Group presentation for the application critique has concluded and our next task is to summarize and critique on another group’s presentation. I have been assigned to critique on Group 6’s presentation on Mendeley. I will briefly highlight 3 main points presented by the team and give my own thoughts about them.
Main point 1: One app to rule them all
Mendeley is a one-stop solution to aid researchers in writing and publishing their research papers from scratch to end. The presented team did not have time to go through it in detail but I will highlight it step by step here:
- Ideation: Through their social platform encompassing a global research community, one will be able to easily find research partners and project ideas to work on
- Data searching: With their searchable library containing public research papers, one can easily to mine and find relevant data from its big data repository
- Data storage and organization: Researchers can store their collected data on Mendeley’s cloud storage, allowing access from anywhere, as well as version control (think Git) to allow researchers to keep access to all versions of their datasets, which is particularly useful for longitudinal studies
- Data processing: Mendeley allows one to conveniently annotate on the research paper and datasets, as well as linking articles to the data
- Data sharing: Researchers can share data among each other, increasing the availability of datasets
- Citation generation: Allows researchers to generate citations with just a few clicks
- Peer review and discussion: Researchers can review and critique each other’s research paper before it gets published
- Research profile: Researchers can create a research profile with a compilation of all their publications and affiliations.
In summary, Mendeley is a single platform that makes the tedious process of publishing research papers manageable and efficient.
This process draws a parallel between that of publishing a research paper and publishing a software application. In the software development lifecycle, one must go through the daunting process of collection of facts, analysis, design, development, integration, testing, deployment and evaluation. Various tools have been created to aid in version control, continuous integration, continuous delivery and continuous deployment.
My assignment 1 team currently employs a variety of tools for this entire process, including Google docs, Github, Trello, Invisionapp, Apiary, Netlify, AWS, Travis, Selenium, SourceTree, IDEs, CLI for npm, React Developer Tools etc. Evidently, I have to manage and switch between so many apps, hindering my ability to develop efficiently.
Yet, a panacea for a process as complex as software development might never exist. Developers have a wide range of preferences and current tools in the market are well suited only for their targeted niche. Any attempt to produce a one-stop solution to software development will prove arduous even for software giants like Google.
Main point 2: Inconsistency across different platforms
As the presented team highlighted, the application is inconsistent across its supported platforms (Desktop, web and mobile), not just in terms of design but also functionalities. Eg. some functionalities are present on one platform but not another.
I wholeheartedly agreed that this inconsistency is rather undesirable. I often come across responsive mobile web apps that hide certain functionalities and I’m forced to select ‘request desktop version’ then pan and zoom around to access the desired functionalities.
While I understand that it’s a design philosophy to minimize clustering on a mobile web app, I believe that most designers underestimated the number of users who would want access to slightly more advance functionalities, and more careful design choices could have been made to allow access to them without severely compromising the app experience for the average users.
Main point 3: No automatic syncing
As mentioned by the presenter, Mendeley requires one to manually synchronize the data to the cloud.
With the proliferation of cloud apps like Dropbox and Google Drive, automatic synchronization has become a user expectation and such shortcoming would certainly frustrate and drive away users.
In the rapidly evolving world we live in today, it is important to keep up with the technology trends and design our applications with modern standards that meets the expectation of our users.
My thoughts on the Application Seminar
Computing students have a common conception that there are 10 things one can do in life:
- Writing code
- Wasting time
CS3216 is meant to be a module where one is not limited by the rigid curriculum of a typical module and is instead given a lot of freedom to learn by themselves and develop innovative apps on their own.
However, in this assignment, we were dragged away from our programming safe haven and forced to engage in mind-numbing task of making and preparing for Powerpoint presentation.
I understand that the intention behind this assignment is to provide an opportunity for us to systematically evaluate a successful application, so that we are able to learn what makes it successful and avoid its pitfalls.
Nonetheless, I believe we have already been subconsciously doing that when we use various applications in our daily lives. Therefore, the experience and knowledge gained might not match up to the time and effort invested on this assignment.
Nevertheless, to say that this assignment is a complete waste of time is neither politically correct nor fair to the assignment creator. As an optimistic opportunist, I always make the best of every experience I go through, regardless of whether it is forced upon me or that I willingly partake in it. I have certainly have picked up invaluable skills and improve my non-technical skills through this learning experience.
However, life is all about making trade-offs. In this increasingly competitive world, it is not sufficient to be learning. One must learn efficiently and effectively, utilizing every single second of the very limited time we have in this world to its maximum possible potential. Consequently, it is not easy to justify that this assignment is the worth the opportunity cost.
September 9, 2017 at 5:22 pm
Hi Riwu, thanks for the thorough analysis of Mendeley’s features! I will sum it up as an end-to-end tool for writing and publishing academic papers. Personally, I feel that this is a great example of a product targeting a niche market (researchers) and doing a good job identifying all the use cases for it (which features matters most for researchers or people in academia). This is also a skill that I hope to gain through CS3216, to step out from being a coder but rather a coder who can understand the bigger context of what I’m building, and voicing out my opinion if a requirement or feature assigned to me to build isn’t something I feel the user would want (of course, I must be able to justify this with concrete data, be it user testing or interviews).
Regarding your point on inconsistency, I agree that it creates a rather confusing and unpleasant user experience. However, I also feel that because most people do research from a desktop, I guess more effort was put into optimising the desktop experience and making a wholesome one. In fact, I may even go to the extreme of saying that perhaps a mobile version of Mendeley is not necessary. If there wasn’t mobile, the cross-platform experience wouldn’t be inconsistent and in my opinion, not many users will be lost if they get rid of the mobile app.
Have a good weekend!
September 11, 2017 at 12:18 am
Hi Hui Yie,
Thank you for your comment!
In the working world, our views on what the users want are often in conflict with the project manager. Often times we will be asked to implement features that we feel strongly against, which is especially difficult to accept if we have developed a personal attachment to the product.
CS3216 provides the flexibility and freedom for us to build only what we want and we should definitely cherish this golden opportunity!
September 10, 2017 at 1:04 pm
Hi Riwu, thanks for sharing your thoughts on Mendeley and I would like to share some of the things my group discussed about that we did not have a chance to present.
As you mentioned, Mendeley aims to become the leading app for research by having all the features one would possibly need. Yet, it run the risks of becoming too complicated to use and having what we call a feature bloat. Having too many features is viewed as uncool these days. One example to look at is Facebook. It is technically the amalgamation of Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Whatsapp and a gaming platform. Yet, the other social medias continue to hold their ground because there are users who just need a particular feature of the application and does not want to be a part of the other features. Similary, in the case of Mendeley, one might just want a stand-alone application for citation. It is indeed hard to draw a line between too little features to be useful and too many to be cool and I think this is gained through experience in developing applications.
As for the inconsistency among devices, there are those who argue that perhaps some features should be left out if they do not suit the device. For instance, the citation feature should be removed from the mobile app. There are some merits to this argument and I think that features which are omitted should be explicitly mentioned in the app store so that users can readjust their expectations.
Finally, regarding the actual “benefits” of this assignment, I would like to say that at the very least, it gives us an official reason to take a break from coding. 🙂
September 11, 2017 at 12:21 am
Thank you for your comment.
You mentioned a good point about the need to document unsupported features of the app on the app store. Sometimes I spend considerable time searching for a particular feature on a mobile app only to realize that it’s only available on desktop! It’s really important to manage user expectations and keep them informed of any potentially unexpected limitations.
September 10, 2017 at 6:03 pm
Thanks for your thorough analysis of Mendeley.
In the context of researches and students who are busy churning out essays within deadline, I think Mendeley will be a really helpful application for them to do annotations and citations. I think apart from its practical use for research paper writers, it can also have the function of providing these writers a community for them to explore, discover and contact other researchers. In this way, the researchers will be able to help each other
improve on their research paper and build a platform for collective learning as well.
As for the application seminar, personally i believe that this application seminar has really been useful in allowing us to be more mindful of application creation. I think it is important to be critical about an application in depth and understand the specifics about what is good and bad about an application in order to not make the same mistakes when we are designing our own application. I think this seminar has also been helpful in allowing me to be aware of terminologies we use to critique an application. For instance, if a user says that she doesn’t like the way she interacts with the application, there is multiple reasons why this may happen and we need to really understand her state of thinking when she is interacting with an application to learn how to articulate her thoughts in a succinct manner. This is really useful for user research.
But anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts! Have a good weekend! 🙂
September 11, 2017 at 12:37 am
Thank you for your comment!
I agree that it’s important to review and learn from other applications. As Issac Newton famously said: “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”, it is better to learn from others’ mistakes, rather than making our own.
September 10, 2017 at 11:38 pm
Hi Riwu, thanks for your insightful review of Mendeley! It is common to see “one-stop-shop” apps nowadays and most of them feel convoluted and offer no/little long-lasting value to end users. However, I find Mendeley to be the rare exception as the process of writing research papers is definitely an area which is untouched by and craving technology. I also agree that inconsistency across different platforms and the lack of automatic syncing are problematic and also pet peeves of mine. In this day and age, it is easy to replicate/copy software and it is important for Mendeley to stay ahead of the competition and offer these essential features to their users.
September 11, 2017 at 12:44 am
Thank you for your comment!
Indeed, there are still many areas that has not been fully exploiting technological tools, writing research papers being one of them. I also agree that Mendeley should not grow complacent as modern apps face stiff competition and it’s crucial to continuously implementing essential features while innovating new features in order to retain users and attract new ones.
September 11, 2017 at 12:00 am
While I agree inconsistency of functionalities among different platforms is frustrating, I believe that there are many situations where it is physically impossible to includes everything desktop provides into mobile applications. So I believe it is not about more efficient design choices, rather it is a matter of choice and focus, which means that mobile applications should give up some of the features desktop application provides for the sake of better UI quality. This means that mobile application should contain only the absolute minimal features needed for the user experience, preferably those that mobility is required. This could be my personal thing, I find mobiles apps hard to use which try to do too many things within the small smartphone screen. I would rather use an app that does one or two key features well, and if I have to, I will rather switch on my laptop to use more advanced functionalities.
September 11, 2017 at 12:49 am
Thank you for your comment!
I agree that many users might prefer simplicity and minimalism for their mobile apps. Nonetheless, an app can opt to display the bare minimal features by default, but with an advanced configuration panel in settings to allow users who prefer functionality over simplicity to enable and access more advanced features.