Sunday, April 17, 2011

Online Community Management: Overview of Mendeley


The site that I am focusing on my final project is Mendeley’s Groups. The groups are part of the Mendeley system. The Mendeley system consists of a citation/referencing software and online community which utilized the software. A “group creation” feature is added on Mendeley for its users to collaborate and integrate as an online community. In sequence on this posting, I will start with describing Mendeley, the site, official rules. Then, I will continue with scenario of three rules that have been broken in this site. Furthermore, prescription and consequences will be suggested for each broken rules. To conclude, I will try to identify 5 unwritten rules.

Official Rules

There are 4 types of governing document which commonly used to regulate online community (Grimes, Jaeger, & Fleischmann, 2008). These documents are: “1) software license agreement, 2) use agreement, 3) privacy policy, and 4) community standards and practices.” Grimes, et al (2008) pointed that these four categories are the most common which can be found, but there are other types of document or rules which specific regarding to the characteristic of the site. On Mendeley, official rules of the site can be found easily by scroll down the front page to the end. At the end of Mendeley front page, there are quick links to official rules about what Grimes et al (2008) called “source code” and “civil code”. In this section, I will briefly describe 3 official rules.

Terms of Use (

This document regulates how user which called “registered member” on using the site features and the software. The latest version of this document is updated by November 16, 2010. This document pointed 21 points which ranging from purpose of the site to jurisdiction & applicable law. The terms of use pointed are numbered and the titled displayed in bold and capital letter. Some sections in these terms of use are also displayed in capital. For example point 12 which stated about disclaimer of liability is displayed like this “THE MENDELEY SERVICE AND SITE … PERFORM AS DESCRIBED.”

Privacy Policy (

In this document, users of Mendeley can get information about Mendeley Principles and Privacy Policy. There are three core principles of Mendeley: 1) data is only uploaded when user signed in, 2) user decide which data to share, and with whom, and 3) User data and user content are owned by the user. Every points of term of used are capitalized and in bold. Some section in the privacy policy was pointed by using bullet points. Different from Term of use, the privacy policy stated on the document is not numbered and there is no section which display in capital. This document was last updated on April 15, 2010.

FAQ: Learn more about groups (

Particularly, this document is a guideline for Mendeley registered users to obtain benefit from creating or joining a group. A group on Mendeley has a function as a place where online community could meet with people who have the same research interest and then develop professional relationship and form collaboration. This governance document explained “barrier to access” and “barrier to participate” (Kollock & Smith, 1994) of different types of groups on Mendeley.

Three examples of rules have been broken

Free-ride and social loafing

Success of online community is determined not only by the owner, but also by the member. Participation and contribution of active members is an important driver of the online community quality. Online community is not always success on obtaining benefit from member-maintained community. Social lofting and free-ride are condition that potentially happened on an online community. The phenomenon of social lofting and free-ride mentioned in a research on USENET by Kollock & Smith (1994) and a research on MovieLens by Cosley, Frankowski, Kiesler, Terveen, & Rieal (2005). These phenomena happened too on Mendeley’s Groups. A group creator or owner on Mendeley initiated to create a group to increase participant of members with the same research interest to add posting. The posting expected is research articles/publications information, comments, questions-answers, and discussion. Normally, most of groups on Mendeley have some key members who actively doing this task, but most of the members are free-ride on the group.

Incorrect/incomplete entry and broken link

Information provided by user of Mendeley will be used by other user for their scholarly purpose, essentially for finding referencing document and appropriate citation. On Mendeley, not all document reference by user can be found. Some of these articles are link to a site which only has the abstract. For accessing the full document, user must purchase or loan the article. In addition, there are some links that broken and cannot be open. The citation provide on the site is not always correct. The incorrectness can be in form of incomplete information and also in form of not suitable with the citation style.

What’s the matter of “Collaboration”?

Groups are created for users to form collaboration. The concept of collaboration in this site is blurring. There are no sufficient information about what kind of collaboration which expected and how the collaboration can be identified. Quality interaction in an online community has to be based on member self-awareness about the existence of community and self-awareness as a member of the community (Gazan, 2009). In short, effectiveness of interaction through online community has to be based on dynamic interaction between individual with the aggregative system. In this case, group member collaboration should contribute on developing “public good” of the community. But, the contribution of collaboration on Mendeley is hardly can be identified in a concrete artifact.

Prescription and consequences

Interface design and accessibility of site features contribute on developing human-computer/internet interactional dimension on social software (Madison, 2006). Fixing the site interface or adding features can be alternatives to solve social lofting and free ride. Instead on having only a number of work/paper cited, a rating feature with comment box can be added for a reference/citation. Asking question similar like Amazon, “what this [reference/citation] helpful to you?” (Coley, et al, 2005) is one of the idea can be used to modify the referencing interface on Mendeley. Using unique icon/emoticon is another alternative to make Mendeley interface and feature become more interesting for users. Flag a post as “education” or “conversational” (Gazan, 2009) is an example idea of unique icon that can be implemented for this site.

Implement peers oversight as well as experts’ oversight (Coley, et al, 2005) is perfect model for fixing incorrectness and uncompleted entry. I always impressed with the way Google improve its translation through “contribute on a better translation”. I think this idea can be implemented as well on Mendeley. Users can be encourage with a pop up or a side window for fixing or contributing for a better quality referencing information after they view the one that already exist. This idea is in general has some similarity with a collaborative authoring on wiki and Slashdot (Madison, 2005; Coley, et al, 2005).

Improvement in collaboration can incorporate Kollock and Smith (1994) idea. A group moderator and key members should actively moderating, governing, welcoming new members, and building interactivity through Q&A. In a group home page, group creators should be required to describe “what is desired of their groups, and what is inappropriate for their groups?” By having this information, a prospective member can decide to join and know clearly what he/she will contribute on the group. In a group, there are some features should be added to be able to encourage interactivity communication besides “wall posting”. A discussion forum, rate members/followers, featured member, and virtual award (for example: ribbon, flag, or start) are features needed for making the discussion on Mendeley groups become more lively and interesting.

Unwritten rules

This is the hardest section for me to write. As a conclusion, these are five “unwritten rules” which I consider implicitly regulated Mendeley users:

  1. A user is allowed to use Mendeley as a place to raise popularity as a scholar which potentially becomes a chance to get a new job.
  2. A newbie on Mendeley should learn individually from the site governance documents and couldn’t count on “old-timers” to get the answer about how to navigate through the site.
  3. A user is not guarantee to get what they expected when joined a group.
  4. A user must not ask for a reason if his/her request to be a member of a group rejected by the group administrator.
  5. All user required to have personal back up of files/data uploaded to Mendeley on another type of storage, either online or offline.


Cosley, D., Frankowski, D., Kiesler, S., Terveen, L., & Rieal, J. (2005). How oversight improves member-maintained communities. CHI 2005, April 2 – 7, Portland, Oregon.

Gazan, R. (2009). When online communities become self-aware. Proceedings of 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Waikoloa, HI, 5-8 January 2009.

Grimes, J., Jaeger, P., & Fleischmann, K. (2008). Obfuscatocracy: A stakeholder analysis of governing documents for virtual world. First Monday, 13(9), Retrieved from

Kollock, P., & Smith, M. (1994). Managing the virtual commons: cooperation and conflict in computer communities. Herring, S (ed.), Computer-Mediated Communication: Linguistic, Social, and Cross-Cultural Perspective. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 109-128, Retrieved from

Madison, M.J. (2006). Social software, groups, and governance. Michigan State Law Review, Vol. 2006, p. 153, Retrieved from

1 comment:

Rich Gazan said...

Mendeley seems to be facing the challenge of whether it wants to be a collection of personalized tags/link or a community where discussion is the main form of interaction. One explanation for the lack of participation on the site might be a combination of people being dissuaded by the customs of academic information sharing, weaknesses in the interface, sheer information overload (this audience is too busy to participate), or a lack of perceived return value, since so many others tend to free-ride.

You might also consider that despite the wishes of the site designers, people *are* currently using the site largely as they wish. Philip's work with Foursquare introduced the idea of "checking in" to a venue--perhaps that's what most Mendeley users want to do; just check in and sign up for alerts in areas of interest, but not necessarily contribute.

I don't know how realistic it is to expect to get a job based on your Mendeley participation, but you could interact with people in your area around topics of mutual interest who you might not meet otherwise, and broaden your network of contacts.

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