Friday, August 15, 2008

Mendeley = Mekentosj Papers + Web 2.0 ?

Via Ricardo Vidal: Mendeley seems to be a Windows (plus Mac/Linux) equivalent of Mekentosj Papers (which is Mac OS X only, and has been described as "iTunes for your papers"). In addition to handling your PDFs, it has an online component that allows sharing your papers and other Web 2.0 features (billing itself as "Last.fm for papers").

Here, I'm reviewing the Mac beta version (0.5.6). I am focusing most on the desktop side and compare it to Papers, because I have a working solution in place and I would only switch to Mendeley if the experience is as good as with Papers. (I.e., my main problem is off-line papers management, Web 2.0 features are icing on the cake.)

By Mac standards, the app is quite ugly. Both Mendeley and Papers allow full-text PDF searches, which is important if you want to avoid tagging/categorizing all your papers. Papers can show PDFs in the main window, copy the reference of the paper and email papers. Mendeley in principle can also copy the reference, but special characters are transformed to gibberish in this beta version. Papers allows you to match papers against PubMed, Web of Science etc., while Mendeley only offers to auto-extract often incomplete meta-data. This matching feature is extremely useful as you get all the authorative data from the source, and most often Papers can use the DOI in the PDF to immeadiately give you the correct reference. Update: Mendeley also uses DOIs to retrieve the correct metadata, if available. (Thanks, Victor for your comment.)

The beta version is quite rough, I just had to kill it because I found no way to close the "about" window. Extraction of meta-data and references doesn't always work, but this might be more of a problem of the information that's stored in the PDFs.

Of course, once there's a critical mass of people using Mendeley, there'll be all the Web 2.0 features that Papers doesn't have. Judging from the talk I think they might be trying to do too much: Connotea/CiteULike plus Dopplr plus LinkedIn. For me, a simple way to export new references from Papers to Connotea/CiteULike would be enough. More modularity is better, because it allows you to choose the best tool in each layer.

More info by the Mendely folks: Short demo, a little longer talk.

4 comments:

Victor said...

Hi Michael,

thanks for the review! You're definitely right in that we still have a lot of work to do regarding the stability and usability of Mendeley Desktop, and its integration with external databases.

Some of the issues you point out are due to Mendeley Desktop's cross-platform compatibility (the comparatively uglier interface being one of them), whereas Papers can make much better use of the built-in features of the Mac environment. One minor correction, if I may: Mendeley Desktop also uses DOIs to retrieve the correct metadata, if available.

I also appreciate your comment regarding us trying to do too much - sometimes we feel the same way :-) We've tried to develop an integrated environment which combines paper management with Web 2.0 features, and this includes social networking, online reference sharing, and location awareness. I guess this may muddle up our communication somewhat and can confuse new users...

Have a good weekend and beste Grüße aus London!
Victor

Michael Kuhn said...

Thank you for your comment, Victor. I think it's hard to compete against Papers (which is more mature, but still in 1.x stage) with an app that's cross-platform and in beta. Of course, all the OS X APIs are a big advantage for Papers. However, competition is generally good for the users. :)

I see relatively many people hitting this blog looking for a Windows equivalent of Papers, so you'll hopefully gain some traction on this platform.

Even said...

Just read the post and realized that it's two years old. The new version of Mendeley is much prettier and rather Papers-like. Now that there is online management + good desktop interface + a recommendations engine, I think I may make the switch (even after loving Papers for a couple of years now).

Daniel said...

Mendeley is good but I feel like they track your activity similar to Pandora Radio and last.fm.

I like simple interfaces similar to itunes which is why I've stuck to using both PDF Stacks and Papers to manage my collection of medical articles and journals. They all do the job.