Mendeley lives online and on the desktop–like a very, very single-purpose Evernote.Mendeley is a social network that fits somewhere between LinkedIn and Facebook: instead of focusing on users’ personal or professional lives, it’s targeted towards academic connections. In addition to the social networking features, the cross-platform desktop service allows users to save and organize academic papers into “collections,” tag papers, and annotate documents. Users are allowed 500 MB of online storage for themselves, 500 MB of shared storage for collaboration, and unlimited desktop storage–if a user is approaching the storage limit, it’s easy to quit syncing papers which the user no longer needs cross-platform access to. Users are also able to upgrade to higher-storage accounts, which start at $5 a month.

Because Mendeley is so specifically intended for academic research, it’s able to focus on a very niche, useful set of features. A particularly nice feature is the organization of documents by author, by journal, and by user-designed collection. In addition, the program allows for full-text search withing the documents themselves and for user tagging. Because of its large pool of users, Mendeley is also able to offer suggestions for other papers a user might be interested in based on what they’ve uploaded–a potential godsend for students at a research dead end.

A particularly slick feature is the desktop client’s automatic extraction of a paper’s metadata, including the paper’s abstract. If the program is unable to find some data (the original journal, for instance), it gives the user a button to click to search for the article by title in Google Scholar. If it can find the article there, Mendeley will pull the metadata from there. Once a user confirms that the data’s correct, Mendeley can generate a bibliography for the user’s own use. As an extra bonus for students who are not using Microsoft Word, the bibliographies can be formatted for OpenOffice. Users can also import pre-existing bibliographic data from EndNote, CiteULike, or Zotero.

Mendeley allows for users to highlight their documents while still maintaining the document’s original formatting. The highlighting looks like actual highlighting (rather than footnotes), and users can easily share their highlights and notes with other users through the social networking part of the program. The desktop client will sync the notes and highlights a user’s added to a paper, and the information can then be accessed online, on another computer with the desktop client installed, or on an iDevice–with full functionality on the mobile devices.

Mendeley has a web importer bookmarklet allows users to add interesting research to their Mendeley libraries directly from a variety of academic websites–including JSTOR, Google Scholar, and Amazon. Particularly for users who are on iPads or other mobile devices, this is a nice way to avoid having to deal with the desktop importer process. For users who aren’t on tablet machines, the feature is still a nice way to avoid the potential for losing a downloaded paper by forgetting where it’s saved or what it’s named.

The social features of the service are primarily web-based. Through Mendeley’s website, users can join groups of like-minded researchers. Users can use groups to bounce ideas off each other, bring interesting papers to light, and network with others in their research field who they may not already know. Users create profiles listing information about themselves and academic interests, allowing others to search for people by name, academic institution, publications, and awards. Users can add each other as colleagues, and once users are in each others’ networks they’re able to see each other’s Twitter-like status updates.

Though the online features of the website seem more targeted to graduate students and professors, Mendeley’s organizational features, notetaking options, and data extraction abilities make it a worthwhile program for students who are going to be writing and reading research papers with any frequency.