Mendeley's Klingon battle cruiser de-cloaks in London with the Last.fm for academia

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I was pretty surprised when Mendeley recently de-cloaked, like a Klingon battle-cruiser, in London’s Old Street area, slap bang in the middle of the capital’s Start-up Central. They played a blinder with their pitch at the recent Plugg conference in March and since then I’ve seen co-founder Victor Henning pitch at The Next Web. These are unassuming startup guys, the best type – just getting on with the business of building an amazing product.

And it really is pretty cool – Mendeley is working on “the Last.fm of the academic world”. Via its desktop software and a web app, the service shares information about academic papers between researchers. PDF documents on your desktop are tagged with metadata and added to the Mendeley database, after which you decide how “social” you want the information be. That can entail being really “open” about the research, by sharing reading lists, recommendations and annotations with friends, colleagues or the whole web. Mendeley wants to develop a freemium model and make money from their database and the trends it can show about what new research is appearing. That makes sense, because at the moment for academic publishers to gather information about the reach and the influence of their papers is a lengthy and expensive process. Mendeley already has 6,000 users and has completed a financing round of around $2m in February.

And it’s clearly no coincidence that they got their funding to be the ‘Last.fm of academia’ from… a Last.fm founder, Stefan Glaenzer, along with Alex Zubillaga and Ambient Sound Investments.

Now Mendeley has managed to attract a new star to its team: Ologeez founder Jason Hoyt joins as Research Director. Jason holds a Ph.D. in Genetics (2008) from Stanford University, where his advisors only included Andy Fire, the Nobel Laureate in Medicine for 2006.

Ologeez is the semantic front-end for PubMed, the biggest biomedical literature database. Ologeez accesses PubMed articles through the database’s API, improving the interface and allowing users to rate and discuss each article on the site, which helps the most credible articles rise to the top of search results.

Jason told me via email why he thinks “scrobbling” academic research in the same way Last.fm scrobbles music is going to be so revolutionary: “We no longer have to wait two or more years to count citations and find out how influential a research paper was in its field. That’s a game-changer and one that flies in the face of the 50-year flawed gold standard relying on which journal you published in, rather than the merits of the paper, to determine tenure and grant funding. Now, each paper has an equal chance to be measured and discovered. This isn’t like Napster and ignoring copyright, but more akin to what iTunes did – bundling additional information with individual tracks. Here, those tracks are research papers and this will help the journal publisher, the researcher, and the university library.”

But what of Ologeez? “Ologeez will still be available, but it will no longer be actively updated,” says Hoyt. In other words, he’s mothballing his own startup in favour of Mendeley. That speaks volumes.

Then again, that fact that Mendeley’s database size (currently at 14 million records) is doubling roughly every six weeks and is on track to overtake PubMed in about six months, might have had something to do with his decision.

These guys are worth watching.

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