Zotero is a wonderful piece of software, I have used it for several years to manage and cite references for my university study, and it has proved useful and reliable. However, there are some areas i would like to improve it, and as it’s released under the Affero GPL, I can do exactly that.
I’ve already talked about a user running their own sync server, and made my own modifications to the Firefox extension so this could happen. The people behind Zotero aren’t interested in making data server installation easy, or in fact anything less than dangerous for one’s data, so that sub-project is ongoing, albeit slowly – analysis and documentation of the sync protocol is required, to make sure the extension and the sync server work together correctly. As I’ve already written, I’m not impressed about their insisting on storing my data on their servers, this reminds me of Google and Facebook’s attitude to users: “you are the product, not the customer”. In the situation of these two companies, the customer is whoever buys access to users’ data, and hence the ability to sell more precisely to them. There has been much written on this so I won’t go further: check out these links to find out more. Are Zotero selling, or not being careful with, their users’ data? They say not, but there are many ways to effect data transfer which get around any legal statement. Personally, I’d rather remove the possibility they could, rather than have to trust their competency and morals.
Anyway, back to the technical stuff. The next thing I will be modifying is the citation process. At the moment it is simple to do, but the process is somewhat abstract, and does not assist a user as much as it could, particularly in the case where there are lots of references being used for a given passage of text. For example, let’s say I’m writing a piece on the “digital commons” and “surplus-value”. Incidentally, I am, and the size of this task is what prompted me to think about the process. Now, I have several ideas I’ve written about this subject in note form, and will be expanding upon these in the formal text, including citations from a large number of sources. At the present, the way this is done is to write a piece of text in quote or paraphrase form, and refer to the text which the idea or quote comes from. But, which text? There are 700+ in my 3 year-old database, and I’m sure other users have much larger bibliographies. The easiest way to get around this at the moment is to use tags. So, for instance, I can tag Marx’s Capital with “surplus-value”, some quote from Linus Torvalds with “digital commons”, then when I’m working on this piece, I only bring up those items tagged appropriately and can cite them, while copying and pasting a quote from the text. This is where the potential for improvements start. It is not currently possible to select some text from a work, turn it into a quote, and have that linked to the original work by Impero. So, for instance, I am using Capital to write about several concepts: commodities, surplus-value, primitive accumulation, etc. Rather than typing in a tag and getting the entire work returned, I would like to tag individual quotes from a work with “surplus-value” or whatever, which can then be shown when say I want to see everything with that tag, i.e. when I am working on a given section. This gives me direct access to the necessary quotes rather than having to search through the entire work, and presents them all at once, in their correct context.
It is currently possible to create a note containing the text, and then use this as a citation. But inserting this note into a document does not work correctly; the author of the quote is not set as the author of the work, and the quote is put inside quotes, inside brackets (for the APA style anyway), which is wrong.
Secondly, the Zotero “Add citation” dialogue needs to change. It currently works in such a way that it is opened when I want to add a citation, and then closes when it has been added. This seems unnecessary, so I aim to have it, or its replacement, open at all times, and then use an ‘Add’ rather than ‘OK’ button to insert a citation.
Thirdly, and linked to the first change, it can get clunky typing whichever term into the tag box, so I aim to set Zotero up to check for whichever tags have been applied to the current section within Libre Office Writer, based upon cursor position. If the cursor is within a section titled “surplus-value”, then all the references and quotes with the tag “surplus-value” get shown. This will show the quote, and also the context it is in, so probably 20 words either side.