Elsevier and Mendeley – an interview with Victor Henning

Andy Tattersall has championed Mendeley since 2009. He responds to the buy-out news and speaks directly to co-founder Victor Henning.

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An interview with Victor

I had met co-founder Victor Henning at one of the Mendeley Advisor days and via various contacts on Twitter and have found him to be always willing to talk about the software and support advisor initiatives like my Minute Mendeley website. So with that in mind, I decided to contact Victor to get the Mendeley side of the story.  I'd like to thank Victor for taking the time to respond to my questions.

The Elsevier purchase has been on the horizon for some time, what were the reasons for going with them?

You're right - they had actually been supportive of us for a long time. First, by recommending users of their 2collab tool to migrate to Mendeley; then by sponsoring our Science Online London conferences which we organised together with Nature Publishing and the British Library; and by being the first publisher to build an altmetrics app on our Open API.

Late last summer, we were introduced to Olivier Dumon, who had just left eBay to join Elsevier and lead their database and web businesses, like ScienceDirect and Scopus. Because he came from a tech background, we immediately hit it off - he understood our vision for Mendeley, of trying to build a platform that served researchers' workflow needs. In fact, he had a similar vision for Elsevier's web businesses!

So we started comparing our respective roadmaps and found that they were perfectly complementary. The one thing that's always bugged me about Mendeley's user experience is how hard it is for our users to get access to full-text content - even the content that their library has already paid for.   Users discover metadata in Mendeley, but are then sent away via DOIs or OpenURLs. Elsevier knows a lot about authentication solutions and access entitlements, and we can use that to make content access easier.

Conversely, Elsevier felt they needed to understand their users better. They knew when one of their PDFs was downloaded from Scopus or ScienceDirect, but then lost track of it. Mendeley helps them get a better sense of research trends in the academic community on an anonymised, aggregate level - which lets them improve the content they publish. Also, our recommendation technology allows them to improve content discovery for Scopus and ScienceDirect users.

Olivier and us also began to imagine how we could improve Mendeley's crowdsourced, and thus sometimes messy, data with the clean, structured data from Scopus. Scopus also has data which we don't have: Citations, and 17 million user profiles generated from those citations. We can use that to build amazing new services, for example to alert you when one of your publications, or any of the documents in your Mendeley library, receives a new citation.

We would never have been able to realise these ideas as a simple partnership or side project - as a start-up, Mendeley had to focus on becoming profitable. However, as part of Elsevier, we need to worry less about monetizing every new feature, and can think about these long-term goals instead. That's why both Elsevier and Mendeley felt that it made sense to go "all in".

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