Friday, September 17, 2010

A long list of things I don't like about Mendeley

Mendeley I feel bad. The nice folks at Mendeley just sent me a T-shirt and I'm going to complain about their product. But I want to like Mendeley, really I do. I want it to take over from CiteULike as my online reference manager because, well I'm not sure really, I just feel it should. But I'm still struggling, every time I go back, I just don't get it. Sure it's pretty, but it's a lots less functional for me than CiteULike, which though rough round the edges, "just works". So I thought I might be able to make some progress by facing my demons. To do that, I made a list of all the things (I could currently think of), that I feel are holding me back so that people can tell me what an idiot I am. Yes, really - don't hold back.

Web versus desktop client: Apart from not being able to use Mendeley with our students because we don't have the client installed on our servers (see big burly guy gap), I always find this confusing. So I'm supposed to work mostly by dropping PDFs onto the client? Maybe that's the problem, I hate PDFs, try to avoid them whenever possible. It's not about squirreling away PDFs (I have OS X for that), it's about sharing information.
Let me try an analogy. With Tweetdeck, I'm very clear that I'm using a client/app. Yes I have an account at that syncs my settings across platforms, but I never get confused between the two - the client is the workspace. With Mendeley, I'm never sure I'm in the right place. Mendeley feels like a Microsoft product to CiteULike's Google. I suspect this is a problem coming to Mendeley after using CiteULike, where there is no such confusion.

Documentation: I guess it's all there, but I always find it difficult to access. Why doesn't Mendeley have a prominent Help link near the top of the page as is the convention? (Help "not found"). The software is so complicated that I keep having to refer to the documentation but I can never find what I want. Instead I have to resort to Google searches and third party FAQs like this. The more features get added, the worse this gets. Simple screen capture videos please!

Sync with CiteULike: After much faffing about over several months, this finally worked. Is this a manual process - do I have to sync each time I add something to CiteULike?

Charging: Shouldn't be a problem. In theory. But it's always at the back of my mind - if I really start to use this a lot, when will I have to pay? I certainly can't afford a fiver a month. I pay 69p a month for Flickr. Would I pay a fiver a month for Facebook? No. For Twitter ... ?
Mendeley upgrade
I want to shamelessly rip-off Martin Fenner's idea and create a reading list for MicrobiologyBytes. This site gets accessed lots of different ways, e.g. Facebook, RSS, Twitter. Any associated service has to be purely online and agile. Mendeley collections don't feel like that to me. Hard to navigate, cumbersome - doesn't feel like a good fit for a lightweight, web-oriented community. A simple CiteULike tag or group is a much better fit for this use. Although it's easy to embed Mendeley Collections anywhere via an iframe, this is pretty ugly. There's also a Mendeley WordPress plugin, but I try and avoid plugins whenever I can as they invariably break and cause more work.
  • Probably lots of other things that I can't think of right now.
If I hate it so much, why do I keep returning to Mendeley? Because this is all about sharing and finding information collaboratively. Right now, CiteULike works much better for that, but if my community(s) split, move to Mendeley or if Mendeley removes the bloat and adds some killer feature (e.g dumps the client and becomes a web-based service ;-) I need to be there.

So exactly how dumb am I? Please let me know.