I’ve just discovered a great piece of reference management software called Mendeley. I’ve heard it mentioned a bit recently, by people like Brian Kelly, Peter Murray-Rust and Jean-Claude Bradley, but when my wife mentioned it after her recent visit to the ILI2010 (Internet Library International) conference I finally thought I’d give it a go.

Keeping your references together is an ongoing problem for any researcher. For years the standard software has been Endnote, though I’ve never used it much myself1. BibDesk has been my tool of choice for the last few years, but I can’t recommend it to many people because it’s Mac-only, as is the beautifully-designed but paid-for Papers. More recently, I’ve found Zotero very useful, but it’s only available as a plugin for Firefox.

And whatever tool you use, keeping it in sync between multiple computers is a pain for anyone who doesn’t have a good grasp of version control software. There have been some online tools like Connotea, but mostly they felt a bit clunky, and had no integration with any kind of word processing tool.

I’ve not played with Mendeley for long yet, but it feels different: it’s open-source (Correction: it’s free, has an open API and the catalog is Creative-Commons licensed); it’s cross-platform; it’s a desktop app but syncs between computers via a web tool.

The online version isn’t just for syncing though: it adds real value. There are social networking features, so you can discover new references based on what your contacts are reading. It’s also building up a free and open bibliographic database, like Web of Knowledge or Scopus but without the price-tag, and with statistics on how many people are reading the articles.

I’ll certainly be using it myself for a while and recommending it to our students to try. Anyone else tried it out yet?

  1. Mostly because I used LaTeX, BibTeX and Pybliographer as an undergraduate, and endlessly exporting BibTeX files from another system seemed a bit klunky.