extracting trends and statistics about what people around the world are searching and reading. Technology entrepreneur and former chairman of last.fmStefan Glänzer spotted the similarity. He became Mendeley’s founding investor and executive chairman.