Meet the Platform Team — part I

Our Platform Team is easily the largest one here at Mendeley, hence the need to meet the team in two parts! But it is with good reason — the Platform team is exactly as it sounds, a firm base from which all Mendeley experiences are built. The Engineers and Developers on the team build code and work closely with other teams at Mendeley to help assess needs and address them with the right bit of software.

What does that mean in practice? Read through their individual bios and find out how the Platform team helps every single team at Mendeley! And next month we’ll profile the other half of the team. Whew!

James Gibbons

Principal Software Engineer

James originally studied Computer Science, Linguistics and French. He’s worked in London for several years, mostly related to public transport before joining Mendeley in 2012.  Find him on Twitter @james_gibbons

How do you describe your role on the Platform Team?
I tend to be involved in a lot of projects, trying to help explore the best ways of producing great software. I spend more time than most in meetings.

What is your favourite part about working for Mendeley?
Working with such a knowledgeable and insightful team is a privilege, as is having the chance to work with some very interesting tools and ideas to build a great platform for Mendeley.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
A variety of things, but in particular cycling which is common in Mendeley, and psephology, which isn’t.

Kristof Ujfalussy

Software Engineer

KristofAfter getting my BSc in Budapest, Kristof worked for a year in Hungary and
then moved to London to get his Masters. After graduating, he stayed in
London and worked at the Discovery Channel before joining Mendeley in

How do you describe your role on the Platform Team?
I’m responsible for the data-pipeline stream. I work on jobs that process various sources of data for marketing purposes and help the analytics team generate KPIs for the business.

What is your favourite part about working for Mendeley?
Hackdays, relaxed atmosphere, lots of opportunities to learn.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I do a lot of stuff, but I would say the thing I enjoy most is travelling, especially to places with beautiful nature.


William Doran

Software Engineer
image (3)Phd in Computational linguistics -> 4yrs working for IBM Ireland (Java/HTML/JavaScript) -> Disney Uk ( Java/Javascript) -> Expedia Uk (Java) – Mendeley

How do you describe your role on the Platform Team?
Building things: web services, APIs, deployment tooling

What is your favourite part about working for Mendeley?
Working with clever people and having the freedom to work with cutting edge technologies

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Outdoorsy stuff, (hiking, running, cycling, saving kittens from trees, etc.)

Dr. David Ingram

Principal Engineer

dmiDavid’s background is a mix between the computer industry and academia. He has a PhD in operating systems, post doc research in distributed systems and has worked for AT&T Labs and Google.

How do you describe your role on the Platform Team?
I build bridges between the Platform Team and other parts of the company, in particular with the Social Team and the Mobile Team. I work a lot on the Mendeley API, and help drive the development of Mendeley’s social network.

What is your favourite part about working for Mendeley?
Being part of a really great team who share a common purpose and believe in what they are doing.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Contemporary Dance.

James Chancellor

Software developer

james.chancellor (1)James graduated from Bristol University in mechanical engineering but got into software development soon after, having always been a hobby. He previously worked for and the online supermarket Ocado before that.

How do you describe your role on the Platform Team?
I’m new so I’m just learning the ropes in the platform team. However the projects are well organised and it’s been straight forward to get working on stories, pushing code to production and contributing value from day one. I work on core services that support Mendeley products across all platforms.

What is your favourite part about working for Mendeley?
I appreciate the down-to-earth, friendly attitude of the team that has helped me settle in quickly. I also look forward to the support I know I have in developing my skills in the direction I want them to go.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I learned how to hang glide a few years ago and try to get into the sky as often as I can. This usually involves driving down to the south coast, strapping myself to an aluminium/dacron contraption and running off a hill.

Davinder Mann

Java Developer

DavinderDavinder previously worked for BAE Systems as a Java developer building a platform for structured data analytics

How do you describe your role on the Platform Team?
Working on the core services that power Mendeley clients across different work streams.

What is your favourite part about working for Mendeley?
Flexibility on use of technologies and being able to move between work streams if desired.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Golf and watching movies.

Víctor Fernández Peñalver

Software Developer

victorVictor was born in Alicante Spain and his interest for computers started around 1987 when his parents bought him and his twin brother a Sinclair ZX Spectrum as a birthday present. He holds a BSc in Computer Science by the university of Skövde in Sweden and a MSc in Computer Science by the university of Alicante in Spain. He moved to London in 2007 and worked as software developer in few companies since then. He joined Mendeley in 2012. Find him on Twitter @yeforriak

How do you describe your role on the Platform Team?
As a software developer in the platform team I’m responsible of writing software that is consumed by lots of people everyday, including other development teams as well. The daily work varies a lot, from writing more traditional Java services to Scala map reduce jobs or some parts of a recommender system using machine learning algorithms.

What is your favourite part about working for Mendeley?
My favourite thing is the opportunity to work with smart and talented people, I also enjoy practicing extreme programming and the ability of try new technologies.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like playing old school video games (ghost and goblins, new zealand story, captain commando are among my favourites). I also like to travel and practice a lot of sports including squash, skating, mountain bike, snowboarding, windsurfing, triathlon.

Dr. James Heather

Principal Java Engineer

james_and_the_roobsterUntil recently, James was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Surrey, conducting research into computer security, and secure voting in particular. Then he decided one day he should probably open the office door and see what the world outside was like…
Find him on Twitter @drfudgeboy

How do you describe your role on the Platform Team?
I press lots of buttons, and it makes our computers do things. When I press the right buttons, it makes our back end services work better. When I press the wrong buttons, our infrastructure generally spots it, and tells me to have another yoghurt and try again.

What is your favourite part about working for Mendeley?
As a former academic who spent most of his time writing and publishing papers, I am dead keen on supporting and promoting research. It’s really good to have a development role where the work I do helps my friends and colleagues in universities all around the world. And there’s free yoghurt.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Free time? Ah yes, I remember that. I go to work, I play hide-and-seek with a two-year-old, I change nappies for a four-month-old, and I sleep in the gaps in between. In the three minutes left each week, my wife and I are active in our church (Emmanuel, Stoughton), we like watching cosy murders (Miss Marple, Poirot, etc.), and we kill plants.


Nikolett Harsányi

Senior Java Engineer

DSC05765~2 (1)Nikolett is a self-taught engineer. She was keen to be a teacher, helping, teaching and motivating people. At the university, she had a lot of ideas how she could make teaching easier,
which is how she got involved in programming. “I just fell in love with programming, and I am very passionate to learn more and more,” she said.

How do you describe your role on the Platform Team?
As a backend developer, I am responsible for developing services which are used by other people.

What is your favourite part about working for Mendeley?
Very talented and smart colleagues. I have plenty opportunity to learn in a very friendly environment.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I really enjoy traveling, cooking, sewing and dancing. I’m very keen to pick up new skills in my free-time.

Congratulations to our January Advisor of the Month — Ethan Pullman

CongratuProfPiclations and thank you to Ethan Pullman, our February Advisor of the Month! Ethan, a librarian at Carnegie Mellon University Libraries, is involved with the Mendeley team on the behind-the-scenes aspect of the Advisor Program, helping with beta testing and giving valuable feedback on new and proposed features.

When he is not being a librarian, Ethan is also a PhD student, pursuing his doctoral research in Rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon. “My interest in libraries stemmed from an a desire to teach,” said Ethan. “Eventually my interest in language and culture surfaced and helped inform my research, be it in the library profession, teaching Arabic, or as I pursue my PhD.”


Where do you do your research/work the best? What kind of environment suits you?
My theoretical research addresses interactional aspects of teaching, language, culture, and technology. I am comfortable in various environments, but I feel that the availability of technological tools from searching to citing have really opened up the possibilities and provided me with great flexibility in the way I do research as well as my research interests.

How long have you been on Mendeley and what were you using prior to Mendeley? How does Mendeley influence your research?
Prior to Mendeley, I have dabbled in tools, including EndNote, Academia, Evernote, etc. But I primarily worked with Zotero as it seemed to combine more futures that complement the way I research. I still use Zotero, however, Mendeley’ s social networking and interactive properties (such as the ability to create groups) made it an indispensable aspect of my research work and interactions. I find myself using it more often, if not primarily, not only in my research writing, but as a networking tool, something I greatly appreciate.

Why did you decide to become an Advisor and how are you involved with the program?
To be truthful, my decision to become an Advisor stemmed from my desire to know as much as I can about Mendeley and the advisors support and network has been a great way to accomplish that. Another important reason had to do with my role as a library instructor; I felt I needed a way to gain expertise (and fast) as I address the needs of our university community.

What academic/researcher/librarian would you like to work with or meet, dead or alive?
That’s a hard question; there are a few. I suppose I wouldn’t be a librarian if I didn’t want to meet Melvil Dewey. But I think what I’d love most is to meet with a panel (or a séance – since two of my panelists are dead) consisting of Dewey, Gabriel Naudé, a French librarian – considered the father of the library sciences, and Paul Zurkowski, who is responsible for the concept of “information literacy”. Together, they pioneered what we know today as library and information science.

What book are you reading at the moment and why?
lol….My reading lately – as any PhD student can attest – is primarily in journal article format and relates to my professional interest. However, I recently guest lectured on Huda Barakat’s “The Stone of Laughter,” so I had to re-read it in order to lead discussion.

What is the best part about working in research?
The best part is that I can truly say I am never bored. There’s so much to learn and so many ways to connect the dots, it keeps my mind young!

And the worst?
Good follow up question 🙂 The worst part is that there never seems enough time to read all there is on a topic. Oh, and the nagging feeling that what I think as innovative or important is old news to someone out there.

What is the one thing you want people to know about Mendeley?
Everything! It’s a toolbox and it gets bigger — and it makes the research process so easy.

Is Space Exploration Worth It? Mendeley Debate at the Cambridge Union Society

Space Exploration

Mendeley is sponsoring another thought-provoking debate at the Cambridge Union Society on February 5th, 2015. Scientists and charity experts will come together to place the necessity of space exploration in the context of other pressing global issues, with the motion being put forward is “This House Believes that Space Exploration is Worth the Cost”.

As governments worldwide are faced with tough funding decisions, what is the argument for prioritising this expensive area of research? Should the burden continue to be shouldered by taxpayers or will the emerging trend for commercial space exploration – spearheaded by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX – change everything? Google’s recent $1bn investment in SpaceX certainly points to an increased appetite in the private sector for exploring the final frontier.

Term Card

Back in October, we sponsored a debate on the issue of The Right to be Forgotten, which you can watch in full below.

This time around, the line-up of speakers discussing the issue includes the Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, Dr David Parker, Science Fiction writer Professor Alastair Reynolds and Aspiring Astronaut and Entrepreneur Christine Corbett Moran, who is also a member of the SpaceX propulsion group.

Unfortunately, previously announced speaker Adriana Ocampo, Lead Program Executive at NASA’S New Frontiers Program was unable to attend due to health reasons. Although we’re extremely sorry not to be able to welcome her in person on this occasion, she will be contributing to our Women in STEM series, so do subscribe to the Mendeley YouTube channel for her upcoming video, coming straight from NASA Headquarters! We want to keep sharing these stories from people like Adriana and Christine, to support and inspire the next generation of female scientists.

If you have any questions or comments, get in touch via Twitter (@cambridgeunion @MendeleyTalks, or @Mendeley_com) and do tune into the Live Stream from the Cambridge Union on the 5th!

Thirsty for Science: Mendeley teams up with Pint of Science

Cracking the Code credit Andrew Steele
Photo Credit: Andrew Steele

Some of the best scientific discoveries have occurred over a pint. The Eagle in Cambridge is famous for Watson and Crick’s custom, while an unnamed Mendeley Advisor has confessed to me that some of his best scientific collaborations and discussions occur during his institute’s weekly “beer hour.”

So what better way to discuss and learn the latest science in layman’s terms than over a pint of…well, a pint of your choice! Mendeley is about changing the way we do research, and Pint of Science is about changing the way we discuss research, so it was a clear win on both sides when we decided to team up and sponsor Pint of Science, including the upcoming Pint of Science Festival this May.

Michael and Praveen

Pint of Science co-founders Praveen Paul and Michael Motskin tell us more about this exciting partnership:


Pint of Science is delighted to team up with Mendeley this year to deliver our most popular theme in the festival ‘Beautiful Mind’. Beautiful Mind encapsulates anything that is happening in our incredible brains (well, most of our brains); neural connections, psychological curiosities, how neuron wiring affects who we are and what happens when this goes wrong. Some of the best scientists in the UK will present talks on how drugs affect your brain, why people get depressed, how we recognise faces, how aging affects the brain and many more mind blowing talks. Now you understand why it’s our most popular theme!

Pint of Science Logo with GlassesPint of Science and Mendeley is a natural collaboration. The Pint of Science team has over 300 volunteer organisers based across 17 universities in the UK. Our organisers are mainly postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers who are familiar with using Mendeley for managing references, papers and initiating collaborations. We are excited to work together and we hope it will continue for the years to come.

The partnership with Mendeley started by a chance conversation at an art fair between Mandy Knapp and a Mendeley fan. Mandy is an artist helping curate a unique art event ‘Creative Reactions’ for Pint of Science this year. Taking place in Cambridge, local artists have been invited to get involved with speakers and produce artworks to represent the 18 different Pint of Science events that will be happening in the city. We are thrilled to see the final exhibition in Cambridge on the 21st May.

Let me tell you a little bit more about Pint of Science. The festival takes place 18-20 May 2015. We will have around 400 scientists who will switch their lab coats for pints and come share and explain their research to the public in over 60 pubs across the UK. Each day of the festival has a wide selection of talks that will quench your thirst for knowledge. The events will take place in: Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Oxford, Southampton, Teesside and York.

What’s also special about Pint of Science is that it is an international collaboration, and while the festival is running in 11 cities in the UK, it will also be held simultaneously in 30 other cities across another 8 countries that take part in the festival. You can find more information at

Quiz time in the Pub credit Andrew Steele
Photo Credit: Andrew Steele

Our mission is to bring people as close as possible to the primary source of knowledge. So close that you will be able to have a chat and drink with the speaker. Each evening you can expect at least two experts presenting their research, yet every event at Pint of Science will be different. They will vary greatly and will include engaging talks, discussion panels, demonstrations, live experiments and science comedy. Between talks you can expect fun quizzes, geeky puzzles, engaging stories and other interactive activities.

Now that you know all about it and you’re feeling a bit thirsty for fresh knowledge (and a drink) come and join us for the biggest and cosiest science festival out there: Pint of Science, 18-20 May 2015 around the corner in your local pub.


We hope you can join Mendeley and Pint of Science for a pint of (beer/juice/coffee/etc) this May. Which talk are you most looking forward to attending?

Mendeley Desktop 1.13 Released – Faster Sync & Catalog Import

Mendeley Desktop 1.13 is now available for Windows, Mac and Linux. This update has largely been about under-the-hood work on sync functionality to make it faster and enable you to access it across a wider range of platforms. Coming soon, you’ll be able to access your Mendeley library from our upcoming new web and Android apps, plus a revamped iOS app.

We’ve also been working on improving the PDF import functionality. The new release of Mendeley will automatically update imported documents with details of the matching entry in our catalog, enabling you to cite the paper without further corrections more often.

New and improved in this release

Faster Sync

In addition to enabling new first and third-party apps for accessing your Mendeley library, the new sync infrastructure allows faster and more data-efficient sync of large libraries. Syncing a typical library is now 2-3x faster. If your library is large (many thousands of entries) or you are on a slower connection, the benefits will be much greater.

Catalog Import

Mendeley Desktop matches papers you import to entries in our catalog which combines data from users and other sources, providing readership statistics, popular tags and other information for papers. In Mendeley Desktop 1.13 we’ve added an Update Details option to import data from the catalog into your Mendeley library. This should save you time when you come to cite the paper. To use it, just select a group of entries in your library, right click and select Update Details:


Mendeley will then refresh the details with the latest version of the entry from our catalog:


Hit the ‘View research catalog entry for this paper’ link to see more about the paper on Mendeley. Where the author is on Mendeley themselves and has uploaded the paper to their My Publications folder, you can also connect with them:


Early access to new Mendeley features

If you’d like to get early access to new Mendeley releases, you can opt-in to our preview releases via Help -> Check for Updates -> Opt-in to Experimental Releases in the app. The current preview release is a bug-fix update which addresses several of the top causes of crashes in the app.

New for Developers

This release of Mendeley Desktop is built entirely upon our new API which is also available for public use. Unlike our previous public API, the new platform provides access to all of the data which is displayed in Mendeley Desktop including documents, folders, annotations, file attachments and metadata lookup. If you want to build your own tools that use Mendeley’s data, check out our developer portal.

KinSync – Getting documents from Mendeley to your Kindle with no wires and no fuss

KinSync logo

Q&A with Aaron Asaro, KinSync Founder 

So, in a nutshell, what is KinSync?

KinSync is a webapp, built on top of the Mendeley API, which automatically sends documents from your Mendeley account to your Kindle e-reader. It aims to “Get documents from your Mendeley account to your Kindle. No wires. No fuss.”

How was the app developed?

At first we wanted KinSync to completely do away with the need to print an academic paper. To achieve this, we sent PDFs to a users’ Kindle e-reader. Once we had that mechanism working, we sought to find efficient ways to annotate and highlight the documents with the Kindle. The trouble is that they’re not designed for ‘active’ reading, so we couldn’t find a good way to make that work. The first live version was therefore a bit limited.

What was the initial user reaction like?

Users seemed to like the idea at first, but stopped using it after a while because the use case we were pushing (a total replacement of printed documents) didn’t gel with their experience. This was additionally problematic as our approach to marketing has always been to build a great product and rely on people telling their friends / colleagues.

What changed, and how are users using the product now?

After about 12 months we pivoted to a free product with a set of features that more closely matched our own behavior – using KinSync to catch up on recent literature. For example, instead of printing out 20 or 30 papers each week to skim read, our users now send the papers to their Kindle. If the papers prove interesting or valuable they are then printed for more active reading (i.e. attacked with highlighters and pencil).

One feature that has helped us to attract users is “document optimization”. To begin with, PDFs were quite cumbersome to read for anyone that didn’t have a Kindle DX. However, we implemented some pretty nifty technology that breaks these documents down into the columnar components – making them a lot easier to read (as shown below).


Kinsync screenshot


What was it like working with the Mendeley API?

The API hasn’t always been the easiest to work with, particularly from a documentation standpoint. However, where this fell short the community support from the Mendeley Dev team more than made up for it. A while ago we were a little concerned that, following the Elsevier takeover, the API would be depreciated. However, we have been pleasantly surprised that Elsevier/Mendeley have instead deployed even more resources – and over time the API seems to have become more robust.

What does the future hold for KinSync?

Ever more people are getting Kindles and Amazon are doing great things to bring the technology forward and prices down. We are hoping Amazon will open up the Kindles a little more so that we can deploy some of the features that have been on ice for way too long. Until then, we will continue to experiment with different ways of best delivering this service.

Back to the Future with Mendeley

We were so inspired by Josh Emerson’s Back to the Future look at internet history, we wanted to do one of our own!

We had quite a productive 2014, but it is nothing compared to what is in the works for 2015. Some of it we can reveal to you now — but stay tuned this year. Good things are happening, but here is a look at the past, present, and future of Mendeley 2015.


Mendeley Future — Android, iOS and Web Library

It’s 2015…the year we were due to get our hoverboards, according to the movie “Back to the Future.” We’re trying to convince the developers to make it happen by the next Mendeley Hack Day, but until that does, the new future of research means bringing it on the go with our upgraded iOS app and upcoming Android app. Our iOS upgrade improves syncing speed across your Mendeley platforms, using our fresh API. We expect the update to hit the iTunes store later this month — we’ll be sure to let you know when it does.
And our Android app is expected within the first half of this year! That’s right, before the summer sun (or winter sun for our southern hemisphere users) you’ll be able to take your Mendeley library on-the-go with your Android smartphones and tablets.

Anxious for a sneak preview? Product Manager Steve Dennis walks us through the latest iteration on this preview video.


We also have a sneak preview of the fresh web library, your Mendeley library accessed through a browser. The new web library, expected within the next month, is redesigned from the ground up, with a much improved user interface. Highlights include the ability to upload PDFs with automatic metadata extraction.

This is just a brief sneak peek, there are many other new things coming soon! And don’t worry about missing the news — we’ll sound the trumpets when they all get officially released!

Mendeley Present — Desktop Update

When you opened your Mendeley Desktop after your New Years’ break (and of course you took a proper break rather than work through the holidays, right?), you may have noticed an update to your Mendeley Desktop (version 1.13-dev7 for the technically-minded).

So what’s new in your Mendeley Desktop? We:

  • Fixed empty titles on document deduplication.
  • Fixed issue that would prevent the user from deleting a document note created by another user in a shared group.
  • Fixed issue that could crash the application if the owner of a shared group had deleted his account
  • Fixed issue that would prevent the user from restoring the backup.

For more information, and to find out what to do if you’ve encountered any issues with the new release, read the release notes on our website.

All of these changes feed into our bigger goal to give our users the ability for users to easily access and sync their Mendeley
library across a range of devices.

All of our updates take advantage our fresh API, which is open for everyone to use for building tools to make researchers’ lives easier.

Mendeley Past — A look back to where we started

Do you follow us on Twitter or Facebook? To close out 2014, we took a look back to the Mendeley past.

Check out what your Mendeley Desktop looked like in 2009:

And learn what Mendeley was called before it was Mendeley. Hint: It has B-movie overtones.


What do you remember best about Mendeley past? What are you hoping for most in the Mendeley future? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Newsflo brings new impact metrics to Mendeley

NewsfloSome exciting news has just come through, in that Elsevier has acquired Newsflo, an innovative service that helps academic institutions keep track of all their media coverage and social media mentions, boosting the visibility of researchers and their work.

Whereas traditionally academia has been very insular in the way they measured impact of its research output – think “walled garden” and the tyranny of citation count – these days it is increasingly accepted that citations alone are not the most accurate way of determining the reach and usefulness of research. We’ve seen the rise of Altmetrics and Mendeley has contributed a lot to this, collaborating with others to provide readership statistics that offer the research community much more relevant and granular insight on how and where their papers are being discovered, read, annotated, shared and cited.

Newsflo takes this a step further, looking beyond scholarly use of research papers towards a “media impact metric” that can be used to measure societal impact. This certainly makes sense if you consider that the purpose of Science is, after all, to benefit the whole of humanity, and that involves effectively communicating scientific research to the general public through various media. But in a world of information overload and seemingly infinite social media channels, how do you keep track of your work once it’s released into the wider world?

That was the problem that Imperial College London PhD students Ben Kaube and Freddie Witherden set out to solve when they started Newsflo. They developed a tool that helps researchers and academic institutions to measure the wider impact of their work by tracking and analyzing media coverage of their publications and findings. Currently Newsflo tracks over 55,000 English-speaking global media sources and has the technology and network to expand to non-English language media. Newsflo applies this intelligence to mine emerging trends in the academic sector and to provide relevant media alerts.

We aim to keep researchers informed of the media interest in their work, but also to help them raise their profiles, without putting extra demands on their time. Our tool lets institutions showcase the value of their research, and being a part of Elsevier will allow us to integrate our media monitoring technology into researchers’ everyday workflow.  Ben Kaube,  Newsflo Co-founder 

Now that Newsflo has joined the Elsevier family, we will be working to incorporate all these cool features into your Mendeley profile, providing individually customized evidence of the societal impact of your research through media mentions. Also, through the ongoing integration of Mendeley with Elsevier’s existing platforms, Newsflo’s media monitoring feature will become an integrated part of the workflow of all researchers publishing with Elsevier, along with tools such as the article recommender.

It’s increasingly important for researchers and departments to be able to demonstrate societal impact in order to attract students and secure funding. The technology and expertise of the Newsflo founders will be great assets to Elsevier in continuing to advance our portfolio of innovative tools to support institutional leaders and researchers’ workflows and careers. Olivier Dumon, Managing Director of Research Application & Platforms at Elsevier

You’ve seen already some of the benefits that this type of integration can bring, where we brought in features such as the article recommender and those that let you easily export papers from Science Direct or see your Mendeley Readership stats directly from Scopus. Our recently revamped API makes it much easier for all these services, across Elsevier but also 3rd party developers, to integrate with each other. We believe the key to building the best possible user experience for researchers is to seamlessly bring together all the information, content, workflow tools and social/collaboration functionalities that they need, and we’re working hard towards that goal.

It’s also really exciting to welcome these talented young entrepreneurs and work with them to develop some great new features together. Being acquired is an amazing and very challenging journey for a startup, but I think we’ve shown just how many opportunities it can bring, and I’m looking forward to helping Newsflo make the most of it so that their product can be of greatest benefit to the research community. Jan Reichelt, Mendeley President 

Co-founders Victor Henning and Paul Foeckler also stayed on following the acquisition, with Victor remaining as CEO of Mendeley but taking on an additional role as VP of Strategy at Elsevier. He’s currently spearheading innovative collaboration initiatives such as Axon@LeWeb, which brings together the most promising emerging startups in the fields of Science and Research. Paul, meanwhile, is involved in developing a new Elsevier Open Access journal that covers all disciplines, an initiative that promises to make the process of submitting your work for publication much easier and more efficient.

We think these are exciting times indeed, but as always we’d love to hear from you with any thoughts, suggestions, praise or criticism. Leave a comment below or Tweet us at @Mendeley_com

Back to the Future in websites

Happy New Year!

I don’t know about you, but a majority of my (admittedly, very Gen-Y) Facebook friends posted some reference to Back to the Future on New Year’s Day.


So we are taking this New Year’s opportunity to share with you an article written by Josh Emerson, a front end developer on our Mendeley team, on the past, present and future of website development.

Josh is a prolific writer, you can also find more of his work in this month’s net magazine and on his blog.



by Josh Emerson


The first website was created at CERN. It was launched on 20 December 1990 (just in time for Christmas!), and it still works today, after twenty-four years. Isn’t that incredible?!

Why does this website still work after all this time? I can think of a few reasons.

First, the authors of this document chose HTML. Of course they couldn’t have known back then the extent to which we would be creating documents in HTML, but HTML always had a lot going for it. It’s built on top of plain text, which means it can be opened in any text editor, and it’s pretty readable, even without any parsing.

Despite the fact that HTML has changed quite a lot over the past twenty-four years, extensions to the specification have always been implemented in a backwards-compatible manner. Reading through the 1992 W3C document HTML Tags, you’ll see just how it has evolved. We still have h1h6 elements, but I’d not heard of the <plaintext> element before. Despite being deprecated since HTML2, it still works in several browsers. You can see it in action on my website.

As well as being written in HTML, there is no run-time compilation of code; the first website simply consists of HTML files transmitted over the web. Due to its lack of complexity, it stood a good chance of surviving in the turbulent World Wide Web.

That’s all well and good for a simple, static website. But websites created today are increasingly interactive. Many require a login and provide experiences that are tailored to the individual user. This type of dynamic website requires code to be executed somewhere.

Traditionally, dynamic websites would execute such code on the server, and transmit a simple HTML file to the user. As far as the browser was concerned, this wasn’t much different from the first website, as the additional complexity all happened before the document was sent to the browser.

Doing it all in the browser

In 2003, the first single page interface was created at A single page interface or single page app is a website where the page is created in the browser via JavaScript. The benefit of this technique is that, after the initial page load, subsequent interactions can happen instantly, or very quickly, as they all happen in the browser.

When software runs on the client rather than the server, it is often referred to as a fat client. This means that the bulk of the processing happens on the client rather than the server (which can now be thin).

A fat client is preferred over a thin client because:

  • It takes some processing requirements away from the server, thereby reducing the cost of servers (a thin server requires cheaper, or fewer servers).
  • They can often continue working offline, provided no server communication is required to complete tasks after initial load.
  • The latency of internet communications is bypassed after initial load, as interactions can appear near instantaneous when compared to waiting for a response from the server.

But there are also some big downsides, and these are often overlooked:

  • They can’t work without JavaScript. Obviously JavaScript is a requirement for any client-side code execution. And as the UK Government Digital Service discovered, 1.1% of their visitors did not receive JavaScript enhancements. Of that 1.1%, 81% had JavaScript enabled, but their browsers failed to execute it (possibly due to dropping the internet connection). If you care about 1.1% of your visitors, you should care about the non-JavaScript experience for your website.
  • The browser needs to do all the processing. This means that the hardware it runs on needs to be fast. It also means that we require all clients to have largely the same capabilities and browser APIs.
  • The initial payload is often much larger, and nothing will be rendered for the user until this payload has been fully downloaded and executed. If the connection drops at any point, or the code fails to execute owing to a bug, we’re left with the non-JavaScript experience.
  • They are not easily indexed as every crawler now needs to run JavaScript just to receive the content of the website.

These are not merely edge case issues to shirk off. The first three issues will affect some of your visitors; the fourth affects everyone, including you.

What problem are we trying to solve?

So what can be done to address these issues? Whereas fat clients solve some inherent issues with the web, they seem to create as many problems. When attempting to resolve any issue, it’s always good to try to uncover the original problem and work forwards from there. One of the best ways to frame a problem is as a user story. A user story considers the who, what and why of a need. Here’s a template:

As a {who} I want {what} so that {why}

I haven’t got a specific project in mind, so let’s refer to the who as user. Here’s one that could explain the use of thick clients.

As a user I want the site to respond to my actions quickly so that I get immediate feedback when I do something.

This user story could probably apply to a great number of websites, but so could this:

As a user I want to get to the content quickly, so that I don’t have to wait too long to find out what the site is all about or get the content I need.

A better solution

How can we balance both these user needs? How can we have a website that loads fast, and also reacts fast? The solution is to have a thick server, that serves the complete document, and then a thick client, that manages subsequent actions and replaces parts of the page. What we’re talking about here is simply progressive enhancement, but from the user’s perspective.

The initial payload contains the entire document. At this point, all interactions would happen in a traditional way using links or form elements. Then, once we’ve downloaded the JavaScript (asynchronously, after load) we can enhance the experience with JavaScript interactions. If for whatever reason our JavaScript fails to download or execute, it’s no biggie – we’ve already got a fully functioning website. If an API that we need isn’t available in this browser, it’s not a problem. We just fall back to the basic experience.

This second point, of having some minimum requirement for an enhanced experience, is often referred to as cutting the mustard, first used in this sense by the BBC News team. Essentially it’s an if statement like this:

if('querySelector' in document
 && 'localStorage' in window
 && 'addEventListener' in window) {
 // bootstrap the JavaScript application

This code states that the browser must support the following methods before downloading and executing the JavaScript:

  • document.querySelector (can it find elements by CSS selectors)
  • window.localStorage (can it store strings)
  • window.addEventListener (can it bind to events in a standards-compliant way)

These three properties are what the BBC News team decided to test for, as they are present in their website’s JavaScript. Each website will have its own requirements. The last method,window.addEventListener is in interesting one. Although it’s simple to bind to events on IE8 and earlier, these browsers have very inconsistent support for standards. Making any JavaScript-heavy website work on IE8 and earlier is a painful exercise, and comes at a cost to all users on other browsers, as they’ll download unnecessary code to patch support for IE.

JS API Support by browserJavaScript API support by browser.

I discovered that IE8 supports 12% of the current JavaScript APIs, while IE9 supports 16%, and IE10 51%. It seems, then, that IE10 could be the earliest version of IE that I’d like to develop JavaScript for. That doesn’t mean that users on browsers earlier than 10 can’t use the website. On the contrary, they get the core experience, and because it’s just HTML and CSS, it’s much more likely to be bug-free, and could even provide a better experience than trying to run JavaScript in their browser. They receive the thin client experience.

By reducing the number of platforms that our enhanced JavaScript version supports, we can better focus our efforts on those platforms and offer an even greater experience to those users. But we can only do that if we use progressive enhancement. Otherwise our website would be completely broken for all other users.

So what we have is a thick server, capable of serving the entire website to our users, complete with all core functionality needed for our users to complete their tasks; and we have a thick client on supported browsers, which can bring an even greater experience to those users.

This is all transparent to users. They may notice that the website seems snappier on the new iPhone they received for Christmas than on the Windows 7 machine they got five years ago, but then they probably expected it to be faster on their iPhone anyway.

Isn’t this just more work?

It’s true that making a thick server and a thick client is more work than just making one or the other. But there are some big advantages:

  • The website works for everyone.
  • You can decide when users get the enhanced experience.
  • You can enhance features in an iterative (or agile) manner.
  • When the website breaks, it doesn’t break down.
  • The more you practise this approach, the quicker you will become.


The best way to discover websites using this technique of progressive enhancement is to disable JavaScript and see if the website breaks. I use the Web Developer extension, which is available forChrome and Firefox. It lets me quickly disable JavaScript.

Web developer tools extensionWeb Developer extension.

24 ways works with and without JavaScript. Try using the menu icon to view the navigation. Without JavaScript, it’s a jump link to the bottom of the page, but with JavaScript, the menu slides in from the right.

24 ways navigation with JavaScript disabled24 ways navigation with JavaScript disabled.

24 ways navigation with JavaScript24 ways navigation with working JavaScript.

Google search will also work without JavaScript. You won’t get instant search results or anyprerendering, because those are enhancements.

For a more app-like example, try using Twitter. Without JavaScript, it still works, and looks nearly identical. But when you load JavaScript, links open in modal windows and all pages are navigated much quicker, as only the content that has changed is loaded. You can read about how they achieved this in Twitter’s blog posts Improving performance on and Implementing pushState for

Unfortunately Facebook doesn’t use progressive enhancement, which not only means that the website doesn’t work without JavaScript, but it takes longer to load. I tested it on WebPagetest and if you compare the load times of Twitter and Facebook, you’ll notice that, despite putting similar content on the page, Facebook takes two and a half times longer to render the core content on the page.

Facebook takes two and a half times longer to load than TwitterFacebook takes two and a half times longer to load than Twitter.


Every project is different, and making a website that enjoys a long life, or serves a larger number of users may or may not be a high priority. But I hope I’ve convinced you that it certainly is possible to look to the past and future simultaneously, and that there can be significant advantages to doing so.


Adapted from 24 ways to impress your friends