The turf wars are hotting up as major players start investing significantly in social and scientific networking for scientists. The first significant casualty has been BiomedExperts, owned by Elsevier. The reason? Elsevier has bought up the online reference management and (kind of) social networking service Mendeley. They are shutting down BiomedExperts rapidly too – there's a 31st of December deadline – and advising users to migrate to Mendeley. BiomedExperts claims 8 million signed-up users, but I wonder how many of these are active, given the decision to move to Mendeley, which has a mere 3 million. Looking at the results from a Nature survey of 3,000 scientists and engineers showed this pecking order:
Source: Van Noorden, R. (2014, August 14). Online collaboration: Scientists and the social network. Nature, pp. 126–129. doi:10.1038/512126a
The most visited site is Google Scholar, but given the capabilities of Scholar as a literature search site, the wonder is that there are still people out there who haven't heard of it. More interesting is what's in second place: ResearchGate. ResearchGate is getting important in ways that deserve a separate posting. It's a site that doesn't just accept uploads of your papers, it looks for them on your behalf. And it's got a very active user community.
A social reference management service?
But back to BiomedExperts and Mendeley. Mendeley has concentrated on reference management. You download an app to your computer that synchronises your reference library with Mendeley's cloud servers, allowing you to keep your library updated and accessible from many machines. It also allows you to share references with other users – good for collaborative projects. Mendeley uses a Word plugin to manage citations, making it an attractive competitor to EndNote at a price that's highly competitive – free.
And Mendeley has a social networking capability – of sorts. While there are promising-looking interest groups, many are duplicates, and most seem to have fewer than ten members. More significantly, there are low levels of activity, consistent with the low levels of usage in the survey above.
So can Elsevier turn two ducks into an eagle? By combining the two sites, they widen the scope of BiomedExperts to include all comers, and they add the bibliographic functionality of Mendeley. But they are badly behind in the game. Ignoring sites like Facebook (just social) and Twitter (more useful, but too generic) the top players seem to be LinkedIn (more job focussed) and ResearchGate. Can Elsevier turn around Mendeley's fortunes and move it from an under-used online bibliography manager into a thriving nexus for scientists? We shall see…