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Zotero

October 26th, 2007 at 5:00am — Rating: Firefox pointFirefox pointFirefox pointFirefox pointFirefox pointLink

Keeping notes on how your research progresses is a chore in itself and if you use the Internet, you've got to have a place to keep your notes, thoughts, and ideas.

If you're a usual here at DCS Media, you know that I really get into Google Notebook. But lately, I've been using Zotero more and more. Google Notebook better watch out. It may have some competition.

Overview

Zotero is an extension that collects your research and organizes it into a "notebook" area as well. Being a blogger, you come to use extensions like Zotero to collect your thoughts and ideas while traveling the Internet. Have an idea? Jot it down in Zotero before you forget and add the URL to your notes.

Installation

Zotero is a 920k download and is definitely a running candidate for the title of a Super Extension. The extension installed with no problems and the latest version is 1.0.

To activate Zotero, you have one of three options: Use the Tools menu and click on the Zotero menu item; use Ctrl-Alt-Z shortcut key to toggle it on or off; or click on the Zotero word in the status bar.

Features

There is a lot to this extension, so let's get started.

Zotero has a definite visible workflow when you first view the extension.

First up is the Collection Pane.

Zotero Collection Pane

The Collection Pane is used for organizing your content in folders and looking for specific content, such as tagged data. The Show/Hide Tag Selector in the top right corner toggles the display of the tagging filter on and off. I usually keep mine off. I want to look at all of my collections.

Build how you want your content organized by creating your folders. It's similar to building a directory structure on your hard drive. You can even nest folders (put folders inside of folders). I didn't think of this before, but Zotero even has the structure to implement the Getting Things Done mentality. Create your GTD folders and you're off.

The actions dropdown button contains all of the preferences for your collections and your configuration options (see below). One feature I want to highlight is the Importing and Exporting capabilities. They currently have 7 citation file formats: Zotero RDF, MODS, BibTex, EndNote/Refer/BibIx, RIS, Unqualified Dublin Core RDF, and Wikipedia Citation Template. In addition to the file formats, you can also select from eight bibliographic styles of how you want your research formatted.

The Create Timeline is an interesting feature. This gives you a display of when you collected your data and viewing it at a glance across a timeline. One issue I didn't like was when I selected the Timeline, it loaded into my current tab and lost my page. I would recommend making the Timeline appear in a new tab or window. Maybe even make it an option in the configuration (heck, everything else is in there). :-)

The next section is the Items Pane.

Zotero Items Pane

The Items Pane displays the contents of a folder from your collection. There are multiple options for adding references and citations. You can add a Book, Book Section, Document, Journal, Magazine, or Newspaper article with the click of a button. You can even create standalone notes that may be your own thoughts on a subject.

The snapshot feature can take a screenshot of the current web page and save that image in your notes. I couldn't help but wonder, what would be the difference between taking a snapshot of a screen as compared to creating a link to a page? Maybe a site went down and all they have is an image. ehh...I digress.

The next section is the Item Details Pane.

Zotero Item Details

Click on an item in the Items Pane and you can view your items through this window. If it's a web page, you have the option of actually going to the page. Again, it would be helpful to open up a new window or tab.

At the bottom of the panel, you'll notice the small "Related" and "Tags" labels. For researchers and bloggers, this will especially be helpful in locating relevant information in their notes.

Additional features include the ability to integrate Zotero into your favorite word processor, whether it be MS Word or OpenOffice. There is even an option to integrate into WordPress. For both of these features to work, you would need to download additional files to activate Zotero.

Configuration

The configuration panel is definitely fully configurable. There's a lot of options to take advantage of.

Zotero Configuration Dialog Box

There are two outstanding options that really stood out to me. One is the ability to change the icon in the status bar. I know, I know...it's a little thing, but it definitely helps with the real estate on my status bar.

The second option was the ability to include a PDF indexing feature through the Search Tab. Of course, I didn't have it installed. I clicked Install PDF Indexing and it installed it into the Zotero directory. It was ready to index any PDF I had. Since I am a PDF junkie, I had a lot of PDFs to test with and it worked great.

Even though there are a lot of configurable options, most of them I don't need, but that doesn't mean that you won't need them.

I was definitely impressed with the layout and usability of the configuration options. Very well thought out and intuitive.

Conclusion

I used to work for a company that specialized in the making of a lab notebook and I just glance at the landscape ahead of most "notebook" makers. Even though Zotero is open-source and free, it still goes toe-to-toe with Google Notebook and other lab notebooks out there.

Why? It's visual workflow is attractive, it's compact, and it works right inside your browser where you do most of your research (like they said on their site). It is a strict workflow, but still provides flexibility to work the way you gather and store data.

Definitely a 5 out of 5. Wouldn't have it any other way.