One of the (many) influences Google has had on the software industry is the concept of the beta release as product. In some ways, this is a good idea, as it creates a community of early-adopters who can act as a massive beta testing community, giving the company feedback on real world use and making for an even more stable general release. The early adopters benefit from access to early technology, the public benefits from better software, and the company benefits from advance publicity and testing.
It can backfire if not done correctly, however, and Mendeley is providing a good object lesson in that. In theory, Mendeley is a killer app for people in academics. It is a cross-platform (including web), cloud-synced database for papers that handles citations and automatic import from all manner of online journals.
Unfortunately, the beta releases have been so bad that most of the word-of-mouth on Mendeley has been poor. Do a quick Google search on them and you’ll see a lot of complaining. In my experience, the software has tremendous potential but is so poorly implemented that it is currently unusable. Import of any paper with an accented letter in an author name, for example, fails. In my field, it seems half the people have umlauts in their name. Page numbers aren’t imported correctly, either, requiring the user to manually enter them. If you import a PDF for a paper already imported through other avenues, the software is happy to create duplicate entries. And so on…
After the frustration of importing their citation database from other software, only to find Mendeley too buggy to be usable, it’s likely many of the early users will not bother return for more punishment. So, what Mendeley is actually accomplishing with their beta program is the alienation of exactly the kind of people they are supposed to be winning over: technologically-minded members of their target audience. These are the people their collegues will to turn to when they are looking for citation software. Mendeley won’t be their answer.
Unfortunately for Mendeley, they may eventually have a great product, but when that final bug is fixed and they drop “beta” from the name, it may be a tree falling in a forest with nobody to hear.