Gaby Appleton is the Managing Director for Mendeley and Researcher Products at Elsevier. She leads an expert product management team in a mission to support millions of researchers with better digital information systems. The aim is to help them have more impact with their work and effectively demonstrate that impact, to stay up to date, to organize and share their knowledge, and to advance their career. She brings over 15 years’ experience to her role along with a passion for the world of research. We met with her to discuss the development vision for Mendeley.
Thank you for taking the time to discuss the development vision for Mendeley. How would you define that vision?
Our vision for Mendeley and indeed for all the Elsevier solutions is to contribute to improving the information system that supports research — an ecosystem of tools and data that addresses real challenges in researchers’ daily reality.
What informs that vision?
Above all, it’s informed by conversations with researchers, which is something I spend a lot of time on. Not that it is a hardship! Spending time with them is truly one of the highlights of my job. Hearing about ground-breaking research from people who are so enthusiastic about what they’re doing is inspirational.
But it’s also essential. The Mendeley team that is responsible for defining our vision needs that open, honest contact with researchers.
Why are those conversations so important?
Because our development strategy has to focus on the problems we can solve for users. If we were doing something because it was exciting technologically but it didn’t address real challenges, then we’d be completely missing the point. We need to ground our development in researchers’ needs.
That’s why we start by listening to gain insight into their challenges, then look at what the technology can do, and finally design solutions to those challenges.
What is the vision for Mendeley’s development that has come out of conversations with researchers?
Based on all the challenges researchers have talked about, we’ve adopted four principles to guide our development strategy: source neutrality, interoperability, transparency, and user control.
Source neutrality means that researchers can use this information system to retrieve, store and disseminate information regardless of the publisher. An unbiased view is the essence of good research and we want to ensure that our platforms and tools are open to content beyond Elsevier’s. Mendeley users can receive recommendations on what to read next (Mendeley Suggest) based on what they’ve already added to their library, and these recommendations are not limited to Elsevier – they can be from any publisher. And we don’t restrict that to papers. Researchers have talked about challenges with staying abreast of funding opportunities, so we’ve worked to provide one of the largest aggregations of funding information, maintaining source neutrality and transparency. The same applies to career postings.
Interoperability is about ensuring that applications, tools and data sets from different providers can work together. The Mendeley API represents our commitment to interoperability with any tools that researchers need.
Transparency is vital to researchers. If they receive an alert or recommendation, they need to know what prompted it. Otherwise, they can’t know if it’s relevant without spending time assessing it. If they are looking at search results, it’s great if they can see how their search string relates to those results. That helps with filtering and refining the hit set. An example of how we maintain transparency is in the functioning of Mendeley Suggest. It makes recommendations for further reading based on what a user and their colleagues are reading, but crucially, it includes information about why that article is relevant.
Control is all about giving researchers control of their own data, where it’s shared and how it’s used by the system. If they don’t want their data to be visible beyond a select group of users, or they don’t want their behavior to provoke recommendations, they should be able to opt out of those features. User control is all about making it easy for an individual to find the settings for preferences. A good example in our system is Mendeley Data, which makes it easy for users to define exactly who sees their data. Similarly, the organization, privacy and recommendation settings of researchers’ reference manager library are easy to control. What displays in a Mendeley Profile is entirely at the user’s discretion.
That’s where our development team constantly strives to take Mendeley: to keep it open to content from any source; to make sure its application programming interface is compatible with multiple tools and platforms; to give users insight into how its features make recommendations; and to ensure that it’s easy for users to set their preferences.
You’re currently developing a new reference manager, now available in BETA, which is a completely re-platformed and updated version of Mendeley’s core reference management function. How does it align with this vision for Mendeley?
I’ll leave it to my colleague Laura Thomson, our Head of Reference Management, to talk about the new Mendeley Reference Manager in more detail in her upcoming interview. Briefly, reference management tools are what we’re best known for. Mendeley Desktop is now ten years old and, while it’s developed incrementally over that time, to really act on users’ feedback and make some big improvements, we felt we needed to take a new approach and take advantage of new technologies that have become available since the original Mendeley Desktop was built.
The new Mendeley Reference Manager remains free-to-use and publisher agnostic. The Mendeley API remains open, allowing researchers and developers to create interoperability with multiple tools. We’ve ensured that the settings for the library, recommendations and so on are transparent and in researchers’ control. It’s unique in satisfying those four aspects of the vision for an information system supporting research.
Every aspect of Mendeley follows the same principles and is informed by real-world conversations: from reference management through data sharing to showcasing impact.
We would never pretend that we have all the answers, but we listen. We’ll continue to communicate with researchers as we work on each application of Mendeley. Our goal at Elsevier is an information system that supports research, and Mendeley aims to remain a core part of that.
Thank you very much for your time.
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