When Dan Cohen, Director of the Center for History and New Media, announced plans for “Zotero Everywhere” [UStream], one could almost hear the collective jubilant exclamations of academics across the globe. While that may seem a bit of hyperbole, I don’t really know that it is—that Zotero will soon be browser independent is a pretty big deal. Add on to that the increased access to content via a read/write API instead of read-only, and we have before us the potential for significant movement in the research mangement space.
At ProfHacker, we are always looking for the tool (or tool suite) that increases our productivity and ability to do our jobs well. As academics, that means some form of research management and citation tool; for some it’s Mendeley, for others it’s Zotero. Amy has written “Getting Started with Zotero” (part one and part two), and George has written about Teaching with Zotero Groups. But—speaking for myself now—despite my deep and abiding love of the tool, I have used it less and less as Firefox became more and more of a slug on my machine and I switched to Using Google Chrome and Chrome Extensions for Speed and Productivity. Don’t think it didn’t hurt. It did.
But with today’s announcement of another round of generous funding by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Zotero users can expect some significant developments “soon” (for definition of “soon” feel free to tweet @zotero or otherwise contact the team). In brief, Zotero Everywhere “is aimed at dramatically increasing the accessibility of Zotero to the widest possible range of users today and in the future. Zotero Everywhere will have two main components: a standalone desktop version of Zotero with full integration into a variety of web browsers and a radically expanded application programming interface (API) to provide web and mobile access to Zotero libraries.
Ok, so what does that really mean, you ask? Besides “a whole lot of awesome,” it means:
- The Firefox extension will remain feature-rich so users comfortable with this access method can continue doing what works for them.
- Users of the Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer browsers can install a toolbar to allow for discovery and citation storage functionality.
- The toolbars work in conjunction with a standalone client. This client will be available for Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. So: (Chrome AND/OR Safari AND/OR Internet Explorer) PLUS (client application) EQUALS the feature set in the Firefox extension.
- The standalone client can be used without any toolbars, as a reference manager itself; it is the reference manager application. Whereas in the Firefox extension it’s all one bundle, the toolbar + client use means that you do not have to have a browser open when working with your resources. Perhaps that’s a minor detail and no one will ever work that way, but I found it interesting—in this way, the standalone Zotero client could operate as an offline tool such as EndNote, although when you next connect to the Internet you would want to sync your local library with the Zotero servers.
- Users of other browsers (and mobile users) can use Zotero bookmarklets to find and store resources.
In conjunction with the move toward Zotero as a platform, and the read/write API access (including access to the translator architecture, among other things), this means that developers can create all sorts of mobile apps for any platform. For instance, while CHNM might not want to develop an iPhone or Android app that scans an ISBN, looks something up in WorldCat, then adds the citation directly to Zotero (with your notes, as you walk through the library), you can. Or someone with programming chops could…this and many, many other possibilities make Zotero-as-a-platform even more exciting. I’m thinking about the potential for direct text mining of stored data, for example.
As you can see, this is all exciting news. But the question for you is: how will Zotero Everywhere change your workflow? You might not be able to download something today, but you can think about the possibilities. In the comments, let us know more of your needs and desires for the next generation of Zotero. We can’t make any promises, but we can guarantee they listen. And now, we can all be developers, so let’s all build something great(er).
As one final note, it sure was handy of Brett Bobley, Director of the NEH Office of Digital Humanities, to remind us that all donations to the Center for History and New Media will be matched through a Challenge Grant. Fans of Zotero, feel free to take advantage of this opportunity:
Special thanks to our friends at CHNM, and especially Director of Research Projects/co-Director of Zotero Sean Takats for quickly answering product-related questions subsequent to the official announcement. That’s great support!