At the end of last year, we had the pleasure of presenting our publication of Lennart Purucker‘s Master thesis at the 22nd IEEE International Conference on Data Mining (ICDM) in Florida, USA! Lennart worked on Meta-Learning for Subgroup Discovery during his Master’s thesis at the RWTH Aachen University. As part Read more…
Which one is the best reference management software? That’s a question any student or researcher should think about quite carefully, because choosing the best reference manager may save lots of time and increase the quality of your work significantly. So, which reference manager is best? Zotero? Mendeley? Docear? …? The answer is: “It depends”, because different people have different needs. Actually, there is no such thing as the ‘best’ reference manager but only the reference manager that is best for you (even though some developers seem to believe that their tool is the only truly perfect one).
In this Blog-post, we compare Zotero, Mendeley, and Docear and we hope that the comparison helps you to decide which of the reference managers is best for you. Of course, there are many other reference managers. Hopefully, we can include them in the comparison some day, but for now we only have time to compare the three. We really tried to do a fair comparison, based on a list of criteria that we consider important for reference management software. Of course, the criteria are subjectively selected, as are all criteria by all reviewers, and you might not agree with all of them. However, even if you disagree with our evaluation, you might find at least some new and interesting aspects as to evaluate reference management tools. You are very welcome to share your constructive criticism in the comments, as well as links to other reviews. In addition, it should be obvious that we – the developers of Docear – are somewhat biased. However, this comparison is most certainly more objective than those that Mendeley and other reference managers did ;-).
Please note that we only compared about 50 high-level features and used a simple rating scheme in the summary table. Of course, a more comprehensive list of features and a more sophisticated rating scheme would have been nice, but this would have been too time consuming. So, consider this review as a rough guideline. If you feel that one of the mentioned features is particularly important to you, install the tools yourself, compare the features, and share your insights in the comments! Most importantly, please let us know when something we wrote is not correct. All reviewed reference tools offer lots of functions, and it might be that we missed one during our review.
The table above provides an overview of how Zotero, Mendeley, and Docear support you in various tasks, how open and free they are, etc. Details on the features and ratings are provided in the following sections. As already mentioned, if you notice a mistake in the evaluation (e.g. missed a key feature), please let us know in the comments.
If you don’t want to read a lot, just jump to the summary
We believe that a reference manager should offer more features than simple reference management. It should support you in (1) finding literature, (2) organizing and annotating literature, (3) drafting your papers, theses, books, assignments, etc., (4) managing your references (of course), and (5) writing your papers, theses, etc. Additionally, many – but not all – students and researchers might be interested in (6) socializing and collaboration, (7) note, task, and general information management, and (8) file management. Finally, we think it is important that a reference manager (9) is available for the major operating systems, (10) has an information management approach you like (tables, social tags, search, …), and (11) is open, free, and sustainable (see also What makes a bad reference manager).
Since March, Docear offers a simple web-based mind map viewer, developed with some of our volunteering students, and supported by the Freeplane team. On next Friday, July 12th, at 10:30am the students will present their final work at the HTW in Berlin. You are sincerely invited to join the presentation and be first to see Docear’s new collaboration and synchronization feature. The work is not yet ready to be released to the public but we hope to completely finish the work in the next few months. However, even the preview is really amazing! Compared to the current online viewer the new “Docear Web” offers lots of features. First of all, you can edit your mind maps online and not only on your own but together with your colleagues. The collaboration works both with your local desktop Docear and with your web-based Docear. That means, you can just start Docear Desktop as you are used to and colleagues of you may work on the same mind maps you are editing either on the Web or with Docear Desktop as well. Collaboration is in real-time, similarly to Google Docs. In addition, there is a Dropbox-like utility that synchronizes all your data between different devices (and the Web). As said, not everything is already fully functional but the preview version has at least all the basic features and gives you a very good idea what to expect for the final version.
A few month ago we announced to develop an add-on allowing researchers to collaborate on the same data. Well, we haven’t finished this completely yet but the first step is done. In the past few month we developed an online viewer that allows you to view your backuped mind maps in your web browser. Right now the viewer is only capable of displaying very small mind maps but it’s our highest priority to improve the performance so you can also view larger mind maps. In addition, the online viewer displays only the basic elements such as nodes and edges. Other features such as attributes are not yet displayed but, again, we are working on it :-). Of course, this is just the beginning. As a next step Docear Online will allow you to edit your mind maps online. The following step will enable you to work simultaneously with different researchers on the same data either in your browser or with your desktop version of Docear.
To have a look at the preview version of Docear Online, go to https://my.docear.org and log in with your Docear user name and password. You will be able to view all those mind maps that have been created with the desktop version of Docear and that have been backuped with it. Simply select your mind map in the upper-right corner in the menu. To activate the backup function start Docear Desktop and open Tools->Preferences->Online Services->Manage Docear Service Settings.
Last year in July we met the core developers of the mind mapping software Freeplane in Munich (Docear’s mind mapping component is based on Freeplane). At that meeting we decided that Freeplane and Docear would closely cooperate. Now, more than a year later it was time to meet again and discuss the next big steps in the development of Freeplane and Docear. So we met this weekend in Magdeburg, Docear’s “headquarter”. And while last year six people attended the meeting, this year we were nine participants (three from Docear, three from Freeplane and three students from HTW Berlin) plus one Freeplane developer attending via video. In the following I would like to provide a brief overview of the discussed topics and results.
There is amazing news – Docear cooperates with the HTW Berlin (Berlin’s university of applied sciences for technology and economy). We will supervise the Master’s projects of five students (Alexander, Florian, Julius, Michael, and Paul). Other than at most other universities, the student’s goal is not to do some theoretical work but gaining some real-world development experience– by joining Docear’s development team. That means, we roughly double our development power and we are not talking about a few weeks internship. We are talking about the next eight months working almost half-time, so there should really be some noteworthy results. We still have to discuss what exactly “The Five” will be doing but since all of them prefer web development and design, it will be definitely something web-based. Right now we are considering a simple web-version of Docear and a synchronization add-on to sync your files between different computers and the Web. Ideally, the add-on additionally allows you to work collaboratively on the same data with other Docear users.