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Mendeley, founded in late 2008 by three tech-savvy scholars, had become a sort of rebel-scientist icon for producing a software-and-paper-sharing service that threatened to disrupt scholarly publishing in the way that Napster and had disrupted the music industry a few years earlier.Elsevier, on the other hand, is infamous for restricting the flow of scientific information so it can sell research papers for as much as fifty dollars a piece, generating profit margins of thirty-six per cent and netting the company billions of dollars in revenue annually.No one has that kind of data at the scale of Mendeley.
The preview feature allowed users to see the first few paragraphs of any paper listed by Mendeley’s members so they could decide if a paper looked useful before tracking it down in a user group or, if that failed, buying it for fifteen to fifty dollars.
Users loved the feature, but Elsevier hated it and pressured Mendeley to remove it.
Removing Elsevier’s papers destroyed “a huge percentage of what we had,” Hoyt said.
For Hoyt, this rollback clarified that “things were closing off.”Regardless, by the end of that summer, Mendeley had over a million users who had uploaded over sixty million papers—the world’s single biggest repository of academic papers—and were sharing many of them.
“I don’t want my search patterns to help Elsevier sell me closed science,” she said. Former Mendeley employee Jason Hoyt, however, was not surprised.
Hoyt, a young onetime geneticist out of Stanford, had moved to London in 2010 to serve as Mendeley’s vice president of research and development.The Direct Selling Education Foundation, through its association with accomplished academics, promotes the development of scholarly work about the direct selling channel.Through a combination of data compilation, professional connections and funding, the DSEF is committed to the production of research which illuminates the realities of direct selling as a method of distribution.Collecting on it would require something new, bold, and distinctly profitable.(One recurring idea was an i Tunes-like deal with publishers that would let Mendeley sell papers for a buck or two.) Those paying attention knew the company was open to offers of a partnership or a buyout. One is to squash it—to destroy or coöpt an open-science icon that threatens its business model. The other reason is to possess the aggregated data that Mendeley’s users generate with all of their searching and sharing.Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd angrily closed her account, saying she could never trust Elsevier; researcher David Weinberger, of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, said he’ll close his account too.And Duke University information-science postdoc Heather Piwowar, a longtime Mendeley fan, has decided that sharing with Elsevier just doesn’t make sense.On several occasions, he designed software features that increased the flow of information and papers within Mendeley, only to be forced to pull them back when publishers, including Elsevier, made scary lawyerly noises loud enough to give Mendeley pause.One day in August, 2011, his bosses asked him to kill previews of all papers published by Elsevier.These are working papers whose authors will further develop.When scholarly publishing behemoth Elsevier gobbled up London software start-up Mendeley earlier this week, many Mendeley users felt as if the Galactic Empire had coöpted the Rebel Alliance.