A new Firefox plugin is about to be released into the wild that may soon have researchers, students and librarians everywhere wondering how they ever did without it. It’s called Zotero and it looks set to do for everyone’s favourite web browser what EndNote did for their personal computer seven years ago. Zotero scans the web pages you browse for bibliographic information, and stores this data automatically in a browser-accessible database. This means that you can do a library search through your university web site, or a reference search through a subject database, or a book search on Amazon.com and have your browser store the full citation results in a form that can be exported directly to your Word document, text file or blog. Zotero also lets you annotate its database entries with images, saved (local) web pages, notes and PDFs — that’s right: the entire article.
If implemented as well as its web site promises, Zotero should leapfrog EndNote in total functionality, and allow the user to remain entirely within the browser while conducting research. This should cut down the minimum number of applications that previous users of citation management software have to juggle from three to two (browser and word processor/text editor). At the system level the implication is that Firefox, rather than your file system, will be your primary means of accessing everything on your computer about a given research topic. Oh, and being a Firefox tool, it’s free. (You’ve gotta love open source.) According to lead developer Dan Cohen, the public beta will be available by the end of the month.
But my favourite part of all this is a small section at the bottom of Zotero’s Supported Sites page:
Zotero should work on sites that use these standards and technologies:
- Embedded RDF
- (many more to come)
Please explain? This snippet indicates that Zotero has also been designed to grab citation information directly from standardised HTML source (rather than having to make database calls or use proprietary encoding formats). This is very good news for the web accessibility and standards movements because it should promote the deployment of open standards such as RDFa and citation microformats for academic resources. The potential advantage of such frameworks is that they make web browsers more intelligent: instead of passing random bits of information in the form of text (forcing the user to separate a reference from a legal statement from an advertisement), they offer up practical objects such as citations, calendar events, address book entries or software licenses. Such efforts should provide researchers with a vastly simplified workflow: instead of cutting-and-pasting text from your browser into your word processor (or citation manager), your browser automatically imports a discrete data object. Translation: simply by finding the citation on the web you’ve already included it in your database and, with a few clicks, your word processor.
Anyway, that’s enough speculation on the road ahead. At present the hard data is this: Zotero for Firefox is coming in less than a month. So watch this space.
Via Nick Caldwell.