Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mendeley API: we'll bring the awesome if you bring the documentation

mendeley.pngMenedeley's API has been publicly launched at, accompanied by various announcements such as:
Mendeley's Research API is now open to the public. Developers, go forth and bring the awesome :) (@subcide)

Finally saw the awesome Easter Egg that @subcide hid on the new Developer Portal! Whoaaa! (@mendeley_com)

All good fun to be sure, but it's a pity more effort has been spent on Easter eggs than on documenting and testing the API. If you visit the API development site there's precious little in the way of documentation, and few examples. As well as making a developer's life harder, adding examples would have helped catch some bugs, such as the failure of the API calls to return details such as volume, issue, and page numbers for articles, and the inability to retrieve a document using a DOI (the '/' that a DOI contains breaks the API). These are fairly obvious things. If resources are limiting, perhaps the Mendeley API team should open up the development web site to others to help create documentation and examples. A wiki would be one way to do this.

Menedeley is a great idea, but on occasion the hype gets ahead of reality. The product has a lot of potential, but also has some significant problems. Using the search API you pretty quickly encounter its number one problem: duplicates. I get the sense that Mendeley is about three things:

  1. Managing personal bibliographies and generating citations (desktop client)

  2. Networking ("the of research") (web site)

  3. Bibliographic data

Number 3 is, I suspect, the hardest problem to tackle, and it is where the ultimate value lies (think citation networks, audience data, iTunes-like business model for selling articles, etc.). I'd like Mendeley a lot more if I was confident that they had a good handle on the complexities of bibliographic data (and didn't drop pagination from API calls). Good places to start are "Are your citations clean?" (doi:10.1145/1323688.1323690) and "Learning metadata from the evidence in an on-line citation matching scheme" (doi:10.1145/1141753.1141817), both currently duplicated in Mendeley (try searching for Are your citations clean and Learning metadata from the evidence in an on-line citation matching scheme).