Anyone using Zotero as a tool for online ethnography, virtual ethnography, or online research?

Along with using Zotero as a reference manager, I am also using Zotero as a tool for doing web archiving as a part of doing online ethnography. This was not necessarily what Zotero was designed for, yet it seemed to make sense. Rather than have to collect screenshots of pages or do lots of "Save as..." in my browser, Zotero can save the entire look and feel of pages at the moment I saw them. I can annotate them on the fly. Tag/code them. Write up quick thoughts as I see them. In other words, I am experimenting with Zotero as a field notebook, yet one that is nonlinear, searchable, sortable, etc.

I have been doing this now for about a year with mixed results. I would love to talk to anyone else who has tried this, is thinking about, or is interested in thinking more about it.

  • Sure,

    I'm building some supervised text mining infrastructure on top of Zotero (mostly pretty naive stuff at the moment, but hopefully becoming more sophisticated as I get my head around what I want it to be able to do). The back story is that I'm doing some work for a group of organisational sociologists, and Zotero makes data collection, and data display so much more efficient that I can afford to spend half the time collecting the data, and the other half of the time working out ways of interrogating the fulltext data in an intelligent and effective manner. I'll hopefully be able to release the software in some form by the end of this year.

    Feel free to contact me by email or IM from the email address in my profile.
  • Thanks! Sounds interesting. I don't think it's quite what I had in mind, but would love to hear more and will email.
  • Yup, sort of.

    I have been developing a website (The Research Cooperative, for researchers, science writers, editors translators, publishers etc., etc. - i.e. what hope is the full spectrum of people involved in research and research-based writing and publishing (for books, journals, etc.).

    I view this as an exercise in applied anthropology: writing and publishing represent a bottleneck in the process of doing research and communicating results to audiences. My aim is to ease the bottleneck by improving communication within research-related communities.

    In the process, I need to look for effective ways to promote the site across the internet, and Zotero has become useful tool for keeping track of where I have been and where I want to go, as I visit sites and follow links. Just now, I am wondering how I can promote Zotero within the Research Cooperative network, for the benefit of our members.

    Any thoughts on this last matter would be welcome!

    Peter Matthews
  • Sure,

    As Matthews (congratulations!) I'm using zotero with my website
    to create IT bibliographies.

    Comments or help are Welcome

  • Hello,
    Are you still using it? I am about to undertake a research projet in which I will be using community group websites as a source of data.

    You say you have had mixed results?
  • I'm ambivalent about Zotero and other reference managers. Everyone agrees they're great for managing references! But that's a small part of most research projects. Aside from fieldwork, there's collecting, sorting and arranging key texts. You collect them. You decide the classification needs changing. You re-arrange. Etc etc...

    Hitherto I've downloaded pdfs to Windows Explorer. Two software add-ons (FileMetadata and the Adobe Preview function) allow me to comment these pdfs. That helps the flow of the research process, clarifies discovery of sources - they can be kept in a folder, it becomes very clear what is inside (without opening pdfs), and they can be briefly annotated.

    It is not ideal. You can accumulate lots of identical pdfs in different places. Of course, it doesn't provide bibliographic referencing.

    Discussions of the uses to which reference managers are put and in what ways they help researchers (the core reference management function aside) seem elusive. I don't find any on the web. I assume such discussions happen round the water-cooler.

    Simply dumping files into Windows Explorer seems more secure than Zotero. Each pdf is stored under its own name, not attached to a record via a machine-code reference. It also consumes less disk-space.

    But not being a long-term Zotero user, I don't know if Zotero is ultimately going to be a more productive pdf store, re-arranger, and manipulator. Am I going to regret not keeping everything in Zotero? Or for storage and manipulation - pure reference management aside - is Zotero going to be more trouble than it is worth?
  • Obviously you're not going to find many Zotero skeptics posting here.

    If you have significant research experience (i.e. PhD+) and you're happy with you current system, I'm not in the business of talking people out of workflows that work for them. Keep doing what you're doing if it works for you.

    But if you're either just starting with serious research or are looking for changes/improvements, here are some reasons why you may want to use a reference manager. Obviously I think Zotero is your best choice, but most of this can be done in one way or the other by any good product:

    I'd preface this by saying that I think the reference function alone is quite important. Referencing is exactly the type of tedious and error-prone activity you should use software for. That said, non-referencing related advantages:

    1. Much better classification and searching: By storing articles et al. with their metadata, it's much easier to both find individual articles ("that article by Meyer that had "labor" in the abstract") and to look through a series of articles ("I'm going to take all articles with "labor" in the title and sort them chronologically")

    2. Much more nimble organization: I can have the same Zotero item in multiple collections, move it around as I want without having to actually move let alone duplicate files on my harddisk. So, for example, I can have an item in a topical collection for "labor markets" but can also include it in a collection for a lit review that I'm currently writing.

    3. If it works (see your other thread), getting the PDF and the initial info onto your computer is much faster. With Zotero, even if you don't remember to annotate, label etc. a downloaded PDF right away, you'll have it stored with all relevant metadata and thus easy to find.

    4. You can use tools like ZotFile to interact with the annotations in your PDFs, store them in notes, have links to specific text passages in your PDFs from Zotero notes. You can use text analysis tools like papermachines etc.

    5. Much of the downsides are non-existent: There's nothing "safer" about your own file organization. Zotero will let you export your files to any other reference manager. It's trivially easy to get all PDFs in the Zotero storage folder into a single folder with a simple search in your operating system. If you really don't like that option, there are always options like ZotFile that will create a file structure according to your preferences and outside Zotero storage. For PDFs, the additional space required is minimal.
  • I'd like to share a screenshot I've taken of my 'customized' Windows Explorer interface which I find convenient. I'm wondering if anything similar can be done in Zotero, it seems that the screen layout is somewhat inflexible, especially the right screen.
    (to view the file, click "Download" within the DropBox page itself).
  • There is not--and likely will not be any time soon if ever--a PDF preview option. You can have a look at to get a quick look on space bar (works best on Mac, Windows might require some fiddling).

    For the comments, you can do two things: either write them in the extra field and display that in the center panel or write them in a note and expand items so that you can see their title (which is the first x number of characters).

    You can then sort by the Extra column or by the Notes column (depending on which option you choose) and use secondary sort by date or any other option you'd like.

    It may be possible to collapse the right-hand panel in the future, but don't count on that happening super soon if it's important to you.
  • hmm, no way to do "Quick Look" in the standalone mac version, is there? seems like it ought to be easy to implement (says the non technical guy). I'm a newbie and still trying to figure out how much better migrating from "safari with standalone" to "integrated firefox" would be... I'll do both for a while. and all seems better than Sente, which I'd struggle with for years...
  • QuickLook does work under Standalone. You can download the .xpi file from mozilla to your harddisk and install in in Standalone under tools --> add-ons.
  • Why yes it does, thanks much adamsmith. Works like a charm. Hmm, time to explore other add ins....
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