THATCamp Switzerland (3)

In the first bootcamp session after lunch I attended a session led by Stefan Keller (University of Zurich) called “Knowledge Organization and Representation,” which was focused on various information management tools such as Zotero, Mendeley, and LitLink (new version launched officially today).

Note to self: More than one person has told me I ought to start using Prezi for presentations. After watching Stefan’s talk, I’m finally convinced I have to put in the time on this one. It is a full order of magnitude better than PowerPoint, largely because it defeats the iron law of linearity inherent in PowerPoint.

He began with a brief overview of the transition between reference management systems and knowledge management systems, i.e., from keeping track of your references (still an important function of the knowledge management systems) to managing the linkages between those references (“cross-linked knowledge spaces” he called them). Of course, these knew systems are based on the Web 2.0 principles of sharing and collaboration and many are open source. So, for instance, on my research blog on my human trafficking project, you can not only read about my research as I’m doing it, but you can also access my Zotero library for the project.

Keller then showed a clip from Minority Report (2002) showing Tom Cruise sorting through masses of data by waving his hands as a speculation on where these systems might go, which reminds me of Bill Turkel’s work on Interactive “Ambient and Tangible Devices for Knowledge Mobilization.” Keller called the possible future “interactive and collaborative knowledge production and representation systems.” Of particular interest to me was the idea that in future word processors, everything you write (not just the citations) would be stored in a database. How that would happen, i.e., how the system would decide what got stored where, isn’t clear to me, but I love the idea.

Next we got a brief introduction to LitLink. Probably the biggest differences with Zotero, the one I know, are what he calls “cross-linking of data,” the establishment of “knowledge spaces” and the creation of working groups.

What does seem different (and appealing) to me is the ability to easily connect references to specific projects you might be working on. Because we typically use sources for more than one project, being able to do that with minimal friction is great. I also like the “similar items” bar that appears on the right side of the screen for each record. I wish Zotero did that for me, given the fact that I now have so many items in my library. Finally, I like the way one can create an outline for a project in LitLink, connecting various resources to that outline, then exporting it to a word processor.

In the discussion, people asked, among other things, why one should use LitLink instead of Zotero. One answer that came up is that because LitLink is a relational database, the author is only entered once, a structure that prevents the kinds of duplication of records that I’m very guilty of in Zotero. Thus, for instance, all works by the same author are automatically related, where in Zotero, you have to make those connections manually.

As impressed as I am with LitLink, I’m not switching from Zotero, both because I am fully in the Zotero world already and would find changing difficult, but more importantly, because I personally find the Zotero user interface a bit more intuitive. I’m happy to finally see LitLink in action, but more importantly to see how the various knowledge management systems are coming up with different ways of doing what we do in scholarship. Each new innovation means that all of us benefit.

2 thoughts on “THATCamp Switzerland (3)

  1. Alexandre Garcia

    About Prezi: I wanted to use it for the bootcamp session about digital preservation until I noted that it’s actually a closed system. You have to be a premium user to get an editable file offline, and it’s a proprietary file format. Very bad regarding digital preservation, of course!

  2. adam.smith

    Zotero has longstanding plans to move to a hierarchical data model. I don’t see this happening soon, but potentially for Zotero 4.0.

    I agree with Alexandre about Prezi – it’s a neat tool (though part of that is that people using Prezi have often spend more time thinking about the presentation) – but the lack of openness is a major downer.

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