Category: Zotero

Video: The Ivory Tower and the Open Web

Here’s the video of my plenary talk “The Ivory Tower and the Open Web,” given at the Coalition for Networked Information meeting in Washington in December, 2010. A general description of the talk:

The web is now over twenty years old, and there is no doubt that the academy has taken advantage of its tremendous potential for disseminating resources and scholarship. But a full accounting of the academic approach to the web shows that compared to the innovative vernacular forms that have flourished over the past two decades, we have been relatively meek in our use of the medium, often preferring to impose traditional ivory tower genres on the web rather than import the open web’s most successful models. For instance, we would rather digitize the journal we know than explore how blogs and social media might supplement or change our scholarly research and communication. What might happen if we reversed that flow and more wholeheartedly embraced the genres of the open web?

I hope the audience for this blog finds it worthy viewing. I enjoyed talking about burrito websites, Layer Tennis, aggregation and curation services, blog networks, Aaron Sorkin’s touchiness, scholarly uses of Twitter, and many other high- and low-brow topics all in one hour. (For some details in the images I put up on the screen, you might want to follow along with this PDF of the slides.) I’ll be expanding on the ideas in this talk in an upcoming book with the same title.


Zotero Everywhere

Here’s the big news today from our Zotero project, or you can hear me do my best to explain what’s next for Zotero on the recording of today’s broadcast of the Zotero announcement.

We’re delighted to announce Zotero Everywhere, a major new initiative generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 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.

Zotero is the only research software that provides full and seamless access to a comprehensive range of open and gated resources. With a single click, Zotero users have long been able to add a complete journal article, book, or other resource to their personal libraries, including bibliographic metadata and attached files like PDFs. Until now, this powerful functionality has been tied exclusively to the Firefox browser, which not all researchers can or want to use. Today we are announcing support for Google Chrome, Apple Safari, and Microsoft Internet Explorer, which account for 98% of the web’s usage share. Plugins for these browsers will soon allow users to add anything they find on the web to their Zotero libraries with a single click, regardless of the their browser preferences. Rather than use the Zotero pane in Firefox, users will have the new option of accessing their libraries via a standalone desktop version of Zotero, available for Mac, Windows, and Linux.

Zotero’s web API offers any application developer the ability to access individual and group libraries via a simple, human-readable programming interface. Until now, this API has been “read-only”—users could view their libraries but they could not change them via the web or via the API. Today we’re announcing the opening of Zotero’s write API to the public over the coming months. Because Zotero “eats its own dog food”—we already use the very same programming interface to serve pages at—application developers can be confident that the public API will ultimately provide all the same functionality used internally at the Zotero project. With full read/write access to bibliographic data, attached files like PDFs, and the citation formatting engine, developers will be able to integrate a full range of Zotero features into their own web, mobile, and desktop applications, and users will be able to take advantage of this functionality at

Zotero Everywhere responds to the constantly changing needs of Zotero’s enormous research community. Downloaded millions of times since 2006 and used by hundreds of thousands of researchers daily, Zotero has grown to the world’s largest and most diverse online research community, with nearly 50 million library items presently synced to In addition to sharing their own individual libraries, Zotero users have formed over 25,000 collaborative research groups to pool references, share files, and coauthor manuscripts. By providing new ways of accessing and integrating this vast array of data, Zotero Everywhere will ensure that Zotero continues to be the catalyst for the next generation of research and scholarship.

Live Broadcast of “What’s Next for Zotero”

If you’re interested in what’s next for the Zotero project (hopefully your favorite open-source tool for research management), please tune in on Wednesday, September 22, at 11am EDT (1500 GMT) for a live broadcast of the announcement on the Center for History and New Media’s Ustream channel, followed by a question and answer session with the audience. This is a chance for the team behind Zotero to talk about where the project has come over the last four years, and the exciting new directions it will go in the coming years. Should be of interest to Zotero users as well as developers. Hope you’ll join us.

Zotero 2.0 Is Here!

Zotero LogoAfter an extensive development and testing period and the addition of even more features to make academic research easier, more collaborative, and ready for the future, Zotero 2.0 went public tonight. I’ll be blogging extensively about Zotero 2.0 in this space over the coming weeks and months as it continues to develop, but here’s a quick list of what you get with the major upgrade:


  • Automatic synchronization of collections among multiple computers. For example, sync your PC at work with your Mac laptop and your Linux desktop at home.
  • Free automatic backup of your library data on Zotero’s servers.
  • Automatic synchronization of your attachment files to a WebDAV server (e.g. iDisk, Jungle Disk, or university-provided web storage).


  • Zotero users get a personal page with a short biography and the ability to list their discipline and interests, create an online CV (simple to export to other sites), and grant access to their libraries.
  • Easily find others in one’s discipline or researchers with similar interests.
  • Follow other scholars—and be followed in return.


  • Create and join public and private groups on any topic.
  • Access in real time new research materials from your groups on the web or in the Zotero interface.
  • Easily move materials from a group stream into your personal library.

Even More Functionality That Makes Your Research Easier

  • Automatic detection of PDF metadata (i.e., author, title, etc.).
  • Automatic detection and support for proxy servers.
  • Trash can with restore item functionality so you don’t accidentally lose important materials.
  • Rich-text notes.
  • A new style manager allowing you to add and delete CSLs and legacy style formats.

As always, the real credit for Zotero goes to what Roy Rosenzweig aptly called “The People Who Did the Work”: Zotero co-director Sean Takats; lead developer Dan Stillman; developers Simon Kornblith, Jon Lesser, Faolan Cheslack-Postava, Fred Gibbs, Matt Burton; community lead Trevor Owens; integration advisor Raymond Yee; assistant Andrew Howard; and the scores of people beyond the Center for History and New Media who made contributions large and small to this open source project.

Zotero 2.0 was created with generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

New Functionality in Zotero 1.5

Zotero project Co-Director Sean Takats has the scoop on some great new features of the just-released update to Zotero 1.5 Sync Preview over on his delightfully named blog, The Quintessence of Ham.

Official Statement

George Mason University has just released an official statement about the Thomson Reuters lawsuit over the Center for History and New Media‘s Zotero, an open source competitor to TR’s EndNote:

The Thomson Reuters Corporation has sued the Commonwealth of Virginia over Zotero, a project based at George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media (CHNM). A free and open-source software initiative, Zotero aims to create the world’s best research tool and has already been adopted by hundreds of thousands of users at countless colleges and research universities. CHNM announces that it has re-released the full functionality of Zotero 1.5 Sync Preview to its users and the open source community. As part of its formal response to this legal action, Mason will also not renew its site license for EndNote.

As academics themselves, the creators of the Zotero project strive to serve the scholarly community and to respond to its needs in an age of digital research. In line with that simple goal, they maintain that anything created by users of Zotero belongs to those users, and that it should be as easy as possible for Zotero users to move to and from the software as they wish, without friction. CHNM concurs with the journal Nature, which recently editorialized about this matter: “The virtues of interoperability and easy data-sharing among researchers are worth restating.”

CHNM remains committed to the openness it has promoted since its founding at Mason in 1994 and to the freedoms of users of its websites and software. Its ambitious development cycle and plans for Zotero’s future remain unchanged. CHNM will continue to develop and implement new research technologies in the pursuit of better ways to create and share scholarship. CHNM greatly appreciates the many supportive comments it has received from scholars, librarians, and administrators around the globe.

Big Zotero News

No, not that other news.

For those using Zotero 1.5, you can now browse your Zotero library on your iPhone or iPod Touch. (Or from any web browser on a computer or phone.)

Just another way that the Zotero project keeps innovating to serve the academic community. And in case you missed it, we’ve also released over 1000 new bibliographic styles in the open CSL format and now have support for file syncing across computers. To stay up-to-date with all of the exciting Zotero news, subscribe to our blog.

Canadianization of Zotero

We were lucky to be joined this summer by Adam Crymble, a graduate student in history at the University of Western Ontario. And we were doubly lucky since he worked hard to make Zotero compatible with Canadian resources that were not previously compatible. Adam reports the results of his efforts on his blog, which should make Zotero even more attractive to Canadian academics—as well as anyone using the important databases and repositories he worked on. Thanks, Adam!

Zotero 1.5: Sync Preview and Much More

After nearly six months of extensive testing and tweaking, and with countless bug fixes done in progression with the movements of the Firefox 3 team, I’m pleased to report that the first version of Zotero that synchronizes with the much-awaited Zotero Server has been released for trial by the general public. Yes, you can now access your Zotero collection from anywhere and synchronize it across multiple machines (of any operating system). And of course the copy of your collection on our server means that you now have a free automatic backup of your Zotero library data.

[Long-time readers of this blog and my writing elsewhere know that this major update to Zotero was due some time ago; all I can say in my defense is that: 1) Firefox 3 was also supposed to be released last fall but finally was released at the end of June (and we needed Firefox 3 for the server versions of Zotero); 2) we’ve continued in the meantime to add dozens of new features and hundreds of new supported sites suggested in our forums to the “classic” version of Zotero; 3) synchronization of digital collections across multiple machines and our server is an outrageously difficult task (ask your local computer science guru); 4) we’ve also used the additional time to add functionality to Zotero 1.5 and subsequent versions that we believe will keep it far ahead of any commercial alternatives, and that will begin to enable Zotero’s communication with the Internet Archive. OK, enough of the mea culpas. Let’s get back to the exciting news.]

Although Zotero 1.5 maintains its easy-to-use iTunes-like interface, behind the scenes it includes a complex, robust communications and synchronization layer that provides the foundation for all subsequent releases of the software and our soon-to-come Zotero website and services, including public and private groups, collection sharing, and recommendations. This new layer also means that Zotero can begin to synchronize and link to other repositories, services, and applications on the Web. Although we have already gotten a lot of interest from outside software developers in creating extensions to Zotero, the new 1.5 will be another leap forward in allowing these developers to combine Zotero with whatever scholarly software or collections they are working on.

Other goodies we’ve thrown in (beyond this list of additions ported from 1.0) simply because we listen to our users and like to make them happy:

  • Even though Zotero has beaten Endnote in head-to-head competition, one point of comparison that some people thought Zotero was inferior on was its lack of the thousands of citation styles available on that commercial program. We still believe that the open source style system we have adopted, CSL (created by Bruce D’Arcus), is far more flexible and robust than the citation style systems of Endnote and other tools, and when you really look at the supposed “thousands of Endnote styles” they are really just many of copies of a limited number of styles with different journal names stuck on. Nevertheless we decided to make this point of comparison moot. Zotero users can now use Endnote styles as well as CSL styles, although we still plan to aggressively build out from the dozens of CSLs currently available and strongly encourage the creation and use of CSLs.
  • We have added preliminary support for ZeroConf. Let me translate the tech-speak: underneath the hood, Zotero now has the ability to broadcast collections over a local network, without going through the Zotero server. This means that a group of students in a classroom or academics at a conference can enable sharing and see and grab references or links from other users, much the same way that you can share your iTunes music library with others nearby. We plan to expand support for this feature in subsequent releases. (For now, it’s a bit hidden for testing.)

As always, when I use “we” in posts about Zotero, I mean our incredible team: the Center for History and New Media‘s Director of Research Projects Sean Takats (who has succeeded me in that role), Lead Developer Dan Stillman, Connie Sehat (former CHNM senior staffer who has just been hired as Emory‘s Director of Digital Scholarship), Zotero community liaison Trevor Owens, and the core developer team of Simon Kornblith, Jon Lesser, Michael Berkowitz, and Raymond Yee.

Why not take Zotero 1.5 for a spin (we include the normal caveats about beta software on our site, but in my experience it’s rather stable), extend it with plugins, or develop your own software for the Zotero platform?

Items of Interest for June 12, 2008