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Zotero: Should I Take The Plunge?

November 12, 2008

I’m thinking hard about diving into Zotero. This could mean big changes for me. First, I’m a fan of Internet Explorer. Second, when I do things like this, I go full in: I’m committed. Third, I have no prior experience with EndNote or related citation software. So here are some questions for my predecessors in this endeavor:

1. What are my alternatives?
2. What problems have you encountered with Zotero?
3. What are the odds Zotero will be obsolete in a few years? I mean, this is my life. I can’t be changing programs every 3 years. It’s just too disruptive.
4. When you need help, can you get it? Is there a solid support team for Zotero users? I guess this is related to #2 above.
5. Will I be okay with Firefox?
6. Can I save my “Zotero Files” on my flash drive? This isn’t all stored in Firefox, right?
7. Anything I’m forgetting?

Thanks in advance for your help. – TL


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  1. A lot of your questions can be answered by looking through the zotero forums and possibly posting a note there.


  2. I had a few concerns about function in “the old days” – 2 years ago – but I love it now. Not sure I can answer everything, but I'll say there's good information out there – not necessarily from Zotero, but users are willing to help. You can copy your stuff wherever you want. This is a pretty proven system – fewer updates that require process changes than in most paid systems. You will love Firefox – it is all you should use.

    It has really helped me organize myself. I love it.


  3. While I really like the folks at CHNM, I've found Zotero to be difficult to use. The switch to the web-based version holds great promise but since it's still in the beta version I don't recommend using it as I've had a lot of problems getting it to sync. Eventually it will be great but I don't think it's there yet. At the very least, make sure you back it up, frequently.

    We subscribe to Refworks through our library — I find it works really well but the downside of course is that you have to subscribe to it.


  4. Anonymous permalink

    Wikipedia's reference management comparison answers question 1.

    Re. 3: it is easier to migrate away from Zotero than it is to migrate away from EndNote–data export works much better & robust/open formats are supported.

    Re. 4: the forums are great.

    Re. 6: yes.


  5. Dear Anon 3:47 PM,

    Thanks a million for the Wikipedia comparison link. Wow. It's amazing what people will reveal when you just ask.

    Yours, TL


  6. Just try it. You loose nothing by trying it out for a few days and see how it works.

    Re 2: None really, so far. See what I wrote on my switch from Endnote to Zotero.
    Re 3: George Mason University has long-term plans for Zotero (see roadmap). They also have an alliance with the Internet Archive. Besides, Zotero uses open standards, so your data will always be freely available.
    Re 4: The community at the forums is very helpful.
    Re 5: Sure. Just try it, you'll love it.
    Re 6: Yes. See Zotero portable solutions


  7. Since you ask for possible alternatives: Take a look at Mendeley (, I'm one of the co-founders of Mendeley.)

    Different from Zotero, Mendeley Desktop is not a Firefox plugin, but a free cross-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux) software for managing, sharing and tagging research papers. You can also back up and synchronize your library with Mendeley Web and access it from everywhere, either on Mendeley Web or via Mendeley Desktop on a different PC.

    Then, based on the users’ paper collections, Mendeley Web anonymously aggregates research statistics and also connects like-minded researchers and academics. In the future, we hope to build a large and open semantic database of research papers, sort of like a “ for research”.

    It's a different approach than Zotero, but you might want to try it as well. Keep in mind that Mendeley is still in beta, but we are working with some of the people who co-founded and Skype to improve Mendeley's features.

    Best wishes


  8. @Jan:
    “Different from Zotero, Mendeley Desktop is not a Firefox plugin, but a free cross-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux) software for managing, sharing and tagging research papers.”

    A focus on “research papers” is much more narrow than Zotero, and is probably more appropriate for the sciences than it is for, say, the humanities.

    But there's some obvious overlap between some of the goals of these two projects. It would be good to see if you could agree to share some basic standards where appropriate.


  9. I made the switch from Endnote (though an outdated one – I was tired of paying for their upgrades, often of limited value) last year. I guess there might be disciplines or purposes for which Endnote is still worth it, but definitely not history or the humanities generally. Zotero is quicker, easier, more powerful (for what I need it to do), and of course free, so it's worth the time to play with it for a few weeks.


  10. Also, on #6, by default it goes to your firefox settings, but it's easy to move. USB is possible, and I have mine go to my documents folder which is backed up nightly through Jungle Disk (also worth checking out if you need a backup service –


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