Mendeley Debates At Cambridge : Do We Need A ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ ?

GabeHughes 1

By: Gabriel Hughes, VP Web Analytics at Elsevier

Images © Chris Williamson, courtesy of the Cambridge Union Society 

Should we have the right to require websites to ‘forget’ or ‘delete’ stories and posts about us which we find embarrassing or just don’t want other people to see? Should people be able to force search engines to remove links to information like that? Do individuals need more legal powers to control their personal data online?

As a growing technology company based in London, Mendeley finds itself drawn into many of the great debates facing the technology sector in Europe today, and we take this responsibility very seriously.


This October, we were proud to sponsor the prestigious Cambridge Union Society as it debated the ‘The Right To Be Forgotten’, a contentious issue following recent legal developments in Europe.

Under a ruling made in May, in a case brought against Google, European citizens may now demand that search engines remove links to online public information about them. This is the current legal interpretation of the ‘right to be forgotten’, a concept which has been debated for some years and is outlined in the EU’s Data Protection Directive drafted back in the 1990s. This ethical and legal issue is still evolving and whatever finally emerges is likely to have far reaching implications for the internet for many decades to come.

I entered the debate from my personal position, one that is also informed by my experience working at Google, which is of course the company most significantly affected by this new ruling. My fellow teammates in opposition were the MP for Cambridge Julian Huppert,  Mariam Cook, CEO of Position Dial, and Alistair McCapra, CEO of Chartered Institute of Public Relations. The side in proposition of the motion was led by David Smith, Deputy Commissioner at the Information Commissioner’s Office, and also included Jon Crowcroft,  Professor of Communications Systems at Cambridge, Gavin Phillipson, Chair of Law at Durham University and also Emma Carr, Director of Big Brother Watch. Each of these expert speakers brought considerable depth of knowledge and unique perspectives to this complex issue.


My argument in opposition was based not on a disagreement with the right to privacy or control over one’s personal information, quite the contrary. It focused on the deep flaws in the recent European court ruling, which targeted search engines and technology companies, who are not responsible for what publishers and individuals post online. A perverse outcome of the ruling is that in asking Google to delete a link to something you do not like, they are put in a position where they alone have to judge whether it is in fact right for them to do so, leaving the publisher under no obligation to delete the offending post itself. The information remains online, and search engines are forced into a censorship role which few can defend.

In my opinion, search engines are just a part of the navigational infrastructure that enables the internet to function, together with social networks, wiki pages, feeds and the hypertext link itself, and this ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling confuses navigational linking technology with the content that it points to. Nobody seems to think it is a good idea to force Google into this new Big Brother role where it now tries to arbitrate what websites can share online, and this new right turns the neutral and automated role of a search engine on its head.

The opposing team also pointed out that many of the worst cases where private or embarrassing information has been posted online are already covered under data protection, harassment and privacy laws. New laws have a habit of creating unintended consequences that could lead us down a dark path of censorship and excessive regulation, they warned.

Debate 4

In the end, this team opposing the right to be forgotten won the debate. Before entering the debate chamber 40 per cent of the audience indicated they supported the motion ‘this house supports the right to be forgotten’, but after hearing the debate, the balance of the vote had shifted against, with the ‘nay’ side winning by 35 per cent to 30.

Yet the debate highlighted the complexity of the issue and this was reflected in how close the vote ended and in how many felt compelled to abstain. Indeed, one audience member spoke up ask whether the debate was about the principle of the Right To Be Forgotten, or the actual right in law now defined by the Court of Justice of the European Union. Some of those arguing in support of the proposition did not seem to think search engines should be targeted and distanced their arguments from the court ruling. Likewise, those speaking against the motion acknowledged the real concerns of many people about how their data is used online.

It seems a balance has to be struck between opposing demands. An absolute right to be forgotten, allowing everyone complete control over what information about them should be published online, makes no sense. There are too many politicians who have over-claimed expenses, doctors who have been sued for malpractice, and bankers who have been convicted of fraud. If there are to be more legal powers to control what information about you is out there, then everyone accepts there have to be counter-balancing limitations in defence of freedom of speech and freedom to know.

Debate 3

At the same time, we all have to recognise that our society is going through a period of enormous change, whereby more data than ever is collected about our day-to-day life. We are moving too close to the point where almost every waking moment of our lives is recorded online, and can potentially be shared or made public. The volumes of data about us that are being collected and stored are truly immense and unprecedented in our history.

Given this, the truth is that our society does need to evolve new mechanisms, both technical and maybe even legal, to ensure that individuals are empowered to better manage their privacy and identity online. The challenge will be doing this in such a way that we do not introduce censorship, and an Internet plagued by legal disputes over what should or should not be online. Reflecting on the debate, it looks very much like we do need new solutions, but perhaps just not this one.

Jan Reichelt

As Jan Reichelt, President and Co-founder of Mendeley, made clear in his introduction, we have a firm ethical policy to preserve data protection and privacy for our users. We also believe in the power of technology innovation to solve the very toughest problems, often powered by data that our researchers and the scientific community creates. We will continue to support the great debate about to balance these interests, so we can support both freedom of speech and the right to privacy.

Interested to contribute to the debate ? Tweet us at @Mendeley_com or @gabehughes #RTBF

Meet the Analytics Team!

While our Data Science team makes a big deal out of big data, they aren’t the only ones digging their hands in the data here at Mendeley. Aside of setting and monitoring company KPIs and writing some critical reports, the Mendeley Analytics team primarily focuses on user behaviour. That means, they study how and why you use Mendeley to better inform how and why we grow different Mendeley products and features. The Analytics team works closely with nearly every team here at Mendeley, from technical teams, to Product teams, to our Community team. Without further ado, meet the Analytics team:

Gabriel Hughes PhD, VP Analytics

Gabe-professional-useUntil last year, Gabriel worked Head of Attribution at Google for 6 years, and has worked with data and analytics throughout his career. Follow him @gabehughes

1. How do you describe your role on the Analytics Team?

I’m responsible for user analytics across Mendeley and also Elsevier. My role is help guide the team and ensure they have the resources and support they need from the rest of the company, and manage relationships with the rest of Elsevier. We also work closely on defining company objectives for measuring how we better engage and grow our core users.

2. What is your favourite part about working for Mendeley?

The commitment and focus of the Mendeley teams to improving the platform makes this a great place to work. The Analytics team are dedicated to supporting their colleagues, working hard to guide the rest of company with insights into how people use Mendeley. We use these insights to help product managers and engineers decide how best improve the user experience.

3. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I have two children and recently we have been exploring some of great new board and card games out there, like Forbidden Island, Loot and Braggart which are great fun to play and really stimulate the mind. One of great things about having kids is you can revisit all this cool stuff all over again.


Sebastian Pöhlmann, Insights & Analytics Manager

e9b6698418afd23ac0753847d56c8b52f40da295-standardSeb is originally from Germany where he obtained a degree in Economics. An interest in development economics got him to spend a year in Norway studying System Dynamics modelling and on to work in Rome for an international agriculture research organisation. A year working on business development projects in Malawi brought back new enthusiasm about the (global!) potential of science and technology.
Returning to Europe, London provided a unique blend of opportunities and Mendeley the perfect place to work.

1. How do you describe your role on the Analytics Team?

Seb leads, grows and learns from the Analytics team. Often my day is “like a box of chocolate” : )

2. What is your favourite part about working for Mendeley?

My colleagues. And the amazing learning opportunities.

3. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Family time out and about, traveling, reading.


Andi Rutherford, Data Engineer and Architect

andi-presentationAndi is one of the last of the original developers and architects of Mendeley –
designed & implemented API v.1, worked on the Desktop and iOS mobile
clients and Website, and did Operations and Systems Administration –
in a start-up environment you do everything! Most recently he’s been
building systems and weaving datasets via Hadoop technologies and
enabling Analytical technical function to produce strategically
significant reports. Andi also helps organise our monthly Hackdays.
Follow him @cogpie

1. How do you describe your role on the Analytics Team?

I currently provide the technical knowledge and data history to
support analysis, as well as look at future tools to help us further.
I help organise and process large datastores and act as resource for
for best practices to access and query the data for speed and quality.
My mathematics and data background helps as sounding board for the
results of analytical products.

2. What is your favourite part about working for Mendeley?

I like the challenge, the people, the datasets and working with
them – but actually, the vision of what Mendeley will be sold the
project to me – its scope is breathtaking; now we just have to get

3. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

These days: home improvement! But usually: reading, reading,
reading; building things, ‘perfecting’ recipes, planning romantic
dates, dreaming about having a pet pig one day, as I just fulfilled my
other dream of a herb garden.


Dr Lili Tcheang, Research Data Analyst

LiliLili trained as a neuroscientist after completing an undergraduate degree in Physics. She hen had a spell in academia, looking at visuospatial processing in virtual reality environments, doing brain scanning and brain stimulation experiments. Basically messing with people’s heads. She finally came to the conclusion that she was am never going to collect as much data as she wanted in order to understand human behaviour and jumped into industry to try and make science better for my fellow scientists.

1. How do you describe your role on the Analytics Team?

I support product in assessing how well their products/projects are working. I also work on user behaviour, segmenting this and attempting to predict it, with the long term goal of understanding our users better.

2. What is your favourite part about working for Mendeley?

Having the opportunity to be directly involved in a product that has the potential to change the way that we do science.

3. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

In my spare time, I like to eat really good food, talk about really good food and travel to places with really good food. I daydream about which realistic scientific advances I would most like to see happen. I have passed the stage where I now marvel at technological advances in the way our parents did about phoning England from Australia. I also like to buy toys for myself on the pretext that they are educational for my daughter.


Jonathan Warner, Senior Data Engineer

IMG_20141030_105751This is Jonathan’s first week at Mendeley! Welcome Jonathan! Prior to starting here, he developed software at various companies doing display advertising, QR code tracking, affiliate marketing and securities lending.

1. How do you describe your role on the Analytics Team?

My role in the team is to take the clever ideas that the team members have, and make sure they are built in a clear, scalable and maintainable fashion.

2. What is your favourite part about working for Mendeley?

The atmosphere, the people and the problems we get to work on.

3. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I enjoy yoga, photography and watching American TV of decidedly variable quality.

Congratulations October Advisor of the Month — Yoilán Fimia León!

Congratulations and thank you to Yoilán Fimia León!

profileYoilán, who is involved with higher education, often teaches Mendeley at his institute, Universidad Central “Marta Abreu” de Las Villas, in Cuba. Recently, he designed a one-credit academic course on Mendeley and reference management, which already has full classes this fall.

“My university noted that in one national evaluation that the Ministry of Higher Education conduct every year over the students one of the variables measured is “the use of reference managers” and it was found that this was the variable with the lower grades during the last 4 years,” Yoilán said. “In that sense, future actions will be taken relating the use of Mendeley at UCLV and probably future training programs for students will be raised.”

How long have you been on Mendeley?

I don’t know exactly but based on my oldest reference in my library on Mendeley I have been there since February 28th, 2010.

What were you using prior to Mendeley?

I used Endnote previously to Mendeley

How does Mendeley influence your research?

I think my research history can be divided in two phases (after and before Mendeley). The organization I have of all my research literature with more than 5,000 references could be only optimally managed thanks to Mendeley. In my point of view, the opportunity Mendeley gives me to get in contact with researches around the world working on similar fields is one of the more valued features and it has influence my results.

Why did you decide to become an Advisor?

Good things that can make the difference always attract many people. I fell in love the first time I saw Mendeley working so why not let the people know?

How have you been spreading the word about Mendeley?

I started introducing Mendeley to the people working in my department of Educational Technology at UCLV. Later on I suggested my students to used Mendeley to organize their references, to insert citations in documents, and to automatically generate bibliographies. After many informal sessions, more than 250 students know about the Mendeley’s existence and benefits. I did the arrangements to include Mendeley in one course named “Bibliographic management” for students in my university. I also included the subject related to the use of Mendeley in public document writing for a special programme named “Public Administration” oriented to people in public administration jobs. This programme have a module of ICT in public administration and Mendeley was one of the tools showed in this course. Afterwards, I organized several formal and informal Mendeley workshops and training sessions to show its benefits to researchers, librarians, and university managers. Finally, I have designed an official postgraduate training programme for my university. The new programme seems to have good acceptance and many request have been registered.

What book are you reading at the moment and why?

At this moment I´m reading some books about statistics due to my PhD, but I found that the library in my university have one copy of the first edition of “El Quijote” and I would like to read it again from this very old copy.Mendeley-over-Cuba

Any fun fact people might be surprised to learn about you?

I’m teaching my 6 year old son how to use Mendeley to record and organize his drawings and first texts.

What is the best part about being a researcher?

I think the best part about being a researcher is the inquiry spirit and the ability to share the results and be the pillar for further research and findings.

And the worst?

The time you lose to be with your lovely people because you are researching.

What is the one thing you want people to know about Mendeley?

I think that people in front and behind Mendeley are very nice and have developed an incredible sharing spirit. This spirit has been transmitted to the network of user using the tool.
Now that Elsevier is the owner of the product I´m really sure they will continue encouraging and supporting this spirit in order to get something really valuable for our society.

Anything Else?

I would thanks to “Centro de Documentación e Información Científico-Técnica” (CDICT – UCLV) and to the Network Project between VLIR and Five Cuban Universities. Special thanks to Maggie Fimia for all her support.

Mendeley at JCDL 2014

by Patrick Hochstenback @hochstenbach
Image by Patrick Hochstenback @hochstenbach

The Mendeley Data Science team have been busy attending some important events around the world. One of them has been JCDL 2014, the most prominent conference in the Digital Libraries arena. The conference looks at many of the problems we’re tackling at the moment, such as article recommendations and the best ways of automatically extracting information from research articles.

Maya Hristakeva, Senior Data Scientist at Mendeley, was particularly excited about the various approaches to topic modelling that were discussed at the event. “Topics were used as features for a diverse range of tasks, such as prediction of an author’s future citation counts, making personalised recommendations, search, author disambiguation, and creating more relevant citation networks, all features that make a direct impact to the research workflow on Mendeley.”

“We saw some really thought-provoking output come out of the JCDL14 proceedings such as Characterizing Scholar Popularity : A Case Study in the Computer Science Research Community. In JCDL’14” explains Kris Jack, Chief Data Scientist at Mendeley. “Some of the interesting research questions raised included one by Gonçalves, G. D., Figueiredo, F., Almeida, J. M., & Gonçalves, M. A. (2014) which asked whether it is possible to represent the popularity of a researcher using the number of readers that they have.”

It was also nice to see evidence in some of the papers presented that Mendeley readership is highly correlated with various measures of academic impact, such as h-index and publication venue importance,” says Mendeley Senior Data Scientist Phil Gooch.

Overall, this was a really valuable opportunity to connect with researchers who are working on similar problems to Mendeley, such as metadata extraction, recommendations, and citation/author/venue disambiguation, so we’re thinking about the idea of perhaps running an open challenge to focus this research into concrete output that could be of use in features for our users. If you have any ideas around that, do get in touch on Twitter with @_krisjack @mayahhf and @Phil_Gooch

Note: At Mendeley, we believe in dogfooding (it’s not as disgusting at it sounds, merely techy slang for using your own product to validate the qualities of that product…) so Maya, Kris and Phil took notes using Mendeley Desktop 🙂


Discussing the Future of Recommender Systems at RecSys2014

Maya and Kris from the Mendeley Data Science team have just returned from RecSys2014, the most important conference in the Recommender System world. RecSys is remarkable in that it attracts an equal number of participants from industry and academia, many of whom are at the forefront of innovation in their fields.

The team had a chance to exchange perspectives and experiences with various researchers, scholars and practitioners.

“To me, it was encouraging to see how top companies across the world are investing in recommenders, as they are shown to enhance customer satisfaction and bring real value to both users and companies,” says Mendeley Senior Data Scientist Maya Hristakeva. “LinkedIn reported that 50% of the connections made in their social network come from their follower recommender, while Netflix says that if they can stop 1% of users from cancelling their subscription then that’s worth $500M a year, which of course justifies the fact they are investing $150M/year in their content recommendation team, consisting of 300 people.”

But one of the advantages of such a hybrid event is that it did not shy away from addressing the broader issues, such as how to ward against creating a “filter bubble” effect, how to preserve user’s privacy, and optimising systems for what really matters (and how this can be effectively defined). Daniel Tunkelang, LinkedIn, and Xavier Amatriain, Netflix, moderated a panel on “Controversial Questions About Personalization“, tackling some of these topics head on. Hector Garcia Molina from Stanford University also put forward the view that we’ll increasingly see a convergence of recommendations, search and advertising, despite noticeable scepticism from the attendees.

Kris Jack, Chief Data Scientist at Mendeley, says one of the main messages that he took away from the conference was the importance of winning a user’s trust in the early stages of using a recommender system.

“The best systems have been shown to start off by providing recommendations that can quickly be evaluated by users as being useful before gradually introducing more novel recommendations. So in the case of helping researchers to find relevant articles to read, it’s probably best to start by recommending well known but important articles in their field, before recommending some less well known but very pertinent articles to their specific problem domain.” explains Kris. “Other important factors include reranking (the order in which recommendations should be shown), the UI design that can best support interaction with the recommender system, and the ways in which we can build context-aware recommendations.”

What do you think of the current recommendation features on Mendeley? Are there any particular ones that you’d like to see implemented? Would you like to join the team and work on making them even better? Let us know in the comments below, or Tweet the team directly @_krisjack @mayahhf and @Phil_Gooch .If you’re interested in finding out more about what the Data Science Team is developing in that arena, you can also watch their Mendeley Open Day presentation here.



What you should know about Mendeley Open Day 2014

Whew. We’re just now recovering from the craziness that was Mendeley Open Day. While we didn’t film everything (to protect the innocent…and the not-so-innocent), you can relive, rewind, and re-watch the day via our YouTube Playlist or catch up on Tweets through our Storify.

If for some reason you decide you don’t want to watch 9 hours of video (why ever not?!), here are some of the highlights and features announced at Open Day.

Top 5 Features announced at Mendeley Open Day

1. Improved iOS speed + Android phone preview!
Steve Dennis was surprised to receive a spontaneous ovation from the audience after describing the iOS sync speed as improving 5000 percent better

You can catch his moment below (starts at 28:05) and stay tuned for the Android preview

2. Improved Web Library
Your Mendeley Library will soon be even more portable, with improved Web Library (starts at 35:36)

3. Research Data Management
Joe Shell, Senior Project Manager, shared why he thinks data is like wine, (“it gets better with age”) and his vision for seamless data management for researchers and laboratories. (starts at 1:00:00)

4. Sneak preview of your new Mendeley Profile Page
See Wah Cheng gave us a sneak preview of an updated Mendeley profile page and explained how Mendeley is creating better research work flow through improved social networking. (starts at 1:10:00)

5. Mendeley API is improving other workflow tools, including writeLaTeX

API Developer Joyce Stack shared how third-party developers are using Mendeley API to create better tools for researchers, including better .bib import to writeLaTeX, as announced Dr. John Lees-Miller

Best Talk on Researcher Workflow

One of my favourite bits was from Mendeley Advisor Vicky Pyne, who talked about how she gets things done with her system called (wait for it) “Getting Things Done.” (starts at 37:10)

There was so much more, so you really ought to watch the videos. If you tuned in already, tell us, what was your favourite bit? What are you hoping to learn more about?