Custom fields - on the radar at all?

I was wondering what the status of having the ability to add custom fields to Zotero is? I've seen a couple of discussion threads with people asking for this facility, but most seem quite old, so I was just wondering if anything like this happenned or was decided against for a specific reason?

Custom fields would be very useful, particularly if they could be added to the article list view as many of the other fields can.

Here are some examples that I would find useful:

There is a pages fields already, but typically it is filled with values such as 123-150. This is correct and required for citations, but when actually dealing with and managing papers it is helpful to just know how many pages long a document is - helps to know when one has time to read an article (obviously you can work it out, but usability is all about convenience).

Another useful field for actually using one's library is priority or order. It is crucial this is available to be added to the article list, so that one can then order and sort by it.

Also a field for whether articles have been read, need rereading, have had notes taken, etc. That kind of thing. This functionality can be implemented by tags, I realise. And this is how I do use this facilities, but one downside of the tags is that you cannot see at a glance, for a list of articles, what their status is.

How easy would it be to have an option to add a column to the article list view which displays whether the article possesses some subset of tags (it would need to be a subset because otherwise they'd simply be too many)??

I do realise that these are user-level fields and not really something you'd want adding to a document's entry in a database, especially if the database is shared. But it would be great if Zotero had this kind of user-orientated feature. Presently I achieve the same results Call number, Rights, and Language fields.

Anyway, Zotero is amazing software, thanks to all the developers.
  • ps: if anyone has another method of achieving these organisational results which is a bit cleaner than my solution of appropriating incorrect fields I'd be very grateful to hear about it.
  • Custom fields will not be implemented because Zotero is rooted in the idea of standardized and interchangeable data.

    More visual tags (with color coding, along the lines of what gmail does) are planned, though afaik not imminent.

    I would strongly advise against mis-using fields - there is no guarantee that this won't lead to undesirable results later on - specifically the language field will likely become used more heavily in a future version and having random input will not be good.
  • Custom fields will not be implemented because Zotero is rooted in the idea of standardized and interchangeable data.
    Those are certainly the problems, but that doesn't mean they couldn't be worked around. We've never said that custom fields definitely won't happen.

    Color coding of tags has already been partially implemented on the trunk and will be available in the next major release of Zotero.

    Misusing fields is highly discouraged, for the reasons adamsmith notes.
  • Hi guys,

    Many thanks for your responses, I appreciate them. I understand the concern over misusing fields, and I'd definitely prefer not to do it. Openness and compatibility of data is a big deal.

    My issue is that I use Zotero as a tool for managing academic research and a key aspect of that management is keeping track of how I'm related to each article (have I read it, made notes, think its good, etc). If I didn't misuse those fields, I'd probably be back with the spreadsheet.

    I'd be really interested in hearing from other people using Zotero for managing big writing research projects (like PhDs) how they solve these problems. Maybe people just use other tools? But then the usefulness of Zotero just goes way down.

    Anyway, I'm excited about the new tags functionality. My problems could almost be solved with a feature whereby custom columns could be added which showed a user-pickable subset of tags (this would allow ranking and priorities, even if in a hacked-manner, as well as status fields).

  • BTW, you could get half way to the feature I'm after: if you tagged different entries with tags such as "priority_0", "priority_1", "priority_2", etc, and then did a saved search matching "priority_".

    The two things this solution would miss: first, and crucially, no sorting by the tag in the resultant article list, second, less of an issue, no at-a-glance overview b/c the tag wouldn't appear in the article list.

    It would also be harder to manage: if you ever edited priority you'd have to constantly remember to remove the old one.

    Still, better than nothing perhaps. The lack of sorting means it wouldn't quite push me to stop misusing fields however.
  • edited July 2, 2011
    Just for future reference, my request for sorting / ordering by custom fields is very similar to these requests:
  • I don't think those threads actually have much to do with your request. Those are about arbitrary custom ordering of Zotero items—as in, by dragging items around in the items list—which is a different thing entirely.
  • sikittle - just to clarify: The reason we advise against misusing fields is not that we want to ensure some abstract notion of data purity, but that we can't guarantee that it won't lead to problems for you in future versions of Zotero.

    An example:
    Some common styles - e.g. MLA - convert titles to "title case." Title case, however, only exists for English titles. So the next version of Zotero will parse the language field and will _not_ apply title case when the language field starts with a two letter code other than "en" - if you have random stuff in your language field, that will mess with capitalization in your bibliography.

    Nothing similar I know of is planned for the other fields you've been using so far, but that is no guarantee it won't be in the future. So you're doing this at your own risk and you don't get to complain if it leads to trouble down the road ;-).
  • Dan: Yeah okay, fair enough, it is different - to be more precise, those other threads only capture half of what I was after though. The ability to manually change the order by dragging (33), to manually order the collection (694), or to sort the collection using a custom number field (2909), would all amount to a solution to my "order / Priority" request. I figured they were close enough to mention.

    The other aspect of what I was after was the the at-a-glance-overview issue, which wouldn't be solved. This at-a-glance-issue also had a sorting component though, and the sorting-aspect of this could be solved with a solution to (33) or (694), albeit in a very hacked-up way, because one could have multiple collections (each containing the same articles) and then sort each one differently as per the needs.

    adamsmith: Thanks for the clarification, and the point is well taken. I will be sure not to post asking for help if anything like that happens :) I will also aim to stop my use of these fields (esp. language) as soon as I can by keeping an eye out for other solutions.
  • I'd be really interested in hearing from other people using Zotero for managing big writing research projects (like PhDs) how they solve these problems. Maybe people just use other tools? But then the usefulness of Zotero just goes way down.
    I've written several papers and a doctoral dissertation using Zotero. I use a mix of Zotero features to manage my reading work:
    1. tags ("need to get", "need to scan", "need to read", etc.) to manage my reading stack (you can use saved searches to display all items with a certain tag)
    2. collections to organize by project (e.g. all sources I want to read for or cite in a specific paper)
    3. notes for reading notes and core quotes etc.
    4. tags again to mark certain notes as "research notes" and others as "quotable quotes"
    5. the "related" function to link notes to related items, connecting threads of ideas
    6. a saved search of recently added items (described here)
    And some more things that I'm overlooking right now.

    On balance, I think Zotero has a remarkably good feature set for doing everything from a single paper to a monster project like a dissertation. Certainly it can do more than EndNote or other commercial competitors have ever offered.
  • Thank you mark, I appreicate your comments. The saved search of recently added items is a great tip.
  • I have, beginning with a discussion with somewhat different motivations, ended up making a case for custom fields in this thread as well:

    Sikittle, you may find a lot of what I mention of relevance to managing very large research projects.
  • Thanks for the heads up adamgolding. I couldn't find any post by yourself on that linked-to thread however (unless it's under a different username).
  • Oops, yes, fbennet got it right :-)
  • Ah yes. That's a very interesting thread, thanks for bringing it to my attention via this one.

    I still use a number of the rarely used fields as custom fields. It is far from ideal, but the usefulness gained is worth it. And like you, when I need to do advanced stuff, I have to export to Excel.

    I tend to check up on the alternatives every now and again; when one of them implements custom fields I'll switch, but for now, Zotero still saves me time as compared to not using any ref management software.
  • I'd like to add to the need for customizable fields by including a quick visual reference for read/unread articles. As I conduct searches for articles I export the citation to Zotero, but have not found an easy way to document which articles I have actually read. The Notes feature is great, but there is not a quick way of browsing the database to locate articles I have read while still seeing the ones I have not. If I am missing this option I would appreciate assistance and guidance to it.

    Another field that I would like is a way to track the articles that I have printed and where they are located. Recently I consolidated my printed articles into binders, but now need a way of tracking the binder they are located in. I would love to go entirely electronic, but it will take time to convert all my paper notes to electronic format.

    I selected Zotero, because of the ease to edit the PDFs using Adobe Acrobat. However, I would really like a displayable read field like in Mendeley. Add to that another visual field that signals that the article is printed, and when clicked it should include notes that will direct me to the printed copy of the article.

    With these two additions this would be a program that perfectly meets my needs as I attempt to consolidate my printed and electronic resources, and work to finish my PhD courses. When evaluating available programs I made a few notes that are posted on my blog. Hope they help.
  • for "read" and "print" etc. tags are much better suited than custom fields (see mark's post above) - and they're already implemented. In the next major version, they'll likely include color coding along the lines of gmail labels, making quick visual scanning even faster.
  • Thank you Adam, but the tags feature that Mark talks about above doesn't meet my needs at this point. While working with the articles a quick reference on the opening window of Zotero is what I am referring to. The color coding that you mention would help meet my needs but only if multiple colors can be applied (one for printed, one for read, one for highly relevant, etc.).

    Personally, the ability to add at tag field to Zotero's opening window is what I am hoping for (which could be accomplished with color if done right). Too many clicks and the function is no longer helpful, which is the case right now for the tags. I have to click the reference, then click the tags button to see if the article has been read or printed. Not a big deal if I'm only looking at one article, but when I'm preparing for a class there can be 20-50 articles that I need to review and annotate. Same will be true as I complete my comprehensive exam and dissertation. The less clicks the better!

    I still need to explore the collections feature to see if that can help me solve some of the organization problems. Time is of the essence so I need something that can be explored quickly and easily.

    I love the accuracy (APA6) of Zotero's citations and the ease of copying the citation for use in Evernote or Word. At this point, an quick and easy visual way to track read/print is the only thing missing for me. I haven't searched the site, but when is the next version expected to be released?

    Thanks for your prompt response. Greatly appreciate as I work to build an accurate collection of my readings.
  • You can filter by tags using the tag selector on the left - that way you can see all articles that have a tag - say "read" - or "unread". I understand that's not 100% what you're looking for - you can't identify right away if a given article is read or unread (hence the planned color coding, which will of course have different colors - look at gmail if you're not familiar), but if you slightly adjust your workflow it should do what you want.

    Alternatively, note that Zotero collections aren't physical folders - one item can be in multiple collections. You can also use those for read/unread/printed etc.

    Custom fields are a _long_ way out, if they're ever going to happen, so don't wait for that.
  • Thanks. Is there an ETA of when the color coding will be released? It sounds like it could meet my needs. Especially if it displays on the opening window.
  • edited April 20, 2012
    It'll be in the next major version, 3.5, but no ETA on that.

    In the current implementation (which is disabled in the code), it only colors the row in the middle pane, and there's no mechanism for choosing which color prevails (which is part of the reason it hasn't yet been turned on). We could possibly add an optional column that showed patches for selected colors, which would be a somewhat less objectionable approach to the request for tags in the middle pane. No promises there, though. But at the very least, you'll be able to set tag colors and choose the priority in which they color rows in the middle pane.
  • Thank you Dan. That sounds very interesting, especially your mention of the possibility of the patches. I look forward to seeing how it progresses. If you need a tester, please feel free to contact me. <smile>
  • hi shuibregtse,

    It sounds like what you're after is very similar to one aspect of what I was after when I originally posted.

    One thing you can do is setup saved searches based on the tags. This allows you to quickly navigate to sets of documents, such as ones you've read. Used in conjunction with the tag box, which can filter the presently selected collection/search, it can be quite helpful.

    This might go some way, but it's not precisely what you want. The problem with it is, the selection box on the left is initially filled with all the tags that are used by the presently visible documents. This means that (a) the list is constantly changing, and (b) the list will often be very large, and both of these things mean the tag you're interested in won't always be in the same easily accessible position, and finding it will often be quite annoying (it's not automatic, you have to think, search, etc).

    Furthermore, it will be very often by quite fiddly if you want, for example, to flick between items in a collection you've read and then the ones you've printed, *quickly*. The reason is that once you've filtered by one tag, the tags displayed are limited to those which now apply to the displayed items. So suppose you have a collection where half the articles have been read (but not printed), and half printed. You're viewing that collection, and you want to see the ones you've read, so you click that tag, now the print tag disappears because it doesn't apply to anything. So to then look at the ones you've printed you'd have to unselect the 'read' tag, scroll through the list of tags once again, and click 'print'. It won't be useful if what you're after is, above all, something quick.

    You could setup a saved search for some topic-tag and some status-tag (such as 'read', 'print'), or any combination thereof, as well as other criteria. You may find this helps. I've not found it feasible, because you don't always know what you want in advance. You might, for example, have 5-6 status tags depicting how the article relates to you (read, not-read, taken notes, printed, get-from-library, etc, etc). And suppose you have 4 projects for which you have 4 collections. Then to be sure of having the view you might want easily accessible you'd have to setup a saved search for each combination that you might possibily, at some time want to look at, and then you'll probably find the saved searches just become unmanageable.

    The other thing, of course, is that all of the above has already given up on the ability to compare and contrast the items of one list. You have to view one subset, and then view another subset.

    You could do what I've done in the past (and still do to a limited degree), and use various fields that tend to be unused. That is quite frowned upon though, as you'll see from earlier in the thread. The only alternative I see is exporting to excel and doing some management and analysis there, but obviously that only works one-way and might defeat the point of using Zotero at all.

    Please do post if you find ways of solving these kinds of problems.
  • sikittle,
    Thank you very much for taking the time to expand the workaround you have found. As you mentioned, the process you describe is very time consuming and doesn't allow me to develop an extensive database with the quick references. I am really looking to find a way not to keep multiple versions of my information, so the Excel option does not tempt me (as logical as it is).

    At this point, I have been keeping Zotero and Mendeley (offers the capability of monitoring folders to automatically import new references) current with my references. What I may end up doing is using Zotero to collect my citations (accuracy of references & ease of transfer), but Mendeley (ease of use & noting) to utilize my citations. I'd prefer to stay in Zotero. I do not like this idea, but I need to have something in place before my comprehensive exam in January.

    Zotero is my preferred program, but I will keep you posted on how I proceed as I utilize the programs more this term.
  • This means that (a) the list is constantly changing, and (b) the list will often be very large, and both of these things mean the tag you're interested in won't always be in the same easily accessible position, and finding it will often be quite annoying (it's not automatic, you have to think, search, etc).
    Both of those concerns can be quite easily addressed by naming your read/printed tags as "*printed" or "__read", etc.

    This way they will always appear at the top of the list (unless you have some other tags starting with non-alphanumeric characters)
  • Yep, that's true. That will give them much more stable positions than otherwise, especially if your list of meta/status tags is stable, and if you always keep the side panel the same width / view it on the same size monitor.

    You can also try to make the tag window deliberately narrow in an attempt to limit the number of tags per line: that is, if the side panel is so narrow that it only displays one tag per line, then it is much, much easier to scan and search through. This isn't typically possible though, because if it gets too narrow it "snaps" closed (i.e., the side panel gets turned off).
  • Thinking about colored tags, it would be very nice to be able to defined "colorsets" in addition to the default.

    For example, when setting up a lecture reading list, I might want to browse rankings (Green, Yellow, Red) based on clarity. For a seminar, I might want to browse the same set of materials ranked as before, during and after some change in a legal standard. The ability to select which set of criteria to foreground with color hints in the center pane listing would be good fun.
  • Just thought I'd check and confirm that custom fields were still not available and that I hadn't missed a thread with updated information. Any updated information would be greatly appreciated.
  • edited August 30, 2014
    nothing new, not going to happen in the foreseeable future.
    (edit: color coding has been live since Zotero 4.0, though)
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