First, some background. Mendeley has been described as a sort of iTunes for research papers: its desktop client organizes your citations and accompanying files (PDFs, DOC files, etc.), while its web interface lets you share these citations and files. You can organize citations by project and use them to create bibliographies in a number of common formats. Think of it as EndNote meets iTunes meets Last.fm. (The Last.FM connection reaches deeper, since Last.FM's first investor is also Mendeley's.)
I've been using Mendeley for a while, and switched over to it in earnest last summer, when I realized that I needed a more flexible cloud-based solution. (I've been using a cloud-based system, Google Docs, for drafting papers.) It's been great for organizing citations, but I've never used the sharing function - partially because so few humanities scholars seem to use Mendeley.
When I sat down with Victor and Jan, I was very interested in their model, their plans, and their long-term stability. Here are some of the points they made.
The model. Yes, they want Mendeley to be the Last.FM or iTunes of research. Originally, they created Mendeley because as graduate students, they found that they had to spend a lot of time looking up and organizing citations. Why not organize and also share their citations and PDFs as a small community? So a free account will let users share their citations with everyone, and their files among 10 users.
But they were surprised to find out that institutions, both enterprises and academic departments, were also very interested. In particular, pharma, biotech and petrochemical companies, which are research-intensive, wanted to limit the amount of redundant information by sharing citations and files across their organizations. So they're working on a premium account that will allow institutional subscriptions, larger storage space, and more sharing. They estimate that they'll launch this premium account option in under six months.
Their plans. They also plan to expand the sorts of files that users can share, particularly institutional users. In particular, they'd like users to be able to share raw research data: data tables, audio, video, and so forth. Eventually, they would also like to add version tracking. These additions would particularly cater to institutional users, who must share data in private groups.
However, Mendeley also wants to push in the other direction, enabling more social sharing. Currently, users can create their own RSS feeds for publications, allowing them to feed their public collections into FriendFeed, Cliqset, or the like. And in Mendeley Desktop, when you add a citation, you can add shared notes around it. They anticipate more sharing features very soon, though. For instance, they expect to initiate a Facebook Connect connection in the next two months so that scholars can share recent citations and comments in their Facebook activity stream. (For scholars, it's preferable to FarmVille.) They're also working on an API (to be released in perhaps two months). And they want to introduce more granularity to collaborative PDF annotations, allowing users to choose case-by-case with which groups to share their sticky notes. Their next major release will also allow a browser view in the desktop software for comments and newsfeed.
In the medium term (which means 3-6 months in this business), they want to add other features. One is a recommendation system similar to Last.FM's, something that recommends citations to you based on what your friends are reading. Another is the ability to pull the conversation into the desktop. They'll connect all of the silos on the website. They also want to facilitate communication among relevant others and to display readership of citations.
They also see tremendous potential for enriching the metadata in the database. For instance, a department at Stanford has geocoded research - associating publications with the geospatial coordinates they describe - so Mendeley will incorporate that information. They also see potential for crowdsourcing some metadata, for instance, they are already training Mendeley to recognize PDFs by comparing crowdsourced metadata attached to previously uploaded PDFs. (In this way, Mendeley is more like the Shazam of research.)
They're eager to get more citations in Mendeley. Right now, they can pull in information from Zotero and Endnote, but they can't sync two-way with those formats. (Zotero synching would have to run as a Firefox instance, and Endnote's format is proprietary.) They hope that by developing an API, they can give others the tools to sync these formats.
Long-term stability. Mendeley's founders include founders of Last.FM and Skype as well as a former Warner Music executive. They have expertise in user interface development, they have academics in the driver's seat, and they have investor expertise - three critical ingredients for long-term stability. And they just finished raising second-round funding, funding that well exceeds the first round. Importantly, they also received two research grants from the EU and employ four people for R&D.
Beyond the above, they have a plan for revenue, focusing on the above-mentioned premium accounts plan for institutions.
Summary. I have been impressed by Mendeley as a desktop client, but I walked away even more impressed by the potential of the plans. After all, I'm very curious about what others in my field are reading and what they think of those readings - and I'd love to see these thoughts show up in their activity streams. Further, I can see all sorts of potential for sharing tagged citations or collections within and across professional organizations. The drawback I see for me is that the humanities are not well represented in the Mendeley community - at least not yet.