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.