Mendeley labs project turns heads at Webscience 2013


Head Start, a Mendeley Labs project, has been nominated for best poster by conference participants at Web Science 2013. Head Start is intended to facilitate and improve the process of literature search. The visualization aims at providing an overview of an academic field, based on Mendeley data.

You know the problem… when you’re first exploring a research area, it is very hard to get an overview of the field. First, you might enter some keywords into an academic search engine such as Google Scholar. Then, you might read through the top results and read their references, provided your institution has access or if they’re available from an open access journal. With time and patience, you build a mental model of the field. There are several drawbacks to this approach: it is very laborious and time-consuming, and it’s very hard to read papers in their order of importance or even to know if you’ve found all the most important papers.

Peter Kraker from the Know-Center at Graz University of Technology has taken on the challenge to overcome these problems. During a research stay at Mendeley for the EU project TEAM, he has developed Head Start in cooperation with the Data Science group led by Kris Jack. The application presents you with the main areas in an academic field, and lets you zoom into relevant publications within each area. This allows a researcher to do most of the exploration in a single user interface.

The overview is generated (almost) automatically using Mendeley’s data about readership of academic papers within a discipline. Readership co-occurrence is used as a measure of subject similarity. The more often two books are checked out of the library together, the more likely they’re on the same subject, and so with academic papers – the more often two papers occur in someone’s Mendeley library, the more likely they are to be on similar subjects. The documents are then grouped by subject area and displayed using D3.js, a JavaScript library for making interactive visualizations on the web, made popular by the New York Times graphics department.

Peter will present Head Start at a webinar of the Web Science Trust Laboratories. The virtual presentation will take place on Wednesday, June 12 at 16:00 London time. Attendance is free; it just needs a simple registration following this link. More information is also available from this paper.

Please check out Peter’s demo and poster and let us know what you think!

Mendelife – Meet Branden Faulls

 Branden Faulls


Branden is our VP Product, known online by the mysterious alias of “omphe”.  To pronounce it, he explains, imagine being hit in the gut with a sack full of marshmallows.

How long have you been with Mendeley for?
Since May 2012

Where did you work before coming to Mendeley ?
I was a tech contractor so I’ve really worked just about everywhere:  AMEE, Imano, Dennis Publishing, Capita, HomeServe etc, etc. But my first career was as a dancer and I toured the world working with Rambert Dance Company, San Francisco Ballet, Boston Ballet and more.

What made you apply for a job at Mendeley?
Paul Föckler and I met at a Scalability unconference at the Guardian in 2010.  I was talking a lot about delivery and scaling technical team management in some of the sessions and we had a brief talk about the growth that Mendeley was going through. Fast forward to last year, and he approached me about the opening for Product leadership.

Have things changed in Mendeley since you started working here?
I’d like to think that I’ve had a good impact on the transparency of our direction and priorities since I’ve arrived.  I’ve really been pushing for radical transparency around all of our choices of what we’ll develop for users and what everyone is working on at any given week.  We’ve got much greater visibility around the planned work ahead and David Lee and the insight/analytics team have made great progress on showing how we are performing against our commitments. But the big change is how much the team has grown and the recent momentum we’ve been picking up as we start moving in sync. There’s a lot more collaboration going on and this is going to result in some great improvements to the Mendeley user experience.

What’s the best thing about coming to work at Mendeley?
I get to work with some very clever people who are extremely passionate about what they want in the product. And the food on Leather Lane.

Do you have any pets?
I’ve got a lovely old border collie named Ruby who’s been my pal for 11 years now. She’s stuck with me through some pretty big life changes and always kept me moving on some pretty ambitious outdoor pursuits.  She’s getting a little slower in the mountains, but we’ll be out for an adventure as long as we can still get out there.

What is the one website you can’t live without?
I’ve never been particularly attached to specific websites, but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t survive without the app Pocket.  I have such a steady stream of links and posts flooding my attention every day and I love being able to import them to Pocket and catch up without distraction when I’m travelling.  We’d do well, to make our mobile app fill the same role in researchers lives and I think Steve Dennis has been doing an amazing job of taming the flood of research articles for researchers on the go.

When you were growing up, what did you want to be?
I dreamt of being an astronomer for a long while and I spent many a cold winter evening steaming up my backyard telescope while staring down the jittery craters of the moon. My enthusiasm died a bit when I discovered the central role of maths in modern astronomy and the realisation that telescope time was a rare and scarce commodity. Then I fancied being a doctor until a field trip to a pathology lab full of oversized livers and sliced cadavers put me off too.  And mountaineering had a big draw to me, despite growing up in a relatively flat part of the States. But I had been in a ballet studio from the age of six, so by my teens it was becoming pretty clear to me that I had a future and calling to be onstage and I grabbed that opportunity.  Dancers really need to be in a company as an apprentice by the time they’re 17-18, so I left home at 17 to follow my dream.

If you could acquire one extra skill or talent, what would that be?
Patience.  Life is short and I’m on the third act of my second career.  But if you always rush, you miss the richness of what you have right now.

What book are you reading at the moment and why?
I’m terrible about starting many books at once and always have several things on the go:

– The Art of the Start & Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki : I love Kawasaki’s distilled and lucid approach to startup business
– Data Visualisation : I’ve been learning to keep my programming chops up and to scratch some visualisation itches I’ve had
– Think Stats : I work with some incredibly smart people at Mendeley and its disrespectful not to understand and wield some more rigorous statistical skills
– Bandit Algorithms for website optimisation : I want to start pushing our behavioural testing here and there are some great algorithms in this text
– Insanely Simple : The Apple approach to product and development is focussed and successful. An awesome look at their approach.
–  Welsh 3000 Ft challenges: I’m under the impression that I’ll get fit enough to compete this gruelling 29 miler in Snowdonia this year.  We’ll see
– Goedel, Escher, Bach : I’m stuck a bit on this, but its a fascinating blend of art, science and philosophy

What would you change about the world if you could change one thing?
We’d stop destroying this incredible planet we live on in the pursuit of passing desire.  I spend a good deal of time on glaciers at high altitude and have seen first-hand how quickly our climate is warming.  I just can’t fathom why we’d allow this to happen, just to preserve our privilege of driving our lazy butts to go shopping.

Favourite hobby?
I code and make things whenever I get the chance and having kids is giving me great excuses to do that in spades.  My daughter and I are building robots with Lego and Arduino these days.  Go #dadops.

Favourite food/drink?
I am a bit of a sucker for Pizza.  And with Maletti so close up the road, its hard to resist.

Favourite film?
Blade Runner remains my enduring favourite.  Since becoming a father, I see less film in the cinema than I used to, but I’m getting to rediscover all the great kids films.  My daughter Bella and I love the “Old Bamboo” number from Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang.  Plus Pixar can do no wrong. (Except Cars, which was nothing but wrong.  Let’s never speak of it again.)

Three things you would put in Room 101
Plastic waste
Sticking plasters in swimming pools
People who don’t make eye contact or return a friendly “Hello” when you pass and greet them.

Now for a serious one worthy of the Mendeley vision: If you could give
unlimited funding and resources to one area of research, what would it
be and why?

I’d get everyone to stop messing about with genetic modification.  I mean, c’mon, we’re just thinking small!  Glow in the dark mice?  Pest resistant grain!  Give me a flat-chested, eight legged chicken and I’ll show you more Sunday roast than you could shake a drumstick at.

Oh, and cancer of course.

Mythical Science

Photo Courtesy of J. Durham
Photo Courtesy of J. Durham

A much talked-about book has recently raised an interesting subject: Is there science behind monsters, and our enduring fascination with them? Stories about scary mythical creatures are everywhere and have been around for as long as people have been able to tell stories and create these mythologies. Medusa’s Gaze and Vampire’s bite: the science of monsters explores not only the history of how monsters were created, but offers explanations of how natural science could have sparked the ideas for some creatures such as the Minotaur, Medusa, dragons and the golem.

The book’s author Matt Kaplan is a science journalist who believes there are concrete reasons why we invent creatures like zombies and aliens. For example, one explanation behind the legend of the Minotaur is that around the time it surfaced in Crete the island was suffering from a series of violent earthquakes, which would have produced formidable growling noises from deep within the earth. This could very well have been imagined as coming from the bull-headed beast. Other amalgamated creatures like the griffin were perhaps inspired by finding bones in tar pits.

The book is written for a popular audience, but it gives an interesting account of the origins and evolution of these monsters.  We’d certainly be interested to hear if any Mendeley users have come across this subject in their own research, and what your thoughts are on the relationship between science and myths. Let us know!

Do you know an example of open access research helping the public good? Nominate the team for a $30k ASAP award!

The Public Library of Science, the Wellcome Trust, and Google recently announced the Accelerating Science Award Program. If you know someone who has applied or reused scientific research in an innovative way to advance science, medicine, or technology, you can nominate them for an ASAP award. The goal of ASAP is to reward people for publishing and re-using open access research and also to gather compelling use cases for open access.

This program has major support from publishers, funders, and the tech community and they have put up some serious prize money – $30,000 for each of three winners. The nomination period opened May 1 and runs through June 15. Potential nominees may include individuals or teams of scientists, researchers, educators, entrepreneurs, policy makers, patient advocates, public health workers, students, or anyone else, as long as they have reused open access research in a innovative way. The winners will be announced during Open Access Week in October 2013 in Washington, DC at an event hosted by SPARC and the World Bank. Mendeley is assisting by publicizing the event and gathering nominations, and Creative Commons, along with several other library organizations, publishers, and research organizations are also sponsoring the event.

More information is available at

Mendeley contributes 2000 citation styles to the open citation style repository at

Scholars looking to publish in one of the approximately 30,000 peer reviewed scholarly journals (per Ulrich’s) have a big problem on their hands. They have to prepare the text of their manuscript according to the style specified by the journal, process the images as specified by the journal, prepare the necessary disclosures, deposit datasets into the appropriate repositories, and do a host of other activities according to their field, and then every citation must be written in a specific format that is (often trivially) different for every one of the approximately 2000 publishers of peer-reviewed scholarly content. As if doing the research isn’t hard enough!

Slowly, ever so slowly, technology is changing this practice.Read More »