Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Web 2.0, CiteULike and Mekentosj Papers

Roland Krause bookmarked a great post: "Why Web 2.0 is failing in Biology" by David Crotty. That I got to know about this post just by subscribing to his links in del.icio.us is a success of Web 2.0. I'm just not sure if the same successes are already in reach in the context of science. I especially agree with David Crotty's observations about entry barriers: Unless new tools/communities make it very easy to use them and provide great benefit, the rate of adoption will be low.

From my personal experience, I can share this: Almost two years ago, I participated in giving a series of talks about Web 2.0 and how it might impact biology. Looking back, I'm not sure many things have changed. I have been using CiteULike for the past three years or so, but I think I will now switch to Papers. CiteULike allows me to bookmark and tag my papers, but when I search my library I mostly use a custom Google search for the specific author.

Papers lets you easily create a collection of all PDFs you ever read. Thanks to Spotlight, you can perform full text searches on the articles and quickly retrieve the paper you have in mind. This avoids the overhead of applying tags to papers that you actually don't end up using. (GMail is another case in point: a quick search function eliminates the need for an intricate folder structure.)

I can't remember a specific case where the "Web 2.0" functions of CiteULike ever worked for me. Peeking in the bibliographies of other people can be interesting if you have some bookmarked papers in common, but the signal-to-noise ratio is very low. So, unless you know specific people or groups to follow, you'll most only use CiteULike in "Web 1.0 mode". And then we come back to the initial observation: If a web tool is more complicated or less featured than the desktop (or even, paper) version, it won't be used much.

Update: Mendeley might be the Windows equivalent some of you have been looking for (15/08/08, more in this post).


Unknown said...

One argument that springs to mind is the eMusic/Amazon model versus the music subscription model (like Rhapsody or the current Napster). Is it better to keep all your music online, under someone else's control, or do you want to pay a little more and own it?

With Papers/Yep, I have constant access to my tags, and to the pdf's I've downloaded. With CiteULike/Connotea, I need to have internet access, and I need to be at an institution that subscribes to the journal in question. If either site pulls the plug and goes away, my tags are lost (unless I've gone to the trouble of backing them up or exporting them). If the companies behind Papers/Yep go away, I've still got my tags and my pdf files.

dullhunk said...

Hi Michael, Interesting post. I think it will take a while for Web 2.0 to have an impact in Biology, some people argue it takes 30 years for any technology to make its mark .

As far as Publishing is concerned, a large part of the problem is that the data and metadata are managed seperately. If metadata was embedded in pdf files in sensible ways, tools like Mekentosj Papers could be a LOT better than they are currently. See Why can’t I manage academic papers like MP3s? The evolution and intent of metadata standards for a description of the problems.

And what about those poor unofortunate people who don't use macs? Papers is no good to them?

Michael Kuhn said...

Well, Web 1.0 has already revolutionized the way we work as scientists, in particular the access to papers. However, you could argue that online journals are just a convenient extensions of normal journals. Web/Science 2.0 is much more of a paradigm shift towards more collaboration and more openness, and this might certainly take a long time.

I think Papers (and CiteULike) are quite good in "rescuing" the metadata from PubMed etc. Given that papers can already now find documents by DOI on PubMed, it seems sufficient to embed the DOI as meta-data field in the PDFs. The people behind Papers are actually trying to implement a CDDB-type approach to automatically connect PDFs and matched records.

As for the Windows users, I don't know... I guess Papers profits a lot from built-in Mac OS X technologies like PDF viewers and indexing with Spotlight.