Joho the Blog » Elsevier acquires Mendeley + all the data about what you read, share, and highlight

Elsevier acquires Mendeley + all the data about what you read, share, and highlight

I liked the Mendeley guys. Their product is terrific — read your scientific articles, annotate them, be guided by the reading behaviors of millions of other people. I’d met with them several times over the years about whether our LibraryCloud project (still very active but undergoing revisions) could get access to the incredibly rich metadata Mendeley gathers. I also appreciated Mendeley’s internal conflict about the urge to openness and the need to run a business. They were making reasonable decisions, I thought. At they very least they felt bad about the tension :)

Thus I was deeply disappointed by their acquisition by Elsevier. We could have a fun contest to come up with the company we would least trust with detailed data about what we’re reading and what we’re attending to in what we’re reading, and maybe Elsevier wouldn’t win. But Elsevier would be up there. The idea of my reading behaviors adding economic value to a company making huge profits by locking scholarship behind increasingly expensive paywalls is, in a word, repugnant.

In tweets back and forth with Mendeley’s William Gunn [twitter: mrgunn], he assures us that Mendeley won’t become “evil” so long as he is there. I do not doubt Bill’s intentions. But there is no more perilous position than standing between Elsevier and profits.

I seriously have no interest in judging the Mendeley folks. I still like them, and who am I to judge? If someone offered me $45M (the minimum estimate that I’ve seen) for a company I built from nothing, and especially if the acquiring company assured me that it would preserve the values of that company, I might well take the money. My judgment is actually on myself. My faith in the ability of well-intentioned private companies to withstand the brute force of money has been shaken. After all this time, I was foolish to have believed otherwise.

MrGunn tweets: “We don’t expect you to be joyous, just to give us a chance to show you what we can do.” Fair enough. I would be thrilled to be wrong. Unfortunately, the real question is not what Mendeley will do, but what Elsevier will do. And in that I have much less faith.

 


I’ve been getting the Twitter handles of Mendeley and Elsevier wrong. Ack. The right ones: @Mendeley_com and @ElsevierScience. Sorry!

19 Responses to “Elsevier acquires Mendeley + all the data about what you read, share, and highlight”

  1. [...] Another prominent critic of the acquisition is David Weinberger, a senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and a co-director of the university’s Library Innovation Lab, which played a role in designing the new Digital Public Library of America project. Despite the assurances of executives at Mendeley that it would remain open — including its access API — Weinberger expressed scepticism that the company would be able to resist Elsevier’s attempts to make it more closed (he expanded on this on his blog). [...]

  2. [...] Another prominent critic of the acquisition is David Weinberger, a senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and a co-director of the university’s Library Innovation Lab, which played a role in designing the new Digital Public Library of America project. Despite the assurances of executives at Mendeley that it would remain open — including its access API — Weinberger expressed scepticism that the company would be able to resist Elsevier’s attempts to make it more closed (he expanded on this on his blog). [...]

  3. [...] David Weinberger on the purchase of Mendeley by Elsevier: [...]

  4. Thanks for these fair and reasonable thoughts, David. It was a pleasure meeting with you last year and I hope we can continue to work on helping to get you what you need for Library Cloud. There’s just one point you, and everyone else making the “but it’s Elsevier who calls the shots now” argument. We actually do have some leverage here, or rather YOU have some leverage here. Elsevier knows that the main value in Mendeley comes from our users. We are nothing without our community. Therefore, if they do stuff our vocal community doesn’t like, not only do they lose their investment, but they lose the one chance they have at getting a direct relationship with researchers, instead of the one mediated currently via librarians. No one else would want to sell to them if they make a mess of this.

    One other point. Victor, Jan, Paul, and the rest of us didn’t build the company out of nothing. We built it out of millions of dollars of venture capital and investment, so the majority of the money goes to our investors. Jan, Paul, and Victor did pretty well, but the rest of us only did this because we believed in it.

  5. Bill, thanks for the response. I hope you’re right. But I don’t trust Elsevier to understand where the value of Mendeley comes from, any more than they understand where the value of the scholarly works they publish comes from. Even if Elsevier understands that Mendeley’s value comes from its community of users, I doubt that they will see value in making any of that information available outside of Mendeley.

    It sounds like you got didn’t get well-rewarded financially. If so, that sucks on its own, and double sucks since you’re also taking heat (from,er, people like me). Sorry, Bill. I wish you only well.

  6. @Mr. Gunn

    You’re extremely naïve, Mr. Gunn. The “Real World”(TM) doesn’t work like that. Big companies doesn’t care about their users. Even facing their own demise. Just look at Nokia.

    “One other point. Victor, Jan, Paul, and the rest of us didn’t build the company out of nothing. We built it out of millions of dollars of venture capital and investment, so the majority of the money goes to our investors. Jan, Paul, and Victor did pretty well, but the rest of us only did this because we believed in it.”

    Then why are you saying otherwise elsewhere. If was for the sake of the money. Be frank about it everywhere, not just where is convenient to you.

  7. “The idea of my reading behaviors adding economic value to a company making huge profits by locking scholarship behind increasingly expensive paywalls is, in a word, repugnant.”

    What about the idea of shifting the profits of the company away from locking scholarship behind paywalls, and shifting it towards other value propositions (with actual added value)? This seems like a plausible alternative (and from a business perspective, a smart one). I’d like to hear reasonable arguments to why that might not be the case.

    Also, being that Mendeley isn’t profitable, technically if you’re a free user, you cost Elsevier more than you make it at present ;) That’s beside the point though.

  8. [...] A nadie le ha cogido por sorpresa. Elsevier ha comprado Mendeley. Adiós gestor bibliográfico abierto. Hace nada Google anunció que cerraba Google Reader. Twitter compró y cerró Posterous. Downes recoge algunas reacciones. Dos de las más contundentes han sido las de Danah Boyd y la de David Weinberger: [...]

  9. [...] Another prominent critic of the acquisition is David Weinberger, a senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and a co-director of the university’s Library Innovation Lab, which played a role in designing the new Digital Public Library of America project. Despite the assurances of executives at Mendeley that it would remain open — including its access API — Weinberger expressed scepticism that the company would be able to resist Elsevier’s attempts to make it more closed (he expanded on this on his blog). [...]

  10. [...] contributing to the boycott-worthy Evil Empire of closed-source publishing, and some of it from folks who are not happy to share their user data with said Evil Empire. Personally, I rather appreciated the perspective of Jason [...]

  11. Mr. Gunn writes of Elsevier that the prospect of losing users “if they do stuff our vocal community doesn’t like” will keep Elsevier in line. But Elsevier has been doing stuff Mendeley’s community doesn’t like for years; it’s their business model. There’s no reason to think they’ll suddenly decide to adapt Mendeley’s ethic, and plenty of reason to expect them to continue as before.

  12. [...] Elsevier acquires Mendeley + all the data about what you read, share, and highlight(hyperorg.com) [...]

  13. [...] Manifesto co-creator David Weinberger blogged, “We could have a fun contest to come up with the company we would least trust with detailed [...]

  14. All the more reason why institutional repositories are so important for academics. The Green Route of Open Access is in the interests of all academics.
    Placing them in their own institution’s research repository at least guarantees that they will remain open, accessible and will be maintained and preserved for the future.

  15. According to the Privacy Policy of Mendeley “Whatever personal data and original content you upload to your Mendeley account is owned by you. We do not claim any ownership rights over your research. Of course, you can delete your data at any time. ” and then continues “In certain cases, we anonymously aggregate this data on an institutional level or other relevant segmenting and make that information available to the Mendeley community. ”
    Hence I can request Mendeley to delete ALL my data including the portions that have been aggregated, Am I right?

  16. [...] Elsevier acquires Mendeley + all the data about what you read, share, and highlight[Via Joho the Blog] [...]

  17. [...] David Weinberger’s (from Harvard’s Berkman Center & director of Harvard Library Innovation Lab) blog post [...]

  18. […] think this is terrible news.? Joho the Blog » Elsevier acquires Mendeley + all the data about what you read, share, and highlight I liked the Mendeley guys. Their product is terrific — read your scientific articles, annotate […]

  19. […] Another prominent critic of the acquisition is David Weinberger, a senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and a co-director of the university’s Library Innovation Lab, which played a role in designing the new Digital Public Library of America project. Despite the assurances of executives at Mendeley that it would remain open — including its access API — Weinberger expressed scepticism that the company would be able to resist Elsevier’s attempts to make it more closed (he expanded on this on his blog). […]

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