Tuesday 24 August 2010

Comparing Social Sharing of Bibliographic Information with Institutional Repositories

Everyone seems to have been talking about Mendeley over the past year! They have won a string of prizes, most recently the Guardian "Activate Future Technologies" workshop award for the project most likely to change the world for the better. They have achieved these accolades by providing bibliographic database software for the desktop ("like iTunes for research papers"), coupled with a social web site through which researchers can share their bibliographic collections. They have been successful to the tune of 47,5671 users and 34,852,751 documents (according to figures on their home page), with some commentators suggesting that they may soon provide access to more bibliographic data than Thomson ISI!

Now a lot of these "documents" are private material that are just stored on researcher's desktops. I am not interested per se in which software is being used to manage private bibliographic metadata. But the extent to which the "social sharing" agenda is successful is obviously crucially important to the repository community - to what extent is research being shared publicly, and in particular, to what extent are full texts of scientific papers being provided as Open Access through Mendeley's site.

To investigate these issues, I took a snapshot of some of their user profiles. Mendeley have 33678 public Computer Science profiles listed, so I took a 10% (3423) sample of those. Of that sample, 2918 or 85% have no publications listed at all, while 6% have only 1 or 2. Just 2% have 10 publications or more listed. The whole sample has a total of 2317 publications listed, with 681 providing PDFs from the Mendeley website. If this sample scales up (and the method I used does not constitute a proper random or representative sample), then the computer science part of Mendeley would have about 23,000 publications listed, with just shy of 7000 full texts.

By contrast, our departmental repository (eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk) has about 15,500 publications listed, of which 7121 have public full texts. So, based on my quick investigation, it looks like that the part of Mendeley's social sharing site which deals with Computer Science (insert boilerplate text about disciplinary differences) seems to be functioning on a similar level to a dedicated departmental repository. They have more bibliographic records; we have more (just) records with public full texts.

The interesting contrast between the Mendeley approach and the repository approach is that the one starts with services on the researcher's desktop that are then used as the basis for offering open access, whereas the other starts with web-based open access that leads to desktop bibliographic tools. It might appear, if my partial and approximate study is anything to go by, that neither approach trumps the other in terms of open access outcomes.

The repository community should certainly embrace and work with services like Mendeley, but we should see them as complementary to our activities, not a replacement for them!


  1. We have been looking at opportunities to link to Mendeley records in the University of Glasgow's Enlighten repository. These have included a new related url category for Mendeley which could link to a specific record - but which needs to be added manually.

    We have also been looking at adding Mendeley as a search target for our OpenURL resolver which would pass an article title to Mendeley - or potentially use the recently released Mendeley API.

  2. Perhaps a more useful perspective is that reference management tools may provide a good way of integrating the task of deposit into normal researcher workflow, if we can connect reference managers (such as Mendeley) to repositories.

    The JISC DURA project (which is just getting set up) will be looking at this area: http://jisc-dura.blogspot.com

  3. Why? It's certainly cheaper for an institution to rely on Mendeley than to provide something in-house. If the results are roughly comparable, why spend the money?

  4. Mendeley's social activities are seriously under-developed compared with the rest of it, particularly the desktop interface. I ascribe nearly all its success to the latter. I have several associates on Mendeley and get almost no value from them, nor the rest of the metadata on the web. Someone's built metadata before for almost everything I import and painstakingly correct, but I can't take advantage of it. I'm hoping that's going to change soon, but I think it is the real reason for the figures you show.

    I've made some basic metadata for all IJDC articles public on my Mendeley page as an experiment, but I'm not yet hopeful.

    That said, I agree fully with your final paragraph!

  5. Dorothea says "if Mendeley is just as good as an institutional repository, why should we bother?" My response is roughly that Mendeley have cherry-picked the early adopters from every institution across the world, and the scale of what they have managed to achieve (in OA terms) is comparable with a single institution's repository.

    I'm glad they're there, raising the profile of the task and pioneering new ways of engaging with researchers. If my results had shown that they were an order of magnitude better than us at OA then, yes, I would have had to think seriously about what I was doing (and what EPrints was doing). As it is, I think we're doing a pretty good job.

    And yes, there are lots of really crucial agendas that Mendeley don't help with at all - especially preservation.

  6. Hi all - our (Mendeley's) view would also be that we are complementary to repositories. Laura has already mentioned the JISC-funded DURA project which we're currently launching with the University of Cambridge Library/CARET and Symplectic.

    Chris: I agree that the social side of Mendeley has been underdeveloped compared to the desktop software. The next release (due very shortly) will greatly expand on that and allow public groups/joint document curation - all of which will be available both on the website and in the desktop interface. And there's more like this in the pipeline :-)