Zotero

I first mentioned Zotero a while ago but didn’t go into very much detail in that post.  Since then, I’ve been experimenting with it a bit and am really starting to enjoy it.  It’s a Firefox extension that facilitates the research process by streamlining the collection of information accessed through the browser.  With more and more academic content becoming available online through open access journals, it’s an innovative method of aggregating and managing content for research.

Zotero has a decent set of content management features that really do a good job of making it easy to work with the information you save.  I won’t go into the specifics here because the quick start guide makes it really clear.  As well as the content management features, it’s also very good at recognising semantic content on the web and giving you options to import that content into it’s database.  For example, if you’re browsing PubMed, Zotero is able to import citation information and then to export it in many different formatting styles, including APA.

I actually don’t use Zotero for any academic content at the moment.  What I find it really useful for is annotating and working through ideas I come across in blogs.  I find that I can clarify my own thoughts around educational technology, using Zotero as a scrapbook to develop those ideas.  Which brings me to my only problem with Zotero.  I only use it for blogs right now because it’s only really useful for content you access through the browser, which is a major limitation for me.  While it’s true that most of my literature is accessed through the browser initially, I still keep local copies that I prefer to work with.

Although I think the application is great in it’s current form, I’m really hoping that the developers expand it’s scope.  Maybe make it a standalone tool that I can use to manage all my articles, no matter if they’re on- or offline and no matter what format they’re in.  I also need more space within the app because sometimes it can feel crowded (especially the right hand panel), and making it standalone will free up a lot of real estate by taking it out of the browser.  Note: you can run Zotero in a full tab, but I like to be able to read the blog while making notes.

Those things aside, this is a great browser extension that I’d definitely recommend checking out.

Screenshot of Zotero
Screenshot of Zotero

Managing content 2.0

The past year or so has seen a move towards more sophisticated uses of the so-called “Web 2.0” technologies, a term that’s thrown around a lot these days and a formal definition of which is proving elusive. Rather than trying to define and structure it, I prefer to think of “Web 2.0” as an organic approach to computing…a merging of the traditional desktop application and online services. At some point I think there’ll be no difference between “online” and “offline” and indeed the boundaries are already increasingly difficult to make out. Google Gears, Adobe’s Integrated Runtime (AIR) and Mozilla’s Prism project are all looking to further blur the lines between the Internet and your personal computer.

Two good examples of the integration between desktop application and a user’s online experience are Zotero and Scrapbook. Both are Firefox extensions that are easily installed and have a shallow learning curve.

Zotero is fully integrated with Firefox and is described as a “next-generation research tool” that allows a user to capture relevant data from sources while browsing and storing that information in a local database for offline use. It “recognises” the structure of content and “knows” where to store information like title, author, publication and other bibliographic data. With academics and researchers spending more time finding their sources online, a tool that facilitates the process of managing content is most certainly welcome.

Articles discussing Zotero:

Scrapbook is another Firefox extension that adds a significantly enhanced note-taking feature to the browser. Users are able to capture sections of webpages (or entire sites) while browsing, edit text, make notes and add comments. Again, this content is stored locally for offline use.

Both of these extensions are examples of how new technologies are blurring the lines between “online” and “offline” and creating tools that take advantage of new approaches to content management. With the huge volume of information available today, a new approach to the managment of that content is necessary. Gone are the days when renaming a document is enough. Together with desktop search and tagging, tools like Zotero and Scrapbook are essential for anyone with a vested interest in managing a large volume of content.

Edit (07/07/08): I can’t believe I left out PDF Download, another Firefox extension that makes managing PDF documents within the browser a lot easier and more flexible.  Up until the latest release, my main use of it was the option to automatically download any PDF document, rather than open it in the browser, a process that’s really time consuming.  With the newest version, PDF Download also offers the option of converting any webpage you’re reading into a PDF, which I find really useful as I prefer working with PDF’s instead of saved webpages.