Category: Firefox

Vertov Brings Video Annotation to Zotero

From the beginning of the Zotero project, I’ve said that we have bigger fish to fry than citation management, although Zotero does that quite well, thank you very much. (Case in point: Zotero recently beat Endnote, RefWorks, and all of the other big citation managers in head-to-head competition at CiteFest.)

Zotero aims to be a digital research platform, and an extensible one at that. That’s why it’s gratifying and exciting to see the brilliant and incredibly useful Vertov plugin for Zotero. Vertov allows Zotero users to cut video and audio files into clips, annotate the clips, and integrate their annotations with other research sources and notes stored in Zotero. It has terrific functionality and should be ideal for use in the classroom as well as by film scholars and other researchers.

Vertov Screenshot

Congrats and many thanks to Concordia University’s Digital History Lab, led by Elena Razlogova, for conceptualizing and executing this great plugin.

PC Magazine Best Free Software IssueAnd since it’s been a little while since I’ve done shameless cheerleading for Zotero, it’s humbling to get the recognition from PC Magazine that Zotero has, for the second year in a row, been declared one of the best free software applications.

Zotero Partners with Mozilla: Firefox Campus Edition

Firefox Campus Edition logoIt’s been a very busy summer at the Center for History and New Media, and especially at the Zotero project. We had our own “Summer of Code,” our ranks swelling with fantastic interns and our code repository and site expanding from their efforts and the hard work of our core staff. In case you missed it, a major upgrade was released last week with many new features and improvements and support for countless new sites. (I’ll blog about several of the new features in the coming weeks, since they lay the foundation for new kinds of digital research.)

We have also been working on several major partnerships, one of which will launch tomorrow, August 22, 2007, when the Mozilla Corporation releases Firefox Campus Edition, which will ship with Zotero preinstalled.

Firefox Campus Edition Landing Page

It’s really exciting news for us, and should greatly expand the already large Zotero community. Firefox Campus Edition will be featured on the Mozilla home page and will be marketed to colleges and universities. It will be available for download at when it launches.

But we’re just getting started. Watch the Zotero blog and this space for more major news and partnerships in the coming weeks and months.

Zotero News, Big and Small

So much for a modest, stealthy launch of Zotero. I promised a couple of weeks ago that I would return to my blog soon with a few updates about user feedback, some hints about new features, and perhaps some additional news items. With a modest private beta test and a few pages explaining the software on our new site, I assumed that Zotero would quietly and slowly enter into public consciousness. Little did I know that within two weeks I would get over 400 emails asking to join the beta test, help develop and extend Zotero, make it work better with resources on the web, and evangelize it on campuses and in offices around the globe. (Sorry to those I haven’t responded to yet; I’m still working on my email backlog.) Better yet, we received some fantastic news about support for the project, which is where I’ll begin this update.

The big news is that the Center for History and New Media has received an incredibly generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to help build major new features into the 2.0 release of Zotero (coming in 2007). Included in this substantial upgrade are great capabilities that beta testers are already clamoring for (as I’ll describe below). I’m deeply appreciative to the Mellon Foundation and especially Ira Fuchs and Chris Mackie for their support of the project, and we’re delighted to join the stable of other Mellon-funded, open-source projects that are trying to revolutionize higher education and the scholarly enterprise through the use of innovative information technology. We have a very ambitious set of goals we would like to accomplish in the next two years under Mellon funding, and we’re really excited to get started and push these advances out to an eager audience.

My thanks also to the beta testers who have reported bugs and sent in suggestions. (For a few early reviews and thoughts about Zotero, see posts on the blogs of Bill Turkel, Bruce D’Arcus (1, 2), Adrian Cooke, Jeanne Kramer-Smyth, and Mark Phillipson.) We’re planning on rolling all of the bug fixes and a few of the suggestions that we’ve already implemented into the public beta that will be released shortly. The most requested new features were auto-completion/suggestions for tags, better support for non-Western and institutional authors, full-text searches of articles that are saved into one’s Zotero collection, more import/export options, support for other online collections and resources, and the detection of duplicate records. The developers are working feverishly on all of these fronts, and I think the Beta 2 release (our public beta) will be considerably better because of all of this helpful feedback.

I have intentionally left out perhaps the most wanted feature: tools for collaboration. Some of those who have started to hack the software have noticed what we at the Center for History and New Media have been thinking about from the start—that it seems very easy to add ways to send and receive information to and from Zotero (it does reside in the web browser, after all). What if you could share a folder of references and notes with a colleague across the country? What if you could receive a feed of new resources in your area of interest? What if you could synchronize your Zotero library with a server and access it from anywhere? What if you could send your personal collection to other web services, e.g., a mapping service or text analyzer or translation engine?

I’m glad so many of us are thinking alike. Those are the issues we’ve just started to work on, thanks to the Mellon Foundation. Stay tuned for the Zotero server and additional exciting extensions to the Zotero platform.

And despite my email backlog, please do contact me if you would like to join the Zotero movement.

Introducing Zotero

Regular readers of this blog know that over the last year I have been trumpeting our forthcoming software tool for research that will enable vastly simplified citation management, note taking, and advanced scholarly research right within the Firefox browser. Over the past year, I have called this tool SmartFox, Firefox Scholar, and Scholar for Firefox. The domain for the original name was already taken, and the latter two names were too confusing (“Is that the same as Google Scholar?”). Last Friday, a final name was given to the project, a website launched, and a lucky group of people received the first beta. The word that will be on everyone’s lips this fall: Zotero (zoh-TAIR-oh).

I’ll write much more in this space about Zotero over the coming year (and beyond), since I conceive it not just as a free EndNote replacement (actually, it’s already much better than EndNote in only its 1.0 release), but as a platform for new kinds of digital research. The best place to begin to see what Zotero can do is by heading over to the site’s home page and the quick start guide.

But I wanted to devote this first post on Zotero to those who did the incredible job of developing the software: Dan Stillman, Simon Kornblith, and David Norton. While several of us at the Center for History and New Media thought deeply about what such a tool should look like, Dan, Simon, and David brilliantly executed our plan—and added countless touches and ideas of their own. When you see how amazing the results are, you’ll really appreciate their work.

Even though we’ve been relatively low-key about promoting Zotero as we fix some last-minute bugs, I’ve gotten dozens of messages over the last few days about the project. My blanket answer: we’ll have a public beta by the end of September 2006—thanks, of course, to Dan, Simon, and David.

Stay tuned to this blog and I’ll explain some of the more innovative features of Zotero. I’ll also show how researchers can best use the tool, describe how other software developers can extend it and link it to other web tools and services, and drop hints about our ambitious long-range plans.

Q and A on Firefox Scholar

Thanks so much everyone who emailed me over the past week in response to hearing about Firefox Scholar. It’s great to get a sense that a wide range of people (from a number of countries) feel that the time has come for this kind of enhanced scholarly web browser, and it gives our team at the Center for History and New Media a great deal of confidence as we move forward. I’ve received a lot of questions about the project, so I thought I would answer some of the common ones here.

I thought the name of this software was going to be Smartfox. Where did Firefox Scholar come from?
Yes, it’s true that the original name of the project was Smartfox, but after filing our grant proposal to the Institute of Museum and Library Services we discovered that someone had “created” (if we can generously call it that) a copy of an early version of Firefox and renamed it Smartfox. They also acquired the domain name. As so often happens with overlapping domains and names, if you search on Google for “Smartfox” you now get a confusing mix of hits which makes it seem like we are already producing the software. To make things clearer for everyone, we’ve changed the name to Firefox Scholar (which we actually like better). We plan on posting information about the project at (but not yet).

Are you going to use X, Y, or Z protocol/schema to acquire metadata about books, articles, and other objects on the web?
The short answer is yes. In other words, we plan on taking advantage of all existing standards and metadata schemas to acquire metadata into one’s Firefox Scholar folder. OAI, OpenURL, COinS—you name it, we want Firefox Scholar to be compatible with it and take advantage of it. The idea of Firefox Scholar is that there will be tiny widgets for each of these that will enable the browser to natively recognize and store their formats.

I want to beta test the software as soon as it’s available. And by the way, when will it be available?
Great! Just let me know via email and I’ll put you on the list. We plan to make an early version of the software available in the late summer of 2006.

Will the software be available for Internet Explorer?
Sorry, it’s only a set of extensions for Firefox. We understand that a lot of people use Internet Explorer, but among other things (better security, free and openly available source code) Firefox has terrific ways of extending and enhancing it. In turn, we would like to make our own software extensible and enhanceable, and encourage other developers to make additions to it.

I’m a developer and would like to get involved with the project. How can I do so?
Please contact me.

Introduction to Firefox Scholar

This week in the electronic version, and next week in the print version, the Chronicle of Higher Education is running an article (subscription required) on a new software project I’m co-directing, Firefox Scholar, which will be a set of extensions to the popular open source web browser that will help researchers, teachers, and students. My thanks to the many people who have emailed who are interested in the project. For them and for others who would like to know more, here’s a brief summary of Firefox Scholar from our grant proposal to the Institute for Museum and Library Services, which has generously provided $250,000 to initiate the project. Please contact me if you would like occasional updates on the project or would like a beta release of the browser when it is available in the late summer of 2006.

The web browser has become the primary means for accessing information, documents, and artifacts from libraries and museums around the country and the world, thanks in large part to the tremendous commitment these institutions have made to bringing their collections online (as either simple citations or complete text and images). Unfortunately for scholars, while tens of millions of dollars have been spent to create digital resources, far less funding and effort has been allocated for the development of tools to facilitate the use of these resources. The browser remains merely a passive window allowing one to view, but not easily collect, annotate, or manipulate these objects. Moreover, from the user’s perspective individual library and museum collections remain just that—separate websites with distinct designs and different ways of displaying their information, making traditional scholarly practices of bringing together and studying objects of interest from across these collections unnecessarily difficult.

Firefox Scholar, a set of tools incorporated into popular, open, and free web software, will address these major problems by creating a web browser that is “smarter” in two key ways. First, one tool will enable the browser to intelligently sense when its user is viewing a digital library or museum object; this will allow the browser to capture information from the page automatically, such as the creator, title, date of creation, and copyright information. Second, another tool will store and organize this information, as well as full copies of items and web pages (not just their citation information) if so desired by the user and permitted by the institution’s site, allowing the user to sort, annotate, search, and manipulate these individualized collections created for scholarly purposes. Critically, all of this will occur within the web browser itself, not in a separate, standalone application; the web browser will be used not just to discover information, but also to collect, organize, and analyze scholarly materials.