Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Losing Track of Journal Articles? Zotero Wants to Help

Premium

As users of Digg and other social bookmarking sites know, tracking Web pages comes in handy. Now Zotero, a Web-based tool from George Mason University, takes it a step further by providing a spot for note-taking, while also storing and organizing content such as journal articles or Web-based tools. Last fall, Zotero became compatible with all of the PLoS journals.

"Part of the birth of Zotero was frustration with existing tools like Endnote and RefWorks that weren't really cutting it for what we were wanting to do," says Trevor Owens, a Zotero technology evangelist.

Unlike Endnote and RefWorks, Zotero is a freely available, open-source program out of George Mason's Center for History and New Media with approximately 400,000 users. Though originally designed with humanities researchers in mind, Zotero also has appeal to scientists. "Although there is a lot of history material online, you still have to do a significant amount of research in archives, while the science community that has picked up on Zotero already has a very strong workflow in Web-based tools, like journals like PLoS," Owens says.

The launch of Firefox 2.0 also pushed the development of Zotero, since that version allows people to develop extensions to increase the browser's functionality, just as Zotero does. When installed, its JavaScript-based translators work quietly when the Firefox browser is open. An icon appears in the Web address bar and, if clicked, saves that page. All the saved items can be viewed in an iTunes-esque table where related items can be grouped, tagged, or searched. Everything — the metadata, images, and PDFs — is stored in the user's Firefox profile.

Last November, Zotero and the seven PLoS journals took a step to becoming seamlessly integrated. "We've had a significant amount of people requesting that we have a translator for PLoS. We were more than happy to do it," Owens says. Zotero can store the metadata, such as author names, issue and volume number, and DOI, as well as the full-text articles from all of the PLoS journals.

Next, the developers behind Zotero are working on getting its own server up and running so they can expand its capabilities to let users join groups, share their collections, and have Zotero suggest items for them to check out. Also, a new plug-in is in the works to allow Zotero to sync with del.icio.us bookmarks.