By any other brand-name, not so sweet?

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Something is afoot in the world of reference generators. The American company Chegg, which claims to be  “all about removing the obstacles that stand in the way of the education YOU want and deserve” [Chegg: What we’re about], seems to be buying up service after service.

They already own CitationMachine,  BibMe, EasyBib, and CiteThisForMe. None of them is particularly good at what they claim to do, and (in their free versions and since being taken over by Chegg) they are bedevilled by splash and flash advertising (as with Citation Machine, illustrated on the right).

Several of my earlier posts point directly or indirectly to shortcomings in these services.  Their auto-citation generators leave much to be desired. They also leave much to be edited or added after the reference is auto-generated. A common plaint is that students don’t do this – they unthinkingly and uncritically accept auto-generated output no matter how many errors or omissions.  Alas, the manual form-filling modes are often not much better. Too often they fail to ask for elements required for particular kinds of reference and/or they mangle the inserted information when generating a reference.

A relative newcomer in this field is RefMe. While it has faults and issues, it does seem a more reliable tool than the services noted above. It has gained much respect in the school library community, and is often compared with Noodletools.

Me, I think Noodletools is a far superior package, both in its reference generation and in the writing and learning processes too, but I can see why many are attracted, at least initially, by RefMe.

For how much longer, I wonder? Two days ago, I received an email message from RefMe. The subject line was demoralizing, RefME becoming Cite This For Me on February 28th (email message dated 26 January 2017).  My heart sank even further as I read the opening paragraph, which ended:

Today we have some important news to share with you. We are proud to announce that RefME has been acquired by Chegg, Inc., a leading education company.

That seems bad news in itself. Worse was to come. Two paragraphs later comes the statement:

Chegg also operates a popular citation service called Cite This For Me. In order to focus and build the best product possible, RefME will become Cite This For Me, where we will build broader writing tools to help students with the citation and writing process.

Further details, for those who have the heart, are posted at RefME transition to Cite This For Me FAQ.

It seems bad enough that RefMe is being sucked into the Chegg machine.  But why is it losing its identity, its name, its respected name? It is being subsumed into the awful CiteThisForMe. Will RefMe descend to the awfulness of CiteThisForMe’s reference generation or will CiteThisForMe improve, thanks to RefMe algorithms and software?

It’s a puzzle. It seems that the creators of RefMe have sold out (to an offer they could not refuse?). It is sad that the name is lost as well as an independent company. Is Chegg aiming to buy out all the competition? When they talk about “removing the obstacles,” are they aiming to be the only player in this game?  Is there something sinister here, removing the opposition/competition?

We shall see.



9 thoughts on “By any other brand-name, not so sweet?

  1. The latest incorporation of another citation machine into the corporation of Chegg just shows, as you point out John, that the only way is Noodletools. We’ve always knows it, and this is a good reason to tell educators that if you want to teach information literacy with integrity AND the best and affordable package around, Noodletools is the only one. Let’s just hope they don’t get bought up as well.

  2. Great post. It’s awful that this is also happening to RefME. RefME was an excellent free citation tool. This is especially important if your school can’t afford software like NoodleTools. I’m with Marion, I hope NoodleTools doesn’t end up getting bought up as well!

  3. It seems like Chegg isn’t buying to get the feature and advantages of new companies, but just remove them as competition. I don’t mind paying for a service, but Chegg’s taking away the features I like best about Refme, and trying to charge me $12.99 per month to keep using less functionality.

    I hadn’t heard of NoodleTools before, I found your post trying to do some searching on what to use instead fo Refme, as CiteForMe is crappy and costly. Thanks for the recommendation.

  4. ‘It seems that the creators of RefMe have sold out (to an offer they could not refuse?)’

    That is unfair, it was an acquisition, I can’t go into details but nothing is further from the truth than ‘sell out’ !

  5. Totally in agreement with this post. I write for a living, so I used RefMe daily; Chegg really screwed the pooch on this one. I’m glad I’m not the only one who found the whole approach to be quite sleazy, though.

    To the commenter suggesting that it was an “acquisition,” an acquisition is not something you can really force on someone else. If you do, it’s considered a “hostile takeover,” not an acquisition. If it truly was an acquisition, then the only way the deal went down is if the people in charge at RefMe agreed to the purchase. Even in the chance that it was a forced move, the “details” of the deal are irrelevant, because the outcome makes enough of the contingencies quite apparent. I don’t think anyone here is blaming the RefMe staff so much as reinforcing that Chegg is an unwholesome company.

    The apparent fact is: Chegg bought RefMe for the EXCLUSIVE purposes of pulling competition off the market, and trying to funnel RefMe’s user base into their premium crapgasm. This is an incredulous move considering the fact that, as this post suggests, Chegg already has multiple such sites. Obviously the company isn’t worried about these services cannibalizing each other, so it completely defies me as to why they took RefMe down, when it was clearly a superior service. I could understand if the services were similar and virtually indistinguishable – but as others have reiterated here, that’s nowhere near the case.

    As a note, I wrote them a brief email outlining a few reasons why I wouldn’t be using CTFM or paying them jack, and I got a quick-but-generic response about how they hoped I’d give CiteThisForMe a chance, and how it wasn’t affordable to keep RefMe up. They also included something about transferring my account, which isn’t even something I mentioned in my email. So they’re obviously just trying to net as many previous users as they can, rather than actually being interested in making the service better.

    Incredible that they can manage multiple completely junk citation services, but something as efficient as RefMe is just trashed. So I’ve become pretty disgusted with Chegg’s whole approach, but I’d like to say thanks to the writer here for recommending NoodleTools as an alternative. I’m going to have to look into it, but Chegg will certainly not be getting any of my money.

  6. Great article and comments – thank you. The posters below (James and Amanda) have completely summed up my thoughts. First impressions are that RefMe has simply been erased with no attempt to incorporate any of its functionality. What a terrible product CTFM is – it’s like having to go back to MS-DOS after using Windows (there’s one for the teenagers!). Your tip on Noodletools is potentially a life-saver – thanks!

  7. I wholeheartedly agree! Sadly, it is with great disappointment that I report trying to use “cite this for me,” (CTFM) it was just an AWFUL experience. After 10 minutes of trying, I still couldn’t ref a single book, it was so user unfriendly and unprofessional looking (it seemed like a page straight out of the late 90’s).

    RefMe on the other hand, was current and super easy to use. Most times a simple scan of the book’s bar code, a quick search by title or even url would do the trick. CTFM has nothing that even reminds me of RefMe (including user friendliness or success of actually producing a reference that we could just copy and paste or email).

    Seemingly, the company which “assimilated” RefMe, CTFM, did not do so, in order to improve it’s services, or customer service… it seems like it was another case of corporate greed–which resulted in a major step backwards.

    In the time it takes to get a reference ready and exported using CTFM, I found it much easier just to type it up right in my document or create it using my word processing app (eg. Word). I will NEVER AGAIN spend my precious time with CTFM, much less EVER consider paying for it.

    If anyone wants to make some money quick… Just develop a quick reference app–it doesn’t have to be fancy, just useful… I hear there’s money to be made in selling referencing companies.

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