I have used most of the major reference management platforms at one time or another: EndNote, RefMan, Zotero, and Mendeley. Most of my time in grad school, I used what my advisor used to make collaborating easier: EndNote at UCF and RefMan at Arizona. During my Ph.D. I played around with Zotero but found it clunky. Back in those days, Zotero only worked with Firefox, and it didn’t sync files, so I had to have a separate way of organizing my PDFs.
I was an early adopter of Mendeley, and I loved it from the start. It integrated citation management with PDF organization, synced across platforms, and had an interface that was about as intuitive as you could ask for. Importing PDF metadata didn’t always work, but that was fine with me. It was also free, for a limited (but pretty generous) amount of storage. It became such a vital part of my workflow that, when I had filled up the free storage, I was happy to pay for more. I’ve been paying Mendeley $54.99/year since 2011.
In 2013, Elsevier bought Mendeley. Lots of people were upset about this. I wasn’t thrilled, but I didn’t see much change in functionality, so I continued as usual. There was a lot of inertia involved in this (non-)decision. Like most working scientists, I usually have several manuscripts and/or grant proposals in progress, and switching reference managers would require a substantial effort. They did add some features I didn’t care about:
I didn’t have any use for these features, since they duplicate services I already use, but I could just ignore them as long as the functions I actually used continued to work. Last year, though, that stopped being the case.
Last April, Mendeley started crashing every time I launched it. I emailed their tech support, and the answer did not impress me:
Please be informed that Mendeley Desktop isn’t officially supported in Mac OS 10.12 (Sierra) & High Sierra. Mendeley Desktop will install and run on Sierra/High Sierra, however you’ll likely experience extra power consumption from your graphics card, slow performance with mouse interactions and other unexpected behavior. (CRASH and PLUGIN issues).
For some Sierra/High Sierra users, they were able to use Mendeley desktop for a while, but because of this known issue, they also experienced constant crashing.
Our Developers are still looking into options that would allow Mendeley desktop to run in Sierra/High Sierra without issues and they haven’t provided a specific time frame on when they can release a Mendeley desktop version that will fix the compatibility issue.
Our Developer Team hasn’t yet provided a specific time frame on when they can release a new Mendeley desktop version that will solve this known compatibility issue.
In short, it’s broken, and we don’t know when it will be fixed. This was in April, 2018, nearly a year and a half after Sierra was released and six months after High Sierra. I thought maybe I could use a workaround until they got it fixed, but no love there, either:
Exporting references from the Mendeley web library is only available for Windows computers. The only workaround to export your library is to open your Mendeley desktop library in a computer that runs a supported operating system.
I don’t own or use a Windows computer, so this was not an option for me. They sent me a link to a beta version that “would support Sierra/High Sierra,” but that didn’t work for me, either. The very helpful tech support person promised to add me to their “personal list of users that [they] will email as soon as the fix for this known issue is launched,” but I never got any such email. At some point I downgraded to an earlier version, which worked for a while.
Near the end of May, 2018, I upgraded to Mendeley version 1.19, which immediately started crashing (I was running High Sierra by this time). I emailed their customer support on May 28 and got an automated email promising a response within 24 hours. A week later, I still hadn’t heard anything, so I emailed them again. On July 3, they responded with a direct message on Twitter, basically telling me that there was nothing they could do:
Somehow or other, I got it working again; I don’t remember the details. In November, I was thinking about updating my OS to Mojave. Remembering the previous problems, I messaged Mendeley’s tech support:
So I delayed updating my OS, in a spectacular example of putting the cart before the horse. In June of this year, I started having a new problem with Mendeley’s new version:
They told me this was a known issue that would be fixed in the next release. I decided to just tolerate it, because it still worked; after clicking “Retry,” it would insert the citation as expected. Last month, I messaged again about the same problem:
That was enough for me. I have skipped over a few other problems, but the bottom line is that I’ve been having technical problems with Mendeley for the last year and a half, and their responses have been underwhelming. Mostly, they’ve just told me they know it doesn’t work and hope to have it fixed at some indeterminate time in the future. That latest response is absurd: I should downgrade not only Mendeley but my MS Word installation as well.
A year and a half of non-functionality, partial functionality, and apologies but no actual help from tech support was finally enough to overcome my inertia. I’m done. Fortunately, I made this decision just before my account was set to auto-renew. It was, to Mendeley’s credit, fairly easy to cancel.
I have switched back to Zotero, which I am so far finding perfectly good. There is no dedicated tech support team, but I didn’t find Mendeley’s very useful to begin with. Zotero syncs across platforms, captures metadata from journal websites, has shared collections for collaborating, and works with all of the word processors I use. Mendeley does all this, too, but so far at least, Zotero actually works.