We won the Plugg Conference Start-Up Rally! Here's how it went..

We’re still in a state of disbelief that we won the start-up pitching competition at Plugg.eu! We honestly thought we’d go to Brussels and not many people would care about this peculiar research software start-up, with so many other more mainstream-focused start-ups (movies, telecommunication, advertising…) in the running. But I’m getting ahead of myself – here’s the full story:

Even before the conference started, Jan and I had managed to get ourselves confused. In true (and unwise) start-up fashion, we had planned on finishing our presentation the night before the pitch, i.e. the Wednesday on which we would be leaving to Brussels. The weekend before, I had been visiting my girlfriend in Hamburg. On Monday morning, when I was still in Hamburg, Jan called me on my mobile:

Jan: Uh, you know, I just found out we have to hand in our Plugg presentations at noon today.

Victor: At noon… today?

Jan: Today.

Victor: That’s in about 3 hours! That’s not good!

Jan: Right.

Victor: And we have this other conference call now…

Jan: … so we’ll have to do the presentation after that.

Victor: Riiiiight…

So we had to figure out a way to finish both the two-minute pitch and the ten-minute presentation (which would only be needed if we were elected as one of the three finalists) within two hours. What we decided to do was: Take the presentation we usually give to universities and libraries, take some slides from the pitch we used to give to VCs when we were looking for funding, mix them up well, hope it’s coherent.

On Wednesday afternoon, we boarded the EuroStar to Brussels. Later that day, all the start-up rally participants were invited to a nice dinner (I forgot which hotel it was). We returned to our own hotel in the centre of Brussels shortly before midnight and thought it would be a good time for me to start practicing the two-minute pitch. Despite (or because of) the couple glasses of wine I had, it went quite well on the second or third try, so we called it a day.

After a little more than five hours sleep, in which Jan and I had to fight over the same blanket, we got up again and made our way to the Plugg conference. There were some pastries for breakfast, which I couldn’t eat due to my egg allergy, so coffee was all I got. Lack of preparation, lack of sleep, lack of breakfast and an overdose of caffeine then summed up to a pretty jittery feeling before I was finally called on stage for the pitch.

Actually, it was Jan who was called on stage due to a mix-up, so I opened our pitch with the odd choice of “I’m actually not Jan, but that’s not important.” I thought it didn’t get better from there: The jittery feeling had developed into a first-rate nervousness, the slide clicker didn’t work properly and skipped slides, and the timer which told me how many seconds I had left was only shown intermittently, blacking out the screen on which I could view my slides. Here’s me stumbling through it (at least that’s what it felt like to me):

Startups Rally – Part 1.3 – Elevator Pitches from Plugg Conference on Vimeo.

So after I returned to my seat, I said to Jan: “I completely borked that one, didn’t I?”, to which he responded “Weeell… maybe not completely.” We both thought that that had been it – at least we wouldn’t have to worry about the ten-minute pitch in the afternoon, which we hadn’t practiced at all.

Imagine our surprise when the audience reaction on Twitter wasn’t that bad, and some people even congratulated us on a good pitch during the lunch break! I concluded that they had probably seen someone else’s pitch. However, it got even weirder when the jury announced the three finalists: Jinni, Myngle, and us! After Jan and I had calmed down again, my first thought was: “Ok, I should better think about what to say.”

So I was still a little nervous when I was called Jan was called to the stage for the final presentation again. Here’s the result:

Startups Rally – Part 2.2 – Final Pitches from Plugg Conference on Vimeo.

I felt the talk, again, was ok, but far from great – but the Q&A at the end went reasonably well. Yet to me, Marina’s/Myngle’s talk seemed much smoother, and after they had won the Audience Award (congrats to Myngle!), I was sure that they’d win the jury vote as well.

As the overall winner was being announced, I can’t even express how STUNNED Jan and I were when the Mendeley logo was projected onto the screen! WOOO-HOOO! The next few minutes are a blur of hugging, jumping up and down, and celebrating. Not only had we won the vote of the jury, composed of acclaimed VCs and academics, but also €2,000 credit at Amazon Web Services and a brand-new X2250 server from Sun!

And here’s a funny aside: Just three hours earlier, sitting next to me in the audience, Jan had ordered a new server from Dell because we were badly in need of a new one. Guess who we had to call right after our win to cancel the order?

What followed was a pretty fabulous evening in Brussels! Jan and I were too exhausted to party – instead, we just went to a nice little restaurant in Ixelles (close to where I studied back in 2002) and had a quiet dinner in excellent spirits. Merci Bruxelles! Photos from our trip can be found on our Flickr account.

P.S. Thank you to everyone who made this such a memorable event for us: First of all, the entire Mendeley Team without which none of this would be possible; the jury and the audience, the Plugg conference organizers and sponsors, and all the great people we met and talked to – you know who you are…

P.P.S. Here are some photos of the Mendeley Team celebrating the win on our roofterrace in the sunshine:


Fig. 1: Nerds trying to jump at the same time, failing badly


Fig. 2: Standing still works better

Ricardo Vidal joins Mendeley as Community Liaison


Today we can announce another bit of news that makes us very happy! For a while, we’ve been looking for help in better engaging the academic community, involving it more in our roadmap decisions, and also understanding the needs of life scientists better. Consider this: We’re all social scientists, computer scientists and engineers here at Mendeley HQ, and we couldn’t pick this guy PubMed out of a police lineup.

Ok, I’m exaggerating (our next release of Mendeley Desktop, due next week, will enable manual PubMed ID lookups, and the next release after that will do PubMed lookups for all your PDFs automatically). However, the help we’ve been looking for has now arrived in the congenial, talented and Portuguese shape of Ricardo Vidal, author of My Biotech Life! You can see his picture on the top right, and his “silly microbe” design down on the left.

microbe_yellow_192x128Ricardo will become our first “Community Liaison”. While continuing on with his graduate studies, he’ll also devote a few  hours each week to interacting with other researchers on the blogosphere, Twitter, and other social media on Mendeley’s behalf.

I first came across Ricardo’s blog around June last year, because he had written an article about his research paper management needs. So I left a comment pointing him to Mendeley, and he asked for a few invitation codes to the then-ongoing private beta for his readers. We were happy to give him twenty, which were gone only hours after Ricardo offered them on his blog! We loosely stayed in touch ever since and were grateful for the continued support he’s given us over time.

For this announcement, I asked Ricardo to briefly introduce himself and describe why he decided to join us as a Community Liaison and what his hopes for Mendeley were. Here are his answers:

Let’s see… I’m currently concluding my Master of Engineering degree in Biological Engineering at the University of Algarve, in Southern Portugal. I’ve been blogging since 2006 at My Biotech Life and am also the co-founder of the DNA Network, a leading network of DNA-related blogs.  I also produce (sometimes silly) biotech graphics and logos from time to time.

Why I joined
Besides the fact that I am terrible at keeping my digital papers in order on my laptop or online, I believe that Mendeley represents not only a two-in-one solution for research paper management but also comprises another aspect that I consider of extreme importance, networking. The ability to contact and share your work with researchers alike is invaluable.

Hope/vision for Mendeley
Looking at the progress that has taken place since Mendeley’s launch, I can only hope that things keep evolving as they are now. The roadmap looks promising and the user feedback can only make it a better piece of software as time goes by.

As it has been stated, I also envision Mendeley to become the “Last.fm for Research Papers” where user statistics and networking play a vital part in research, by providing easier access and interaction to scientific information.

Are you looking for a research job?

Mendeley raises $2 million, TechCrunch reports, we're happy as clams

We’re happy to announce that we’ve just closed a $2 million funding round, led by Stefan Glänzer (former chairman of Last.fm, now in the same role at Mendeley), Alex Zubillaga (former Executive VP of Digital Strategy and Business Development at Warner Music Group) and ASI (the fund of Skype’s former founding engineers)!

Further investors are former Last.fm COO Spencer Hyman and academics from leading US and UK universities. The news also made its way onto TechCrunch – click the image below to read the article:


Of course, this means that our work is only starting!

We have a new release scheduled for next week, and we won’t rest before we’ve turned Mendeley into hands down the best software and website for managing, sharing and discovering research papers. Just so you know!

A human-scored research paper recommendation engine?

A few days ago, William Gunn blogged about a fascinating idea for a paper recommendation engine and also described Mendeley’s role in it. His post then generated a lively discussion on FriendFeed.

Perhaps due to our relatively well-known affiliation with Last.fm, our idea for a research paper recommendation engine had always involved tags and collaborative filtering. But William brings up Pandora, another type of recommendation engine which doesn’t rely on critical mass, but on scoring music based on a certain set of dimensions.

So I was wondering, how feasible would such a human-scored recommendation engine be for research papers, and how could one do it? If one were to transplant the Pandora approach 1:1, one would have to find suitable dimensions on which to score papers – but what could those be? Epistemological position (e.g. positivist vs. constructivist), academic discipline, methods used? Or would you have to define a slightly different set of dimensions for each academic discipline? As opposed to music, where you can score tracks based on instrumentation, mood, tempo etc., I feel that it would be rather difficult to use this level of abstraction for research paper recommendations, but maybe I’m wrong.

Of course, you could think of tagging as a form of (binary) scoring, too, but without pre-defined dimensions. I thus remain convinced that tagging and collaborative filtering will be very good starting point for our recommendation engine. However, William’s suggestion made me think of an additional possibility.

Here’s what we might do: We have been planning to gradually add “Paper Pages” to the Mendeley site over the next few weeks. There will be one page for every paper in our database, containing the metadata, the abstract (if possible/available), some usage statistics about the paper, links to the publisher’s page (if available), and (later on) commenting functionality. We were also thinking about crowdsourcing approaches to enable users to correct mistakes in the metadata or merge duplicates.

Incorporating William’s suggestion, we could also give users the option to explicitly link paper pages to each other, and then say “this paper is related to this other paper because ___”. Two papers sharing the same tag may implicitly suggest a relation, but it might also be a case of a homonym – the same tag meaning two completely different things in different disciplines. An explicit link would solve this problem.

I didn’t have much time to fully think this through, and any further ideas would be appreciated!

CiteULike and Mendeley collaborate

citeulike-and-mendeleyGreat news, everyone: Today we’d like to announce a collaboration between CiteULike and Mendeley!

How will this collaboration look, you ask? Let’s see where we’re starting from:

CiteULike is a browser-based tool which lets you bookmark research papers online and import the corresponding metadata into your public CiteULike account. Mendeley, on the other hand, develops desktop software which creates your personal library database by automatically extracting metadata and cited references from the research papers on your hard drive. You can then manage and full-text search your papers, back them up online, share them with colleagues, and create bibliographies.

What we will do is make our systems interoperable: If you have an account both on CiteULike and on Mendeley, you will be able to synchronize data between your two accounts. Your CiteULike account will show up as a “Document Group” in our Mendeley Desktop software, thus making your CiteULike metadata available to you in a desktop interface – from where you can manage them offline or insert citations and bibliographies into Microsoft Word, for example. Likewise, by dragging & dropping metadata from your Mendeley Library into the CiteULike “Document Group”, the metadata will be uploaded to your web-based CiteULike account.

CiteULike and us had started to talk about such an integration late last year, and now we’ve begun the necessary back-end work, too. Unfortunately we can’t give you a due date yet, but we’ll keep you posted as things progress! Did I say that we’re very excited about this? ‘Cause we are!

Websense is blocking access to Mendeley… dictators around the globe rejoice

Today a user told us that Websense, the internet censorship “content-control” software, websensehas marked the Mendeley website as “Illegal or Questionable” and blocked access to it. I wonder how that happened?

At least we’re in good company. Websense is blocking access to Amnesty International in many parts of the world (wait… now it makes sense! I’m a member of Amnesty!), and has also been blocking GMail and the MIT website just because they can.

Also, I think their logo exhibits a slightly flawed sense of humour. Yes?

Call for Papers: 5th International Conference on e-Social Science

Well, I’m stuck at the Toronto Airport because I missed my connecting flight to Raleigh, NC. At least I found an AC outlet for my laptop – now I’ve settled down on the floor with a splendid view overlooking… the toilet entrance. Thank you, Air Canada.

On a more positive note: I’ve been invited to join the Programme Committee of the 5th International Conference on e-Social Science! Yeay! It will take place from 24-26 June 2009 in Cologne, Germany. The conference is organized and chaired by the NCeSS, which recently won the Research Information Network tender on the “Web 2.0 resources for researchers” project.

Here’s the Call for Papers for the conference – please note that the submission deadline (29 January) is approaching fast!

5th International Conference on E-Social Science http://d.scribd.com/ScribdViewer.swf?document_id=10498546&access_key=key-2hh747kbungkaszlxv3d&page=1&version=1&viewMode=

Explaining the elements in a series of amazing videos

I just came across this, and it’s brilliant. Not least because our name, Mendeley, was partly taken from the discoverer of the periodic table. A team of chemists from the University of Nottingham set out to explain every single element in a brief, but very informative and funny, video: The Periodic Table of Videos.


The Hydrogen video, for example, largely consists of a guy named Pete blowing up balloons, and a frizzy-haired scientist explaining the reaction. My favourite moment comes at the end:

Frizzy-haired scientist: Deuterium gas, in all its properties, will be very similar to hydrogen. Of course it is denser, because it has a neutron as well as a proton, but it’s still much lighter than air. So, a deuterium balloon will still float up to the ceiling and make Pete look just as stupid as the hydrogen one.

Camera guy: But I was thinking more about fusing it, now that sounds like a really big explosion we could do at the back!

Frizzy-haired scientist: No, fusion reactors are way beyond what Pete can do. Unless he’s a lot cleverer than I think.

Here’s the video, but I encourage you to check out the entire website:

P.S. The guy who blows things up is Pete Licence, a lecturer in chemistry and chemical engineering, and the frizzy-haired scientist is Martyn Poliakoff, CBE, a research professor at the University of Nottingham.

Via total.pardo.

How to properly cite Alien Mind Transmissions

Our friend Vivek just shared this with me via Twitter: Newest Rulings on Alternative Source Citing. Might be old news, but it’s still kinda cute. Here’s an excerpt:

Alien Mind Transmissions

When citing telepathic transmissions from alien planets/spacecraft:

  1. Name the aliens who sent the message (if known).
  2. Identify the location of planet or craft.
  3. Identify the location where transmission was received.
  4. List the date the transmission was received.

Example: “Internal combustion vehicles are wasteful and evil. You must stand in the street and curse their drivers and occupants immediately.” [The Elders of Antares 7; A Ship Orbiting Saturn; Corner of Lawrence Avenue and Broadway, Chicago, IL: July 5,1989.]

It also has Rest-Stop Restroom Graffiti, Magic 8-Balls, Tattoos, and Epithets Hollered Out Car Windows.