ScienceOnline'09 - interview with Victor Henning

The series of interviews with some of the participants of the 2008 Science Blogging Conference was quite popular, so I decided to do the same thing again this year, posting interviews with some of the people who attended ScienceOnline'09 back in January.

Today, I asked Victor Henning from Mendeley to answer a few questions.

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your (scientific) background?

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I was born in Hamburg/Germany in 1980, moved to London in January 2008, and as a direct consequence, have discovered my love for Marmite and the BBC. In between, I've dabbled in a great number of different things. When I was 16, I dreamed of having my own record label, so I worked for Sony Music in Berlin and Revelation Records in Huntington Beach. I then studied for a business degree in Koblenz, Brussels, and Oslo. I decided two switch my life ambition to producing films and worked in a film production company in Munich.

In 2002, while a student in Oslo, I authored my first academic paper on European Film Funding Policy for a journal called Media, Culture & Society, realizing that I enjoyed doing research quite a bit. I enrolled for a Ph.D. at the Bauhaus-University of Weimar, where I could participate in producing short films and co-organized a film lecture series called Guru*Talk that was recently published in book format.

Ultimately, however, my Ph.D. - which I hope to finish this year - is mostly about decision-making in the context of hedonic consumption: Intertemporal choice, ethical/illegal choice, and emotional versus cognitive choice.

What do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?

I do have a few unfulfilled adolescent rock star ambitions. When I was 15, I thought playing bass guitar in a Nirvana/Soundgarden/Pearl Jam tribute band would surely get me a girlfriend - it did not. Perhaps that was to do with the fact that I wore a Klingon Empire hoodie, nerd glasses, and was a card-carrying member (literally) of the European Star Wars Fan Club. So I'd love to play in a band again, and I'd love to write and produce films. I don't know whether that counts as growing up or regressing, really.

What is your Real Life job?

I'm involved in Mendeley full-time. My job is mainly to develop the product roadmap, which involves bescribbling many pieces of paper, writing a lot of specs, throwing colored foam balls at headphone-wearing engineers to get their attention, attending conferences like yours, and helping to organize the European counterpart, Science Online London.

Tell us more about Mendeley - what it is, how it works, how did you get the idea to develop it?

As a Ph.D. student, I was downloading hundreds of papers I needed to read - but storing, indexing, sorting, and referencing them was about as much fun as getting punched in the face repeatedly. My friends Jan and Paul (fellow Ph.D. students and researchers) felt the same. We thought: Why isn't there a software into which we can just drag & drop PDFs, and it then automatically extracts the bibliographic data, the keywords, the cited references, and makes the full-text searchable?

That was the initial idea: Create a desktop-based bibliography tool that automates the tedious tasks as much as possible. But we also realized that, if you connected all these individual bibliography databases through a web interface, you could add interesting networking and collaboration features as well.

So first and foremost, Mendeley is a free bibliography management software that's available for Windows, Mac and Linux. It auto-extracts data from your PDF collection, retrieves additional information from CrossRef, PubMed, arXiv, and Google Scholar, and creates a searchable reference database. You can read, highlight and annotate PDFs in the internal PDF reader, and you can create bibliographies using Word/OpenOffice plugins.

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In addition to that, you also get an online account on that lets you sync your library with multiple other computers or to the cloud. This way, you can manage your papers online, or import documents from external databases using a browser bookmarklet - besides PLoS, we currently support 25 other research databases. Finally, you can set Mendeley to sync with your CiteULike library and (in the next release) your Zotero library. Here is the full list of bibliography management features.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

I think what excites me most is the potential to add a social layer of discovery and impact measurement. The analogy I always use is, the world's largest "social music service". tracks which music you listen to on your computer, iPhone, iPod etc., then creates a personalized radio station for you. In addition, you can access listening statistics for pretty much every single genre, band, or song on earth - for example, here is the page for my favourite band, The Robocop Kraus.

We want to achieve for research what did for music. We are creating anonymized real-time readership stats for every single paper, journal, and author - of course, these will get better the more users we have. Of note, PLoS ONE is doing quite well in these stats, as Pete Binfield pointed out a while ago :-)

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We're also working on recommendations - based on your existing library, which other papers might be interesting for you? And also, as an opt-in feature, which other academics have research interests that are similar to yours?

I recently gave a talk about these issues at the Next Web Conference in Amsterdam - here's the video:

Link: Mendeley @ TheNextWeb Conference

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook?

It's tremendously important. We use the Mendeley Research Blog to give our users a glimpse behind the scenes of a start-up, as well as to get their input on new features and releases. We also share our views on life in academia, science on the web, or - more recently - the future of scientific publishing. Both FriendFeed and Twitter are great to connect with people who think about these issues. Lastly, it's a very effective support channel: Whenever people ask questions about (or report problems with) Mendeley, we can respond in minutes and try to help them out.

When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?

I can't really remember a conscious moment when I discovered science blogs. I've always been reading lots of non-fiction and science-related books, so stumbling upon science blogs was a natural progression. My favourites - in terms of the science they discuss - are Vaughan Bell's Mind Hacks and Mo Costandi's Neurophilosophy. As for insights into the future of science online, I really like Cameron Neylon's Science in the open and Michael Nielsen's blog.

It was so nice to meet you and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.

There's pretty good chance you will - looking forward to meeting again!


See the 2008 interview series and 2009 series for more.

More like this

Marmite? Woohoo!

By antipodean (not verified) on 01 Sep 2009 #permalink

This software looks very interesting and possibly useful for my huge geedee project. Do you know if it supports manual entries (i.e. not associated with a PDF) and if it allows you to import non-PDF documents? I've got a bunch of hardcopy stuff I'd like stored in my hypothetical bibliographic database, and about a half-million tiny little HTML files, mostly newspaper articles. Since I'm doing something resembling a cross between history and journalism, I have far fewer secondary (academic) sources than I do primary (newspaper article, Congressional report, legal judgement, photograph)...

I really really hope so, because this has been vexing me for a couple of years now. :(

By Interrobang (not verified) on 08 Sep 2009 #permalink

Hi Interrobang - yes to all your questions!

You can create manual entries under a variety of different document types (newspaper articles, reports, theses, webpages etc.), and you can attach any filetype you want.

At the moment, only PDF attachments are full-text indexed, but we'll expand that to other file types as well. The next major release will also allow you to view HTML files in an internal browser, and later on, also annotate it with highlights and sticky notes.

Hope that helps!

Thanks for answering my questions, Victor! I tried the current version -- anxiously awaiting the new release! The full-text index is a thing of beauty (I practically wept), even though it's not very smart (*yet!*).

Do you need any help with testing and/or documentation? I am a professional software tester and technical writer, and I'd probably really enjoy putting together some in-program help for you. Please ask Coturnix for my e-mail if so.

By Interrobang (not verified) on 09 Sep 2009 #permalink