Here’s a tool that academic and other research-intensive writers might find handy (it has been mentioned elsewhere on this formum, but I’ll post it here):


I just saw Zotero mentioned on an otherwise very poor round-up of the “best web apps for students.”(Yes, we know, Google has a word processor now. Move along.)

Zotero looks like it would certainly fill in the gaps in my workflow. I do a lot of research and it’s messy, messy business. Has anyone been using this software?

Nice Avatar.

I have used it and basically stopped doing so because the information captured is not easily shared with other applications.

That limitation severely restricts its usability for me.


I agree with you 100%. Lack of interoperability is a major, major roadblock and a baffling omission in software of that kind.

Got any software recommendations for me? My research is mainly in literature and critical theory (with occasional forays into architecture, urban history, visual art, film, and technology) so I will need software suited to my “unscientific” purpose.

Interesting. I just tried out Zotero and came to exactly the same conclusion. I really liked the ease with which I can collect things but I need to be able to distribute materials with equal ease to the places I require them. I also found I could not drag and drop web pages into Scr. using Firefox, as I can with Safari (by dragging the address).

So it’s back to Safari and drag and drop for me! DT Pro also makes it easy to get things into it. But Zotero is an entirely new, and intriguing, concept. Maybe they’ll make easy distribution of material possible in the future.


I decided to investigate Zotero further. Here are my initial findings:

  1. The price is right, the platform is wrong. I find that Camino is the only browser that does what I want it to do. Firefox is generally too resource-intensive on my stately but venerable G4 PowerBook. (It is arguable whether Firefox is really capable of delivering “performance and stability” on OS X at all.) I have, however, started using Firefox on Windows at work and I can definitely see the appeal of all these browser extensions and add-ons. It must be fantastic from a developer’s standpoint, and it can certainly be fantastic from a usability standpoint (see the excellent del.icio.us plug-in). Unless one plans to adopt Firefox, which is not outside the realm of possibility for me, Zotero would likely not integrate into existing workflows as smoothly as a stand-alone application.

  2. That said, this Firefox extension business is very au courant. Zotero looks like a fresh “brand” and its website is consistent with the other pretty young applications all the kids have been talking about. I think this gives Zotero the ability to attract a strong user base. After my initial post to this thread I spent a couple of hours looking at comparable software and felt like I had been thrown back in time to the late 1990s. Hideous websites don’t inspire confidence, at least as far as I’m concerned. I can’t decide which website would most quickly turn away a potential user: Endnote (dour Windows 95 styling and obfuscatory navigation), Bookends (makes me blush with pity), PaperToolsPro (nonexistent) or Sente (surprisingly decent, except for the worrisome repeated assurance that the software is Mellel-compatible, a feature which will undoubtedly be of great comfort to both of Mellel’s users).

  3. Zotero can actually try to compile a bibliography from one of its “collections,” and I suspect that creating Zotero collections to match my Scrivener projects (and iGTD projects, for that matter) wouldn’t be entirely inconvenient. It can punt the results into rich text format and HTML, or send the results the results to the clipboard/printer. The problem, admittedly based on rather limited testing, is that it doesn’t generate the Modern Language Association format correctly. Still, it’s halfway there and I’ll give it that.

  4. Zotero is really, really easy to use. It was great fun to search my library’s catalogue, click the little icon, and watch Zotero do its work. Some library call numbers were slightly borken, but I was actually impressed that the software even tried to capture them!

  5. Any application that uses a heap of books by Jacques Derrida in its tutorial screencast gets my vote.

  6. Any application that makes heavy use of Hamlet in its tutorial screencast (a computer within a computer, no?) makes me happy.

Notwithstanding issues of taste within the Mac universe (Camino vs. FF vs. Safari) Firefox is the only option that is a) cross-platform (Windows, Linux, Mac, etc.), and b) robustly extensible. It was absolutely the right choice for them to go with it as a development platform.

I (though not affiliated with the Zotero group officially) wrote the citation style language Zotero uses for style configuration, so I’m not unbiased here. But I’d just emphasize one absolutely critical point: Zotero is free software. It is open source code, and the project is mostly run (and coded by) students and professional scholars.

The tone of your mini-review here sounds like the frustrated and cynical tone I often had when complaining about proprietary applications like Endnote, whose developers – it seemed to me – really couldn’t give a damn, and where I had no way to impact the shape of the application.

Not so here: if you find problems with a style, then report them on the Zotero forums. Someone will fix them (it might even be me!).

If you have any coding skills at all, then put them to use. How about writing a plug-in to integrate Zotero with Scrivener? If Zotero had the same kind of integration with Scrivener that it has with Word (and very soon now OpenOffice/NeoOffice), I’d probably buy it.

In short, if you see a possibility for making Zotero better, help make it happen!

See http://netapps.muohio.edu/blogs/darcusb/darcusb/archives/2007/06/24/endnote-and-the-case-for-zotero for a bit more on this theme.

You might be interested to know most of the people behind Zotero are historians. I myself am a human geographer, with strong influences from cultural studies. :wink:

Finally, I don’t at all understand the point a couple of people have made here about Zotero not being compatible with other software. It imports and exports tons of standard formats; much more than other reference managers. What more do you want, in a beta release no less?

Hi, I work on the Zotero project at the Center for History and New Media. Thanks for taking a look at our tool. I thought I would jump in and point a few things out.

You should be able to drag and drop web addresses into your Zotero collection and I would also mention that you can drag and drop an item from your collection into any text field to add a formated reference.

We have sharing features in the works. With Zotero 2.0 users will be able to share collections, join groups, manage research feeds, and take advantage of our aggregated metadata for recommendations through our server.

If you have any further questions about Zotero, feel free to bring them to our forums ( forums.zotero.org/categories/ ). We are always appreciative of any input and also feel free to email me.


  1. Omniscient and responsive development crew. :smiley:

Thanks for the encouragement to get involved. You will no doubt see me (and my avatar provocateur) on the Zotero boards shortly.

Just to address your final point: I can understand why people—including me—initially assume that Zotero is not as interoperable as it actually is. My subjective experience of the Zotero website (including its FAQ section) was such that discussion of bibliography generation seemed to be deliberately side-stepped. Perhaps it’s simply that the website wasn’t shouting EXPORT EXPORT EXPORT at me. (Or perhaps I simply approach all new software with Google-strength suspicion about what I am being railroaded into.) The software itself also doesn’t make it explicitly clear out-of-the-box and right-off-the-bat what the options are for exporting a bibliography. It took me five or ten minutes to figure it out, and it occurs to me that, as this will undoubtedly be the most used feature of the software, bibliography generation ought to be hangover-proof.

Now I’m gonna click the “Z” at the bottom of my browser and play around some more.

I can’t really speak for the Zotero people here, but my hunch is just that this is an evolving feature, and so they might not have wanted to play it up too much. But it’s getting good enough that they really ought to play it up more. It already does really useful things that other applications don’t (like being able to seamlessly convert back-and-forth between footnote and other styles).

In truth, doing citation/bibliographic formatting right is a difficult nut to crack. I’ve always said my goal in designing CSL is that I never again have to think about citation styles, and I’m serious about that.

We’ve been talking about the idea of distributed – project independent – style repositories, where users would just subscribe to a style (in fact using Atom, just like you do in a news reader), and it would be automatically updated transparently.

About the resource hogging by FF. I ran across an article the other day that may help you with that particular problem (I bookmarked it but haven’t implemented any changes yet).

Anyway, in case it helps, here you have it:
computerworld.com/action/art … Id=9020880

Wow. That is top notch stuff, seriously forward-looking as well. Zotero gets more and more appealing by the minute. I hope all the other Scriveners are taking notice of this thread…

PS: Hi Clea, thanks for the link, which I think I’ve actually already read. I think I’ve about:config’ed my FF as much as it’s going to get. I think it’s time to just be honest with myself and buy one of those droolworthy new Macbook Pros.

Thanks to the Zotero folks for the responses. I look forward to seeing what the future holds.

You’ve already done a nice job on the current application. For those of us “drag and droppers” slash"point and clickers", simpler interoperability will be a godsend.

I’ve had the FF extension installed for some time and have made good use of it, despite my previous comments.

Thanks again for the efforts.


Ah, yes, I did notice that. What I need to be able to do is drag and drop the actual file, article, whatever. But I’ll check out the forums for more. Many thanks.

I put a link to Zotero in the Reseach folder of the PhD template.

literatureandlatte.com/forum … php?t=1915

(there must be others who can make a template of their research efforts)!!!


One person’s ``issue of taste’’ is another’s thoughtful choice to prefer one capability over another (attachment to software being a combination of rational and irrational mental processing).

Some people choose to work in the Mac environment not because it’s pretty but because it makes some things easy to do. I gave up on Firefox because it doesn’t support OS X services, which I use for shuttling information among applications.

You can say that’s parochial but that’s how I work, and I’ve never adopted software because the creator told me I should understand why his/her way is better than mine.

To any other Mac revanchists on the board, I would suggest that what Zotero does can be achieved with Devonagent and Devonthink – DA to browse and collect, DT to organize. I’m not claiming I do this – I generally collect with Camino and then use DT – but it looks do-able.

That said, Zotero is really impressive. If I were starting from scratch instead of working with procedures I am used to and depend on, I could see adopting it.

You are missing BHD’s point, I think. The reason you listed is in fact a matter of taste. Services are never (or extremely rarely, as I’ve never seen a counter-example) the sole way to do things on a Mac. I very rarely use them because I find copy Opt-tab paste to be radically faster and more reliable (since all applications support that and not all support Services). Also, applications like LaunchBar and a little AppleScript knowledge can replicate most of the non-information shuffling services–and with greater speed in my opinion. So that whole issue never even came up in my mind as a strike against Firefox.

The original point stands. If you want to write a web tool that a large number of people will be able to use, on many different platforms, writing a Firefox plug-in is the way to go.

Devonthink = overpriced.

Well, if the point was, ``Firefox was a good choice for our project,‘’ I say, sure, I see why, and I wish the Zotero people good luck.

But I thought the post also implied, ``Firefox is usable on a Mac, and if someone says they don’t want to use that browser, they are just expressing their capricious taste, it’s not a serious point.‘’

My problem with that being: It is ALL a matter of taste, what we do. I don’t HAVE to use a computer; I could write as I did in my youth with a typewriter and note cards. I don’t HAVE to use a Mac, I could be on a Wintel machine; I don’t HAVE to think about software and try new apps and conduct the kind of quest that led me, very happily, to Scrivener; I could just muddle along with Word as do many writers I know. At some point, mere taste effects how well the workday goes, at which point it’s consequential. But who can say where that border is, other than the individual writer using the tools?

People put off for one reason or another by Firefox will not use Zotero. Both they and the developers (Zateristi?) will survive. I just don’t see much point in either side saying ``How could you fail to see things our way?‘’

Anyway, thanks for the pointer about copy opt tab paste. I agree that it’s wise to rely on features that are system-wide.


Not really. It’s between 1/2 and 1/10 the cost of comparable packages for Windows.

It may be overkill for what you need, but the price is quite reasonable for what it does.