An exploratory study of paper sharing in Mendeley’s public groups

Huiqin (head only)Here at Mendeley, we love the efforts our Advisors and users go to, to help us improve. Following on from our  March 2015 Advisor of the Month, Huiqin Gao (Wuhan University, China) writes today’s guest blog post and gives us a summary of her investigation into paper sharing in Mendeley’s public groups.

On the Mendeley website, registered users can create or join groups. If a group is set up as “open” or “invite-only”, instead of “private”, then it is a publicly-visible group. Member and paper lists of a public group is visible to any user, including non-members, who visits it. From the perspective of information accumulation, Mendeley’s public groups become valuable resources as a starting point for seeking people and materials.

So how ‘valuable’ are these groups?
The measurement of evaluating information resources is defined as informetrics in studies of information science. I quantitatively researched Mendeley’s groups in aspect of papers, and used a novel method of informetrics – altmetrics – to measure groups’ literature values.

Data collection was conducted in June 2014 with a Python-coded web crawler. A total of 106,156 public groups were extracted, and 5,034,736 papers (including duplications) from within those groups. Some interesting findings are detailed below.

Sizes and distributions
Almost 2/3 of the groups had only one member. It is common sense that one group has to have at least one member: the creator himself. However,2/3 groups have attracted no other members. The reason for this is unknown, but maybe the creator stopped curating and managing the group after creating it.

The largest group has 1,170 members. Its name was ‘Qualitative Research Methodology’. It is a multi-disciplinary group of ‘Business Administration’ ‘Management Science / Operation Research’ and ‘Social Sciences’. This group may have so many members because qualitative methodology could be applied to many fields of research, so there are a lot of people interested in being a member.

Amazingly, one of Mendeley’s public groups has as many as 90,458 papers. This group, named ‘Vaccine 2’, is under the discipline of ‘Biological Science’. That’s not strange because on Web of Science, biology, chemistry and medicine are the disciplines that have largest number of papers. Since so many publications are produced, they are also rich resources on Mendeley.

Disciplinary differencesScreen Shot 2015-04-27 at 13.46.36
I counted the group numbers of each discipline, and the top five are listed below. It’s not unusual to find biology and medicine here, because they have abundant resources of publications.  Computer and engineering are disciplines highly involved with the internet, so it’s quite convenient for them to base communications on Mendeley’s groups. Social sciences is a discipline widely intersected with other disciplines, and therefore it has a large user population, and thus accounts for so many groups.

Most valuable groups
In my research, I defined ‘Average Readership (AR)’ to evaluate groups. This value is similar to the ‘Impact Factor’ that is used to measure influences of journals. But in my study, a high AR doesn’t mean high influence. Groups are not the only way people could access a paper, and therefore groups are just accumulations of papers. The higher a group’s AR, the more likely it is a valuable accumulation.

The calculation of groups’ AR value could be used as a dimension of ranking criteria of Mendeley’s search engine. Currently on Mendeley, there seems to be no other ranking rules except text relevance. For group searching on Mendeley, if you can identify highest AR groups by the first glance, you will save lot time scrolling down and jumping among pages before you decide which group to click on.

The full-text, open-access version of Huiqin’s article can be accessed directly here, or indirectly via this IDEALS webpage.

Let’s talk about science – Researchers’ Choice Award for science communication

Albert Einstein once famously claimed that “you don’t really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” Living this ethos, a new breed of fresh-faced, tech-savvy researchers are on a mission to break down the barriers and bring science to the masses.

Communication is forming a bigger part of the role of researchers, and for those in the early stages of their career, it can have a potentially huge influence on the trajectory of their career. Alongside the life-changing scientific research taking place every day, there’s also a lot of impressive communication effort in the background – how else would we know about it? And we think it’s about time these researchers get the recognition they deserve.

We’re looking for early career researchers who are brilliant at communicating their scientific ideas to the public. They must be currently living in the UK, affiliated with a UK university and have begun publishing no earlier than 2012. We want to see evidence that they have gone above and beyond the publication of their research paper, and used any kind of public activity to address misleading information about scientific or medial issues; bring sound evidence to bear in a public or policy debate or helped people to make sense of a rather complex scientific issue.

There are no restrictions on what or how – simply visit the dedicated Mendeley group and enter the researcher’s name, age, institute and the reason for the nomination, along with links to supporting evidence such as a blog, Twitter account or YouTube video.

We then encourage all nominees (and their nominators) to invite peers and colleagues to ‘like’ their nomination post – those posts with the most likes will make the shortlist, which will be put in front of our specially selected judging panel.

So, if you know someone who has the potential to be the next Brian Cox, why not give them the chance of receiving the recognition they deserve…and £1,500! Nominations are open until 30th September 2015, and the winner will be announced at this year’s Awards ceremony at the Royal Society in London on 5th November.

You can read more about the importance of science communication, and if you have any questions on the Awards or the nomination process, feel free to post on the group and we’ll get back to you.

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.

Helping PhD Students To Be More Productive With Mendeley; win a four-year collaboration plan

logo_square next scientist

The PhD time of a researcher’s life may be one of the most trying times; you work long hours for little pay, but at the end of the tunnel is the satisfaction of a thesis and good work done. But it can sometimes be hard to stay motivated throughout.

Mendeley is teaming up with Next Scientist, a site and community dedicated to “helping PhD students stay motivated, graduate, and then find a job in industry,” run by Julio Peironcely, PhD.

Here is more from Julio about his love of Mendeley and our The Next Scientist promotion!

You know that feeling when you discover a new product that makes you wonder how you lived without it before?
I had that when I switched my note taking in pieces of paper to a Moleskine. And when I went digital and I started using Evernote. Or when I ditched that Windows Vista laptop for a Macbook pro.
It’s that feeling of using a superior product. You know what I am talking about, right? I had that feeling with several products during my PhD.
I had that feeling at the start of my PhD. That was fall of 2008, right after the first release of Mendeley. Before that, for my master’s thesis, I had used a certain reference manager, let’s call it NotaFinal.
Not liking NotaFinal at all, I switched to Mendeley to give it a try … and I got that special feeling. I went from the absolute pain of adding the bibliography to “oh, I just added all the citations and I hardly had to do a thing”.
Well, I guess I don’t need to convince you of the virtues of Mendeley, right? You wouldn’t be reading this here at Mendeley’s blog if you were not aware of them.
If you are still with me, allow me to do a shameless plug for my blog.
Next Scientist, a blog for PhD students
Next Scientist started as a self-help blog. I wrote advice I would give to myself during the darkest months of my PhD (you know the PhD dip, the Valley of Shit). To be honest, I had plenty of those dark months. I thought that if I wrote this advice out in the public, I would be forced to follow it.
Writing an academic blog helped. I got out of the Phd dip and eventually finished my PhD.
The unexpected result of the blog was that it resonated with other PhD students. I was not alone in this suffering. Slowly but steadily visitors started coming to the site. Thank you emails began dripping in my inbox.
All this gave me joy. Think about it. How many times do you get a thank you email during your PhD? In my case, zero. Thank you emails for my blogging efforts? More than I can count.
I am so thankful for my readers that I thought I wanted to give back something meaningful. Something that could make their PhDs easier and better. Since I didn’t have much to offer myself, I looked around for somebody that might have some useful product for my readers.
Giving away 5 Premium Mendeley Team Plans (for 4 years)
So this was my thinking. On the one hand I have my readers, to whom I want to show my gratitude. Let’s give them something that can benefit them.
On the other hand, I have my network. I had interacted a couple of times with people at Mendeley and I knew they were cool and forward thinking, so they could be interested in some partnership.
The idea was to give something of value (Mendeley Premium) to my readers and at the same time help a product I love (Mendeley) reach the audience it deserves (Next Scientist readers).
The chaps at Mendeley were all enthusiastic. Not only this, to make it a bit more fun, they suggested to give five Premium Team Plans of 4 years, which is what (in theory) a PhD should last. Match made in heaven, I would say.
You heard it right, we are giving away five 4-year Premium Mendeley Team Plans to the readers of Next Scientist and Mendeley blogs.
Here’s what you need to know about the Mendeley giveaway
It’s a contest/lottery draw. You just need to register with your email (and share it with your colleagues to win more entries) to have a chance to win one of the five premium accounts. 

This is what you will get the next 4 years with a Premium Team Plan from Mendeley.

  • 100GB cloud space = all the papers you will read in a lifetime, almost. That’s a bit more than the 2GB of the free account.
  • Unlimited private groups with up to 15 collaborators. So you can share papers and collaborate with your colleagues.
  • Each account is worth $6,000 and you can get one for free!!
  • You will get the chance to write for Mendeley’s blog your story on how you are using the Premium Plan in your research.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Go to the Mendeley giveaway page.
  • Register with your email
  • Share with your colleagues and friends (the more you share the more chances of winning you have)
The giveaway action runs till December 14th at midnight CET. From all the entries 5 winners will be drawn and awarded a Premium Mendeley Team Plan for 4 years.

Click here to enter the Next Scientist competition to win a Premium Team Plan from Mendeley.

 

Also check out a post by Julio at The Thesis Whisperer, which we really enjoyed!

Mendeley and writeLaTeX integration is here!

By Joyce Stack, API Developer Outreach

Back in July I stumbled across writeLaTeX after a ‘tweet archaeology’ exercise where I found this old tweet, which mentioned integrating with Mendeley. So I promptly got in touch with the folks at writeLaTeX and we collaborated together to make it possible to import Mendeley bibliography into their writeLaTeX projects. WriteLaTeX “is an online service that allows you to create, edit and share your scientific ideas using LaTex.”

And now, not only can you import your Mendeley reference library into writeLaTeX, but try writeLaTeX Pro for 50% off as a Mendeley user!

Here is writeLaTeX co-founder John Lees-Miller on the Mendeley writeLaTeX integration:

writelatex1

It’s here! The feature you’ve been asking for since we first launched our bibliography manager integration in September. You can now import your reference library directly from Mendeley to writeLaTeX, to make it easy to manage your references and citations in your projects.

This is thanks to a concerted effort from our development team – Tim Alby in particular – and the Mendeley API team with whom we’ve been working in order to refine and improve the BibTeX output from the API.

To see how it works, check out the illustrated guide below. We’re also pleased to offer a special promotion for all Mendeley users – save 50% on writeLaTeX Pro!

 

 

Using the new Mendeley reference importer in writeLaTeX

How does it work? It’s very simple – from the project menu in the editor select Add files -> Add bibliography, which brings up the bibliography import screen:

writelatex2

writelatex3

 

 

The first time you do this, you’ll be prompted to connect your Mendeley account with your writeLaTeX account:

writelatex4

And then to authorise this on the Mendeley website:

writelatex5

 

Once the accounts are linked, all you need to do is choose a name for the Mendeley bibliography file in the project:

writelatex6

Once the file has been uploaded into the project, you can use it with bibtex in the usual way:

writelatex7

If you add more references to your Mendeley library, you can refresh the link to pull in the new .bib content (and the file can also be refreshed via the project menu).

Save 50% on writeLaTeX Pro if you’re a Mendeley user

To mark this feature launch, we’re pleased to offer a special promotion to all Mendeley users – you can get a full year of writeLaTeX Pro for only $48, a 50% discount on the regular price.

To take advantage of this offer, simply head to the promo page and claim your discount today!*

*Promotion runs until 31st December 2014. Please see promo page for terms and conditions.

 

 

Inspiring Women in Technology

Paula500

By: Paula Clerkin, 3rd year CS with AI student at the University of Nottingham

As a third and final year, I am having to come to terms with the end of my time at university. It’s pretty daunting thinking about leaving this lovely bubble of support and finding a proper job in the real world.

Over the past few years, I have tallied up a rather impressive number of attendances to careers events across the country. I like to think that I’ve learned new things at each event but I find I’ve always come away feeling a little disheartened and overwhelmed by the tough requirements and competition. These events manage to, rather heavy handily coerce attendees into applying for internships and grad schemes using impressive facts, figures and shiny benefits. These careers events are missing something. They don’t inspire their attendees.

Although I’ve been to many career events, I still don’t know what path I should take. This is why I am organising Inspire Women In Technology (WIT).

Inspire WIT is a day to celebrate the female individuals working within the technology industry. We have fascinating speakers from all walks of life talking about their personal experiences of working in the industry. They all have different backgrounds and areas, yet they share the same drive and passion for technology.

I find every one of our speakers inspiring. These are the ladies that I adamantly follow on Twitter, I read their blogs and I aspire to do what they do. But I want to know more; I want to know about how they got where they are, the stories behind the decisions they’ve made and I want to listen to their advice. And I know I’m not the only one.

I think it’s about time there was a day for everyone; tech enthusiasts, non-programmers, students at college and university, women and men, to come together and see how truly vast and impressive the technology industry is and how everyone can be part of it.

But it’s not just about talks. The second half of the day will consist of workshops, mini-events and networking opportunities. An Introduction to Programming for Beginners run by Code Club, How to Tackle a Technical Interview by Bloomberg and a live Ethical Hack in 10 by CapitalOne, are just a few of the workshops attendees can go to. There are of course and hardware hack and an all-important careers talk. There truly is something for everyone.

Although networking sounds formal, Inspire WIT attendees will be able to meet and mingle with representatives from the best technology companies around. I have added mini-events such as retro game stations, Oculus’ and a photo booth. There is no pressure, no speed-networking; the emphasis is on taking your time, asking all your questions and most importantly, being inspired and having fun!

I want Inspire WIT to be an opportunity for over 200 attendees to discover their potential and learn more about such a fascinating industry. If there is only one thing that Inspire WIT helped just one person discover, then we have done our job.

Is Crowdfunding a Good Option for Your Research?

Mendeley

By: Nick Dragojlovic, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of British Columbia

Picture this… It’s 8am. You take your first sip of coffee, ready to start your day. You check your email and…

You find out your latest grant application didn’t get funded. Bummer.

You give it a couple of days to get over the feeling of rejection, and then start working on your next application. Rinse and repeat until you either: 1) land the grant that will keep your research program going, or 2) run out of funding and have to leave academia.

You tell yourself that in an era of budget austerity, this is just what a researcher’s life entails.

Then, in a flight of fancy, you image that maybe it doesn’t have to be this way. Maybe you could crowdfund your next research project and show the narrow-minded review committees you were right. After all, if glowing plants raised half a million dollars, you could raise $10,000 to run your study. No?

Well, maybe.

——————-

Crowdfunding can be a viable option to obtain research funds, but it’s hard work and it’s not a cash machine. So if you’re thinking about crowdfunding one of your research projects, use this Q&A to help you decide whether it’s worth the effort.

Q: How much money can I raise through crowdfunding?

A: Like so much in life, it depends.

Based on a range of estimates, the vast majority of research crowdfunding campaigns to date have raised $7,000 or less.

Some research teams, however, have managed to raise a whole lot more. If you happen to be working on Ebola during a panic-inducing epidemic, you can raise a hundred thousand dollars in short order. In fact, medical research campaigns seem to be able to raise significantly more than the average figures. A study published in Drug Discovery Today, for example, found that 97 crowdfunding campaigns focused on cancer research raised an average of about $45,500 each.

The larger amounts raised by many medical research projects are in large part due to alliances between researchers and existing medical research foundations, who are typically much better placed to raise money. The Tisch MS Center, for example, recently raised over $300,000 on Indiegogo to help fund a Phase I clinical trial of a stem cell therapy for multiple sclerosis. And in perhaps the most impressive example to date, a coalition of foundations have raised over $2 million to support a Phase I trial for Abeona Therapeutics’ experimental gene therapy for Sanfillipo Syndrome.

Long story short, the amount you can plausibly raise through crowdfunding will depend on how appealing your project is to potential donors and on how big of an audience you have at your disposal, but will most likely be under $10,000.

Q: What can I do to increase my chances of success?

A: Build an audience.

Fundraising takes a lot of work. Ultimately, you’ll only attract sufficient donations if you actually ask a lot of people for money. This means you’ll have to go beyond your own personal network, and the single most important thing you can do to make that easier is to invest in building a personal following long before you even think about launching a crowdfunding campaign.

Thankfully, social media makes this possible even if you don’t get invited to appear on TV on a regular basis. In fact, building up a sizeable online audience could be worth tens of thousands of crowdfunding dollars a year. Twitter, email, and the number of media contacts fundraisers made, for example, were the three key drivers of donations in the #SciFund Challenge campaigns. In fact, taken together, Facebook (38%) and Twitter (12%) drove half of the total traffic to Hubbub, a crowdfunding service provider that focuses on higher education and non-profits. So you really need to build your online network if you’re going to crowdfund.

One thing to keep in mind is that running even a small crowdfunding campaign can help to build your audience, and that the true value of your audience goes way beyond the money you raise in your first campaign. Not only can you go back to your donors in subsequent crowdfunding campaigns, but if you keep engaging with your new followers, they will also follow you over the course of your career, and could potentially connect you to new collaborators, high-net-worth philanthropists, and investors years down the line.

Q: Which crowdfunding platform should I use?

A: It probably doesn’t matter much.

If you’ve built a large following before launching a campaign (you have, haven’t you?), then the choice of crowdfunding platform is less important than you might think, since you’ll be driving most donors to the fundraising page yourself. That said, there are a range of options.

Most smaller projects use one of the niche research-focused portals. Some of these have geographic limitations about where project creators can be based, and you’ll want to check with your university to make sure that your campaign complies with institutional policies. Be warned that most of these sites also take a percentage of any money donated (usually between 5% and 10%) as a commission.

An alternative might be to use your university’s own crowdfunding portal. More and more universities are creating their own crowdfunding sites for faculty, staff, students, and alumni to use, and they typically do not take a cut of the donations. In addition, the service providers used by many of these universities, such as Hubbub, offer in-person training and marketing advice for prospective fundraisers. If your university doesn’t have its own platform, you might also consider Hubbub’s open crowdfunding site, which doesn’t take any commissions.

Finally, a new set of online fundraising platforms for researchers are aiming to move beyond the traditional campaign-centered crowdfunding model, and to fund researchers instead of research projects. If you’re interested in doing video-based science outreach and getting viewers to “sponsor” you, you can try Thinkable, and if you’re thinking about fundraising to support your medical research lab over the long-term, you might want to check out LabCures.

Ultimately, though, the choice of platform is not as important as actually starting to talk to the public about your research and building a community of supporters.

Q:  So should I try to crowdfund my research?

A: Yes, if the conditions are right.

For most researchers (i.e., if you’re not already a super-star with a huge media presence), crowdfunding might make sense if you meet any or all of these three criteria:

  • You have an experiment that you could do for under $10,000, and data from this experiment could help you to attract funding from other sources.
  • You have a very marketable topic and/or you have the backing of a foundation or other group with an existing network of donors and supporters.
  • You want to build your online network as a long-term investment – i.e., it’s not about the money, but crowdfunding can provide the impetus for you to put in the work necessary to build your network.

And if you’re still not sure, you can always ask the crowd.

What do you think? Have you looked to crowdfunding to enable your research, or are thinking about putting together your first campaign? Join the conversation on our Mendeley Crowdfunding Group or tweet @NickDragojlovic

Nick Dragojlovic is a Vancouver-based science communication researcher passionate about how crowdfunding can be used to accelerate scientific research and biomedical innovation. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences and writes about crowdfunding scientific research at Funded Science.

Midwest Scholars Conference

christopher deversMendeley loves our Advisors and recently one of our Advisors, Chris Devers hosted a session at the Midwest Scholars Conference. He tells us about his session in today’s Guest Blog Post:

Recently, Mendeley sponsored the Midwest Scholars Conference. At the conference, I provided a seminar that demonstrated some of Mendeley’s advanced features. During the seminar, participants described how they used Mendeley in their research process and asked how I use Mendeley in my research. They were thrilled to learn that I use it in all my projects and that I provide frequent seminars on Mendeley that are streamed live and recorded for later viewing.

All the participants at the seminar were actively using Mendeley but wanted to learn more about Mendeley’s advanced features. For example, some participants wanted to learn more about groups and how to collaborate with colleagues, and were pleased to learn that Mendeley could rename files by author, date, etc.

In addition to showing the attendees how the group feature worked and facilitated collaboration, I also demonstrated how I use the group feature in my own research and collaborate with others. Specifically, when I am working on a project with colleagues or students, everyone involved uses Mendeley to share, annotate, and organize relevant literature. All of our notes, highlights, and comments are shared across the group, as well as when we add articles. It also provides a place for us to discuss the literature — all of our research is in one location and not spread-out over multiple documents, email, etc.

For example, one of our projects explores note-taking and learning, and a student who works with me, Christine Lee (Ph.D. student at UCLA), uploaded an article from Psychological Science comparing pen note-taking versus computer note-taking. If we had used email to share the article, we both would have had to enter the information separately, which would not be as efficient as using Mendeley.

Mendeley is not simply a reference manager, but rather it helps us facilitate and manage our research projects, and provides us with new recommendations as we build the literature base for the project.

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.

Debate2

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.

debate

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

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.

Ellie

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!