The tiny and insular world where academia, technology, and business converge buzzed all day yesterday (and continues to do so today) about publishing giant Elsevier’s rumored bid to purchase Mendeley for $100M. TechCrunch’s dependably credulous reporter duly transcribed the leaker’s claims that publishing is “the world that Mendeley is disrupting.” But this story has really nothing to do with a “disruption” in academic publishing, and if anything what we’re seeing is a reversion to 2006 or so. When Zotero launched then, the major players were Endnote (Thomson Reuters) and RefWorks (ProQuest), each owned by a major content provider. And now in 2013 we can add to that stable of publisher-owned reference managers Papers (Springer) and, apparently, Mendeley (Elsevier).
As someone who has led a successful and sustainable project in this space for over six years, I’d like to put this rumor in perspective, because it speaks volumes about the space of academic research software, even if the Elsevier purchase never materializes.
Among the more eye-popping numbers associated with LinkedIn’s recent initial public offering is the 100,000,000 members it claims. What do those hundred million people do with their LinkedIn accounts? If they’re like me, they quietly ignore the endless spam but never quite motivate to unsubscribe. Or maybe they occasionally click through a link returned by a Google search, only to discover the limp résumé of some sad sack looking to escape the Enterprise rent-a-car counter, not the super cool and attractive “Sean Takats” that they went to high school with and are stalking.
Brian Croxall recently lit up the comment feed at the Chronicle with his ProfHacker comparison of “Zotero vs. Endnote,” where the debate centered mostly around issues of citation fidelity. As Fred Gibbs notes, however, “while citation formatting is one major reason to use bibliographic software, it isn’t necessarily the only or even primary reason, especially in the humanities.” Zotero’s citation functionality was always imagined merely as bait: by providing this labor-saving functionality, Zotero would encourage each user to move her research into what amounted to a fully searchable and shareable relational database that could be subjected to text mining and other analysis. Here researchers could begin to do truly remarkable and new things with their evidence.
Zotero’s server infrastructure has evolved in countless ways since the project’s 2006 launch, but most of those changes are super boring and not worth remembering. Over the past two months, however, we moved the bulk of Zotero’s back end to Amazon Web Services, a step that I believe is uniquely noteworthy in the context of digital humanities projects and their long-term sustainability. In this post I describe the recent changes to Zotero’s architecture. In the next post I’ll discuss why these changes are important for the digital humanities. This story is long, but it has a moral, and also a van. Continue reading
Because I live under a rock (Vietnam), I only recently discovered the Google Charts API. When I saw that it supported maps, I thought it might be fun to plot the sales data for Zotero File Storage provided by the nonprofit corporation I started along with a bunch of other academics. Bear in mind that these maps only reflect the billing addresses associated with purchasers of Zotero storage. Zotero’s general user base is even more globally distributed and several orders of magnitude larger than the subset depicted here. Nonetheless the results are stunning, I think, and something that pleasantly reminds me of the last throes of a game of Risk. We have work to do in Africa and the Middle East. Click the thumbnails below for full-size, detailed images.