Keeping Up with Science

If you're an academic, or even a pseudo-academic like me, you need to stay current on the research in your field. You could just go to the library and grab journals off the shelf (boo), or perhaps steal your advisor's copy of Science every week and and peruse it over an Americano at your coffee shop of choice (yay), OR you could harness the awesome power of the Intertron. Well, you could, if there was some kind of killer app to help you out. As it is, there are only a few apps that range from impotent to mildly threatening, but some of them might be useful.


Big feed iconA feed is a machine readable log of frequently updated content on the Internet (you might have heard of feed formats like Atom or RSS). Say you have a favorite website, like the Kelly Lab Blog. Instead of coming back here every day to see if things have changed, you could subscribe to the site feed (or the comment feed) with your favorite feed reader, and check that instead. That way you could check to see if lots of resources had been updated in one place. Many journals that have their digital act together publish feeds of their content (Nature, Science, TREE, PLoS), so you can always know when new content is available, and/or peruse titles and abstracts. Feeds are a good way to keep up to date, but they might not let you do much cataloguing or recommending. Google Reader (my feed reader of choice) let's you "share" items publicly (and with your GTalk contacts), but doesn't let you specify who you're sharing them with (my shared items are mostly just things I find both amusing and not incriminating, but you could use them for papers). You can also "star" things, which is like bookmarking, and there are tags, but stars lack specificity and I feel like their interface for tags could get unwieldy if you use a lot of them. Other feed readers might be different (Bloglines, Firefox, Thunderbird, NetNewsWire, heck even Outlook 2007). logoThe premier online bookmarking site isn't a bad tool for keeping track of articles. It won't tell you when resources are updated, but you could use it to save and organize articles you find interesting, by bookmarking and tagging them. Perhaps more importantly, you can recommend papers to other people using by using a tag like for:kueda, and likewise receive recommendations. Used in combo with a feed reader, it could be pretty useful. I actually use a lot for web resources in general. For instance, here's my limited collection of GIS data sources (tagged "gis" and "data"):



Connotea logoNow we're entering the realm of specialized sites. Connotea is a sort of social bookmarking site specialized for journal articles, created by the Nature Publishing Group. It's got tagging, like, but it also lets you form explicit groups, and it will auto-extract citation information from the Web versions of articles (they even have a video). You could use Connotea to keep on top of what people are bookmarking by perusing tags (e.g. methane), or by subscribing to a tag's feed. I've found some interesting stuff browsing around the tags, but I haven't benefited from any of the social features like groups, because I don't know anyone else who uses Connotea. It also does some decent citation export in different formats, but it doesn't seem to export in different styles (Chicago vs. APA, for instance). citeUlike is another site very similar to Connotea, but I don't have as much experience with it. Also worth mentioning is Zotero. Zotero is an awesome plugin for Firefox that helps you manage citations. It's a local app without any social functionality (yet), so it's not really for keeping up to date, but it is great for extracting and exporting citations from papers and web pages. I've used it a bunch for writing papers. When it gets some network functionality it will be truly amazing. Ok, that's it for now. Anyone have any other favorite tools for keeping on top of academic literature?