SYNCHRONIZING Zotero on multiple computers

Like many folks, I use multiple computers, and like others, I am waiting for version 2.x to provide server-side support for data synchronizing. Others have noted that if you have a server space accessible from remote machines, you can do a work around on the problem of synchronizing your Zotero files. If you don't, or if using your server space is way too complicated (like requiring FTP or SSH protocols), here are three other things you can try, using a jump (or "thumb") drive that you use on multiple Windows systems. This is a long-winded posting, but the basic idea behind these approaches is really pretty simple:

1. BACK UP YOUR FILES BEFORE YOU TRY THIS! Just in case you do something weird, or click on the wrong button, or have to refine the procedures to make this work for your personal practices. And be aware that THIS IS NOT FOR YOU IF YOU ARE NOT AN ORGANIZED DATA MANAGER (which is not likely if you are reading this right now!)

2. If necessary, clean up your Zotero data on your multiple machines. Using the most complete, most up-to-date data files you have, copy and paste them into a folder on your jump drive. Give the folder an appropriate name; I am partial to "Zotero". This will be your "master" data folder.

3. Create a "Briefcase" for your Zotero directory on each of your computers. (Give it a user-friendly name -- I just use "Zotero"-- and put it in a easily remembered place. My Documents is a likely choice, but I just put it on the Desktop).

2. On each of your computers, make the Briefcase you created the default directory for your Zotero data. (In Zotero, go to: Actions>Preferences>Advanced. Choose "Custom" for your Data Storage Location, click "Choose" and find your Briefcase. Zotero will tell you this isn't a standard storage location type, but that you can choose it if you wish, which is what you do at this point.)

3. Copy the "master" data file from the jumpdrive to the Briefcase on each of your computers. Now all of your machines have the same data files.

4. Go back to work, using Zotero as you normally would. You will use the jumpdrive to coordinate your Zotero files, viz: Carry that little bugger with you all the time! After you are done working on one of your machines, plug in the jump drive, select the Zotero Briefcase on your computer, and click "Update All". When you work on a different machine, plug in the jump drive, click the Zotero Briefcase on that machine, and click on "Update All." The data from machine 1 has been copied to the "master data file" on the jump drive, and now it is on machine 2. Make this procedure habitual, and you should be able to keep all of your Zotero data files coordinated.

BE WARNED: The data in the "master" overwrites your local data. If you add data on one of your machines, then forget to add it to the "master," you will lose that additional data next time you update your Briefcase. (Like I said, this is not for the organizationally challenged).

Coordination demands are the disadvantage of this approach; the advantage of this approach is that you have (hopefully up to date!) Zotero data files on all of your machines. Thus, you don't need your jumpdrive to do research with Zotero -- but you will need it to coordinate your data on different machines.

Install Portable Firefox on your jumpdrive. Install Zotero. Use the Portable Firefox on the jumpdrive as your research browser.

The advantage of this approach is that you don't have to coordinate files; the disadvantage is that if you don't have your jumpdrive, you're basically screwed if you want to use Zotero.

This is a hybrid of A and B, and is actually the procedure I use: Follow the instructions for Approach B. Make the Zotero data file for the Portable Firefox on the jump drive the "master file" that updates your Zotero Briefcases on your local computers. If you have read this far, you shouldn't have any trouble figuring out how this is done.

The advantage of this approach is that if you have your jumpdrive, you have Firefox and your Zotero files wherever you go -- on machines at the library, a colleague's office, the local Internet Cafe, traveling around the world, whatever. You also have (hopefully!) up to date files on all of your personal computers.

The disadvantage is that like approach A, you have to make sure you are updating your files whenever you change them on your local machines.

Hope this helps the mobile researchers out there!

--Steve Leonard
Political Science
UNC Chapel Hill
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