Why I’ll keep using Mendeley…for now

mendeley logoWell, it finally happened…Mendeley has been acquired by Elsevier. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Mendeley has never been open source (“free” does not equal “open source”), they’ve always been a commercial company and have never suggested that they were anything else. This day was always coming.

I’ll be honest, my immediate reaction was to wonder if I could simply import my data into Zotero and delete my Mendeley account. However, after a few moments I reconsidered that knee jerk reaction and decided to stick it out and see what happens. You see, I don’t use Mendeley because I have some kind of deep seated principles regarding openness in academic publication (I do, but that’s not why I use Mendeley). I use it because it does a great job of helping make my life easier.

I use open source software whenever I can but I also use MS Office when I’m at work, especially for documents with complex formatting. I don’t avoid using Office because it’s owned by Microsoft. I use what works for me and in most cases, open source software Is. Just. Better. In cases where it isn’t, I also use proprietary programmes. Regardless, I always use the tools that help me do my job. For me, Mendeley is just another tool that helps me do my job…only now it has a new owner.

Let me be clear, I’m not a fan of Elsevier and dislike some of the choices they’ve made in the past. However, there’s no reason to think (yet) that anything at Mendeley will change. If anything, the announcement on their blog makes it seem like this investment in the company will spur innovation and allow them to continue growing their offerings. I’m not mesmerised by the extra 1GB of storage space, which comes off as a cheap trick to try and draw attention away from the elephant in the room. I’m more interested in their continued development of their open API, and changes to the software. In particular, if this move allows them to create a usable iPad app, then for that reason alone I’d support it.

Also, according to this blog post from the company, there will always be a free version of Mendeley, there will be no discernible difference in how Mendeley works for the end user, my data is still mine, and it seems as if there will be no attempt to favour Elsevier publications when using Mendeley. Whether you believe this or not is irrelevant because as soon as any of this is no longer true, export your data, stop using the service and move to Zotero.

And even if they do make changes that affect how you use the service, consider the following:


2 thoughts on “Why I’ll keep using Mendeley…for now”

  1. Hi Chris

    Thanks for the comment. However, I meant it like I said it. I was using the two words to make two points, although the fact that they were in the same sentence was probably where the misunderstanding arose.

    1. Mendeley (the programme) is not open source, meaning that it is proprietary (like you said) and that users shouldn’t have any expectations that it “fits” into any open source model of development I.e. the product is closed source and therefore beyond the control of users.
    2. Mendeley (the company) is commercial, meaning that they exist to make money, in addition to doing something useful in the academic world. For this reason, it was inevitable that they would eventually be bought by a company like Elsevier, who is desperately needing to make inroads into a community that increasingly opposes their views.

    I’m sorry if my meaning in the original was confusing.

  2. I agree with you about Mendeley, but I think you have used commercial when you meant proprietary.
    “This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Mendeley has never been open source (“free” does not equal “open source”), they’ve always been a commercial company and have never suggested that they were anything else.”

    Commercial is not the opposite of Open Source, proprietary is, I have spent 12 years of my working life being paid to write FLOSS software, and I have worked for companies that were most certainly commercial. You can be commercial and do open source.

    Of course I value my freedom more than dollars so an open source version of something always beats a closed source free version in my books. But your mileage may vary

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