Reference tools

Online reference tools
Researchers used to keep track of their references manually, with the arival of computers, software tools where developed for acadamic publications. Some of these tools are desktop applications but most of them are inspired by Delicious and offer online services. A good comparison can be found on Wikipedia. When looking at the tools that excist one could say there is a devision between tools that make citing papers easy (Endnot, RefWork, …) and tools that make sharing easy (CiteULike,Connotea, …). In the next few paragraphs I’ll explain some of the features offered by the 2 kind of tools. (Ref’s)
Desktop applications
Tools like EndNote allow users to manage their publications on the desktop, like mentioned before the main task of this tool is to make citing easier. So these tools don’t enable easy ways of sharing, most of the times the way to share your references with others is by exporting the database and mail it to your friend or colleague. Often these tools also allow users to manage their PDF’s of publcitations on their computer like Mendeley. Another advantage is that most of the desktop tools also have word processor integration although some online bookmarkings also offer this functionality.
Social bookmarking tools
A lot of social bookmarking tools exist now a days of mostly inspired by Delicious. But they deffer from Delicious because they have an acadamic public. The tools are mostly a meld of existing reference management conventions and new social bookmarking concepts (ref’s).
By moving the reference management online, the tools are able to offer a lot of social features like:
commenting
tagging which enables discovery
sharing of references
recommending
Next to social features their are also the advantages of being able to access your references from everywhere. Bookmarks are added to your library by using bookmarklets, this enables the user to quickly add them while doing another task or some research. The social aspect is increased by allowing groups to be made. In this way groups of researchers can collaborate and share references, this is a lot harder with desktop applications.
privacy (private bookmarks) problem
Conclusion
It is a good thing to see so many reference tools out there, in the beginning I mentioned a quote about the devision between tools that make cinting easier and those that make sharing easier. This is because a desktop often offers faster response, local management of files and has closer integration with word processor. The last one can easily also be offered by online tools. A good example of a combination of a strong desktop application and an online profile is Mendeley. The webbased profile is very limited and doesn’t come close to the functionality of discovery and tagging that tools like Zotera, … offer. A social bookmarking tool can offer almost the same functionality as the desktop applications accept for managing your publications on your local disk.
In my opinion the social features these social bookmarking tools offer make them superiour to the desktop applications. I think some of these social bookmarking site should also realise they should offer word processor integration to make it easier for users of desktop applications to switch.
A strong social bookmarking tool should offer
word processor integration
support most of the acadamic databases and search engines to be imported
support a wide range import & export file formats
BibSonomy
Zotero

Researchers used to keep track of their references manually, with the arival of computers, software tools where developed for acadamic publications. Some of these tools are desktop applications but most of them are inspired by Delicious and offer online services. A good comparison can be found on Wikipedia. When looking at the tools that excist one could say there is a devision between tools that make citing papers easy (EndNote, RefWorks, …) and tools that make sharing easy (CiteULike,Connotea, …). In the next few paragraphs I’ll explain some of the features offered by the 2 kind of tools.

Desktop applications

Tools like EndNote allow users to manage their publications on the desktop, like mentioned before the main task of this tool is to make citing easier. So these tools don’t enable easy ways of sharing, most of the times the way to share your references with others is by exporting the database and mail it to your friend or colleague. Often these tools also allow users to manage their PDF’s of publcitations on their computer like Mendeley. Another advantage is that most of the desktop tools also have word processor integration although some online bookmarkings also offer this functionality. Another way of achieving a desktop like feeling is with a Firefox-extension like Zotero does or an integration in a word processor.

Social bookmarking

A lot of social bookmarking tools exist now a days of mostly inspired by Delicious. But they deffer from Delicious because they have an acadamic public. While Delicious deals with simple URL’s, citations are a bit more complex and contain metadata like author, journals, … . The tools are mostly a meld of existing reference management conventions and new social bookmarking concepts.

By moving the reference management online, the tools are able to offer a lot of social features like:

  • commenting
  • tagging which enables discovery
  • sharing of references
  • recommending

Next to social features their are also the advantages of being able to access your references from everywhere. Bookmarks are added to your library by using bookmarklets, this enables the user to quickly add them while doing another task or some research. The social aspect is increased by allowing groups to be made. In this way groups of researchers can collaborate and share references, this is a lot harder with desktop applications. The online tools also offer RSS-feeds to follow certain tags, users, … Like in many science tools privacy is still an issue, some users might not want to make their bookmarks public but most tools will offer the user this possibility.

Conclusion

It is a good thing to see so many reference tools out there, in the beginning I mentioned a quote about the devision between tools that make cinting easier and those that make sharing easier. This is because a desktop often offers faster response, local management of files and has closer integration with word processor. The last one can easily also be offered by online tools.

A good example of a combination of a strong desktop application and an online profile is Mendeley. The webbased profile is very limited and doesn’t come close to the functionality of discovery and tagging that tools like Zotero, … offer. A social bookmarking tool can offer almost the same functionality as the desktop applications accept for managing your publications on your local disk.

In my opinion the social features these social bookmarking tools offer make them superiour to the desktop applications. I think some of these social bookmarking site should also realise they should offer word processor integration to make it easier for users of desktop applications to switch.

CiteULike offers some features that might convince some people to join or increase it’s popularity. This service offers the possibility to view all tags related to a journal, this offers another way to discover content and also journals might be eager to link to this service on their official website. CiteULike also has recommendations for the users and allows user to upload PDF’s (and access them from anywhere). BibSonomy also has the feature to upload and share a PDF with a group. A useful feature Bibsonomy offers is to  view relations between tags. Between BibSonomy and CiteULike, BibSonomy has the better import and export features, for example it offers export in BibTeX format and seems to be the better tool for the moment.

Did I miss a feature, tool or want to give feedback, please let me know in the comments?

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4 Responses to “Reference tools”

  1. Bram Says:

    Not entirly sure which question you wanted to answer or address in your comparison, so just firing off every question that comes to mind:

    Did you find any details on which tools are more popular compared to other ones and why ? Which ones are still actively developed (… when was their last release & how often are they released), and which ones are dying ?

    You mention the comparison on wikipedia as being good. Why ? Is it complete ? Is it up to date ?

    I would also be interesting to find out what’s the story behind Thomson Reuters having 3 different solutions: endnote, reference manager, pro cite. (I know part of it: they took over companies creating that software. Are they still actively developing those solutions or are they dying ?)

    What’s the trend in free//open source// vs commercial software ?

    • stijnvdw Says:

      I did not look add the popularity of the tools, as for which tools are still actively developed the “Latest stable version” column of the Wiki comparison might be a good indicator.

      I have not checked if all information on every software is up to date also until now I haven’t found a service that is missing from this comparison. An aspect missing from this comparison is wether these tools offer an API.

      I must agree on the fact that my text could be a lot more structured and offer better answers to your question.

  2. Bram Says:

    And if you state that most of them are inspired by delicious, some of the softwares in the comparison are already from the eighties, even before the web was commonly used.

    • stijnvdw Says:

      Indeed it seems like it isn’t clear what I wanted to say. I actually meant that online social bookmarking site are inspired by Delicious.

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