Research Mayhem or Mendeley?
Disclosure first: I have to admit that I simply don’t like EndNote, at least on a Mac. It’s expensive, tedious, chunky and s..l..o…….w and never seems to do what I want it to do. Of course, what I like even less is having to write reference lists – so frankly I thought I was a stuck between rock and a hard place. I very much liked Papers for the Mac, but despite being a beautiful piece of software, it lacked a couple of real killer features for me: Namely it doesn’t allow citing while writing (the one thing that was useful about EndNote, and what I use most!) and unfortunately, while it was beautiful on the Mac – it does not run on my Windows machine at work (looks great though on the iPad!).
A few weeks ago I stumbled across Mendeley, a reference manager “2.0 style”. It sells itself as a “free reference manager and academic social network”. At first, the social networking features were not my main concern, I rather I wanted an easy to use reference manager that works well with Word, and one that easily worked across platforms. The great news: It does do a great job on both accounts. Importing my existing library from EndNote was easy, and using the Word plugin, I can add bibliographies and citations almost as easy as using EndNote. But, Mendeley also offers a few more hidden features I discovered while using it. Rather than just being a references and citations inserter, users can share documents: Between platforms (e.g. home, office, iPad, iPhone etc) and with each other. A particularly interesting feature in the 2.0 aspect is the potential to create “groups”, where you can share documents amongst other members, and discuss the shared papers. A great tool for collaborative research, for example. Online, Mendeley also has the rather cool “related” articles feature – here’s an example – which shows related papers, presumably based on what readers were reading.
Even more 2.0-ish, and similarly to academia.edu, you can also link up with colleagues or friends and thus “follow” their work, for example by getting informed about new papers they have published.
A great feature – and making Mendeley a real competitor to Papers – is that you can not only work with references, but rather link to whole documents. Like that, you can make sure your entire library of PDFs travels with you wherever you go. An easy way of never forgetting those crucial articles while on the move! Using the integrated viewer in the desktop application, you can view and annotate your files. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do this (as yet) on the iPad – here I had to open the file using iAnnotate to write notes. Annotating for me this is a crucial thing, even on the move, so having that feature on the mobile devices in future would be great.
Importing new articles (and files) is pretty easy: Mendeley can “watch” folders for your new files (e.g. your download folder) and add them automatically – or you can simply open a PDF file in the application. Mendeley will even attempt to “read” the details and import the file. I have to admit, I found that feature a little sketchy when working with working papers etc…, though for standard journal articles it seems to work well.
A great advantage of Mendeley is that is offers a very generous free version: All in all 500MB storage space, which really should be enough for a quite extensive library. If you want more papers to be kept “in sync” then there are “Pro” options available, starting from £4.99 per months for 3.5 GB “personal” space.
All in all I have to admit that I’m rather pleased I found Mendely – not only because the inserting citations works well on the Mac AND Windows AND using the same library AND it’s basically free , but I also enjoy the other features that Mendeley has (I should add here AND I can say sayonara EndNote!).
Somewhere along the line I still like Papers a lot – and I hear that they are going to release an upgrade soon. So if your main concern is reading papers, you don’t mind the price tag – and work exclusively on a Mac, then Papers is a beautiful piece of software. But if you venture out of the Mac world – or are just a little stingy (like me, presumably!) then Mendeley gives Papers quite something to live up to.
Btw if you decide to join Mendeley – please say hello… My profile is here!