Mendeley (a review)

Mendeley is software for organizing journal articles.  (I’m sure it does fancier things too; this is what I’m using it for.)  I’ve previously used a physical filing cabinet, then carefully-titled pdf files (with important ones OCR’ed and indexed), then EndNote, and, for the last few years, Zotero.  I’m impressed with Mendeley after a couple months’ use; I think all I need to do to review it here is to recount the manner in which I’ve used it.

1. Download.  Free.  But, commercial and not open-source.  It’s not clear what the business model is, but I’m sure it involves data-mining my paper-reading habits and selling me something.  I generally assume nothing about privacy, and they may very well be keeping statistics about what papers I read in their software; I don’t mind.

2. The program acts a bit like itunes.  I made a directory full of pdfs of journal articles (and some slide-based presentations, old scanned book chapters, etc.) and pointed the software thereto.

3. Some indexing interval later, I had a list of my papers.  Titles, author lists, bibliographic information: all read from the pdfs (some from metadata, but mostly from text recognition).  Realtime search filtering (on, e.g. authors’ names or keywords), tagging (my tags, and also recognized from the print), note-taking all available.  Text-recognized papers show up in a “please check the translation” list for confirmation of tag information.  (“Member, Senior” showed on the authors’ list of many from IEEE journals.)

4. I created some ‘collections’ for projects.  Similarly to gmail’s ‘labels’, a paper in a collection also exists in “all papers”, and a paper can exist in multiple collections.  These make convenient lists for, e.g., exporting a bibliography.

5. I haven’t tried the word and bibtex plugins yet, but exporting a list of references to text (e.g. multiple-select papers, click “export citation list”) is easy.

6. Along with the text recognition, the reference list at the end of an article is very nicely extracted (and indexed, and appears in search results).

7. Using the web-importer plugin, I can grab references while surfing (e.g. from pubmed) into my database, a la Zotero (but not limited to Mozilla).

8. Further doling out my private information, I signed up for a web account.  Now, my database (and pdfs) sync to the cloud, and changes I make to my database from any of my pcs are persistent.  (Last night, I needed an article at home.  Open software, click “sync library”, 30 seconds later I had my database refreshed.  Click on the entry in question, and a minute later I had the pdf.)  500 MB free cloud space, IIRC, so I had to cull a few giant files (high-resolution scans) from my list.

This review was unsolicited; I merely ran across the software and dig it.  Here’s a screenshot.  Happy organizing.

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