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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

 

 

Mendeley API Version 1 is Out!

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It has been a long 12-month journey, and the path wasn’t always lined with rose petals and unicorns, but last week we did allow ourselves a small celebration as version 1 of the Mendeley API was released.

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The API team designed this from the ground up, working alongside other Mendeley and Elsevier teams as well as key external partners, who all helped to test it out and provided crucial feedback to bring it into shape.

Mendeley users have already seen some of the results of this work, with better, seamless integration with Scopus and Science Direct in features such as the Web Importer and Readership Stats. This is something that Elsevier is really supportive of, as it provides an open platform to improve and optimise the research workflow at every step. The API is a key piece of that puzzle and we’re excited to see the new innovative applications it will lead to. If you’re a developer, be sure to check out the Mendeley Dev Portal and give the new API a whirl!

You can read more about this in our dedicated Mendeley Dev blog, and about API’s in general in this Huffington Post Article. As always, don’t be shy of letting us know what you think in the comments, Twitter or just email api@mendeley.com

Getting Grant Funding for Your Startup

Jan Reichelt

Jan Reichelt, Co-founder and President of Mendeley, talks about his experience of using grants from funding bodies such as EUREKA and the Technology Strategy Board to help grow the company.

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By: Elitsa Dermendzhiyska, Co-founder of Grant Central

Is there such a thing as a free lunch when it comes to startup funding? That’s the question hanging in the air as I sit down with Jan Reichelt, co-founder of Mendeley, a research collaboration platform boasting over 3 million users and touted as one of the startups most likey to change the world for the better. If anyone had the answer, that would be Jan: on top of a Series A funding and acquisition by Reed Elsevier, over the past 6 years Mendeley has won a slew of national and EU grants whose precise number Jan seems to have lost track of.

Equity-free money in the form of grants holds a special allure for bootstrapped, cash-starved startup founders – an allure Jan is quick to dispel. Grants are like a sweetener, he says. They are nice to have, but startups shouldn’t count on them. Even if you get one, the money can be slow to come in, so you need to have other funding sources ready at hand.

Back in 2008, when Mendeley applied for the EUREKA Eurostars grant scheme, the startup had already secured seed funding and was eyeing VC investment to develop its research collaboration platform. The grant wouldn’t make or break Jan’s vision; rather, it just turned out to be the right fit at the right time.

Jan wouldn’t recommend the grant route for most startups, invoking the somewhat laborious process of obtaining and managing the funds. The amount of time you have to dedicate to writing the application through to forming a partnership to reporting and monitoring the project is only justified if you can find the right fit between your goals and the purpose of the grant, he says.

Grants such as the ones offered by Eurostars exist for two main reasons: to encourage research or to facilitate collaboration between academia and businesses. Mendeley fit both requirements, as the startup was looking to engage with academic experts in crowdsourcing and modern semantic technologies in order to provide real-time impact analysis for its platform users.

With the grant, the startup was able to create a win-win consortium by partnering with the Estonian Technology Competence Centre in Electronics-, Info- and Communication Technologies (ELIKO) and Austria’s Competence Centre for Knowledge Management (Know-Center).

Besides fit, another consideration businesses need to keep in mind is the rigidity of most EU grant schemes vis-a-vis VC funding. Grant applications often call for specific development plans and growth projections over 2 to 4 years down the line – something almost unthinkable for startups used to changing direction (or “pivoting”) on the go. A grant entails pre-committing to a certain course of action and any later changes, while possible, require reasonable justification and official permission from the government funders. A helpful strategy, Jan offers, is to make up a story and define your roadmap broadly enough to leave room for flexibility.

Grants require founders to maintain constant communication, as rules call for regular financial and technical reports to keep the funding authorities apprised of any progress, delays and changes to the project. Consortium agreements and allocation of responsibilities among partners also come with their own set of communication challenges. One example is deciding who would own the IP developed, – an issue that can become tricky if there are two or more commercial partners involved. Further still, aligning academic and business needs may require careful treading – or what Jan aptly describes as “hand holding” – in order to keep the theoretically appealing in line with the practical commercial realities.

Grant funding can appear rather rigorous to founders tied in the day-to-day running of business, and Jan, who tackled the initial Eurostars application by himself, concedes that the initial learning curve can be steep. Apart from hammering out a comprehensive application, he needed to then setup solid management and reporting processes in the post-grant period. And yet grants, while no free lunch, offer an opportunity for startups to grow on their own terms if they can muster the management skill, clear vision and R&D potential.

Have you had any experience of applying for similar grants? Share them with us in the comments!

A look at Mendeley Readership Statistics

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By See Wah Cheng, Product Manager at Mendeley

We live in an age where knowledge dissemination happens at an incredible speed, researchers are always looking for ways to evaluate new discovery. Mendeley’s vision has always been to accelerate research, and by crowdsourcing readership statistics, we provide a new way for you to look at the impact of research articles.

What is Mendeley Readership?

Mendeley Readership is one measure of how researchers engage with research on Mendeley. Simply put, it is the number of Mendeley users who have added a particular article into their personal library. You can see this number on the article pages on our Research Catalog. Furthermore, based on our anonymised aggregated statistics, we can provide demographic insights such as geographical info, discipline and academic status of readers.

How does it compare with traditional metrics?

Mendeley Readership is a measure which complements traditional bibliometrics such as citation counts by showing an early indicator of the impact a work has, both on other authors within the same field as the work’s author as well as non-authors such as clinicians, policymakers, funders, and interested members of the public. Additionally, some early research into the relationship of Mendeley readership with traditional citations has found evidence supporting that Mendeley readership counts correlate moderately with future citations. If you are interested in digging deeper into the existing research on the meaning of Mendeley readership, we suggest starting with “Do altmetrics work? Twitter and ten other social web services” (Thelwall, Haustein, Larivière, & Sugimoto, 2013), and also looking at a more recent research study (Zahedi, Costas, & Wouters, 2014) from CWTS, Leiden University. A more comprehensive listing of research related to Mendeley readership statistics can also be found in the altmetrics group on Mendeley. Scholarly Activity, including Mendeley Activity, has recently been endorsed by the Snowball Metrics initiative as part of their global standards for institutional benchmarking.

Our API

Mendeley believes in open data. Via our API, researchers and developers around the world can gain access to Mendeley Activity, including Readership Statistics. Scopus, the world’s largest citation database, has recently added Mendeley Activity to their article pages, and our data is used by all of the leading altmetrics services, including ImpactStory, Plum Analytics, and Altmetric.com. Visit our Developer Portal for more info.

We are constantly improving our service. For example, we have made all demographic insights available (instead of just the top 3 disciplines as was previously the case), in addition to data on countries and academic statuses. Future work will further refine the data we make available to include more detail on how researchers are engaging with research on Mendeley.

Join the Conversation 

Finally, if you are interested in the topic of altmetrics, why not go along to 1am:London 2014, taking place on the 25th and the 26th of September 2014? We might see you there!

Cambridge Union Society Debates Right to be Forgotten

Cambridge Union Society

In May 2014, the European Court of Justice ruling saw Google and other search engines receiving thousands of requests to remove links to certain content deemed damaging to individuals. Sir Jimmy Wales from the Wikimedia Foundation is amongst those that have spoken out at length against the ruling. In the company’s first transparency report, it posted Google’s Removal Notices, something that Wales describes as akin to “removing the index from a book”.

As things stand, in Europe people have the right to request such removals if content relating to them is inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive in the light of elapsed time. However, apart from serious concerns raised with regards to self-censorship, it is argued that the Right to be Forgotten is actually a false promise, since the information itself is not corrected, but links to it are “silently deleted,” prompting outcries against lack of transparency and breach of public interest.

This is clearly a very complex issue, which impacts all areas of modern society, including academic research. One example would be if only the latest version of research papers were made available because certain information contained within them was deemed “inadequate” or “irrelevant”. This could potentially leave researchers unable to place current research into broader context, and different, less proven theories and perspectives within scientific debates could be excluded, leading to narrowed perspectives and possibly damaging the integrity of studies conducted within those filtered conditions.

It is, however, crucial to safeguard privacy and individual rights, but what is the best way of providing those mechanisms without causing broader infringements upon collective rights to information? The Cambridge Union Society, which is celebrating its 200th year of tradition in debating difficult topics, is now stepping up to tackle this thorny issue head on.

Mendeley is sponsoring this debate on the 23rd October 2014, which hopefully will spark some lively discussion and offer useful insights. Jan Reichelt, Co-founder and president of Mendeley will be opening up proceedings by addressing the assembly and Gabriel Hughes, who has a long tradition of working with Big Data and Analytics in companies like Google, Elsevier, and now Mendeley will give his personal perspective on some possible solutions. He will be joining other prominent speakers who will argue both sides of the issue.

The full line-up will be announced shortly and the event will also be live streamed. To be kept up-to-date with the latest and join the discussion make sure to join the Mendeley Right to be Forgotten group, and follow @mendeley_com @gabehughes or @alicebonasio on Twitter.