Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tech Round-Up

It’s time for another technology update, as a follow-up to the two previous posts on the tools I’ve been using for research and for connecting with others. Since I’ve been checking out a number of new and nifty tools recently, I thought I’d share the goods.

Diigo: an important change I’ve made is a switch from to Diigo. When Yahoo! announced that they would cease to develop, there was a sort of general uproar from committed users (myself included—I’d come to rely on it for bookmarking articles for media analyses) since we were afraid of losing such a great tool. Even though it became apparent that Yahoo! would not shut down, I decided to switch to another bookmarking tool for the sake of stability. I admit I’d also been tempted by the many options available. As it turns out other sites, like Diigo, have been developed more than and so they provide helpful features such as highlighting on web pages, caching pages for later reference, and the option to add notes to a page (which others can view). Most of these features are only fully available with Premium service, but I’m considering buying in (it’s only about $5 per month).

Scrivener: Thanks to Dr Inger Mewburn (@thesiswhisperer) for continual praise of Scrivener that prodded me into giving it a try. I think I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of its capabilities, but already I love the way I can create a “project” in Scrivener and include not only Word files but also .pdfs, images, web pages (html files) and even sound files—all relevant research materials in one layout. Scrivener’s handy “splits” feature allows you to view two files at once in the same visual space, invaluable when you’re looking at information on web pages or copying notes into a draft of a paper (for example). For those of us who need to organise things visually, Scrivener has an iTunes-like format that allows you to places files and folders in easy-to-access order, to easily add/create new files and folders and add documents, and to write different sections with the full structure in view. Another great thing about Scrivener is that you can download a 30-day trial, which I did, and that helped convince me that it was worth purchasing a copy. Bonus: if you pay for Scrivener you can install it on multiple computers without paying any additional fees. The bad news: it's only for Mac, as is another suggested tool, DevonThink.

Below: an example (screen-shot) of a Scrivener project layout, showing the outline for a paper in sections and also a series of .pdf files of articles I've used in the research.

Prezi: I first saw a demonstration of Prezi at the Georgetown University Round Table back in March of this year. As an alternative presentation format (alternative to Powerpoint, that is), I immediately liked the look of Prezi and was eager to find it online and try it out. Once I got going with the site (Prezi is not downloadable software, rather it’s an online tool) I enjoyed the way in which it facilitated my thinking as well as the creation of my presentation; whereas Powerpoint always makes me feel boxed in, with Prezi I can move objects around to see how they might “look” in another order, or indeed how ideas might make more sense in a different sequence. The one complaint I’ve heard from those who aren’t keen on Prezi is that it makes them feel “seasick” or nauseated because of the “zooming” motion that happens as the program moves from one “slide” to the next. So far I haven’t given any presentations using Prezi, but I’m attending a conference at the end of the month and will give it a try for at least one of the two presentations I’m planning. I’ll be keeping the zooming to a minimum, given the complaints about it.

Scribd: Though I haven’t used it much, I realised the potential usefulness of Scribd when I came across a cache of letters and other documents relating to my dissertation research. In order to download from Scribd, you have to upload documents of your own; this wasn’t a problem since I was able to connect through Facebook and complete an upload easily (taking into account the relevant copyright restrictions). I think as a document sharing site Scribd actually has a lot of potential and I’m gradually starting to upload more items (generally reports from Statistics Canada and from think tanks, relating to post-secondary education).

Zotero: Zotero is a citation manager that works both as an add-on to Firefox and as a web site through which users can sync their account across multiple computers (great for me, since I use a desktop and a laptop); it’s similar to sites like and Diigo in that way. Zotero was suggested to me by a number of people, but after an initial try I found it clunky and didn’t see how it would be of any use to me. Recently I was prompted by Dr Lee Skallerup (@readywriting) to give Zotero a second chance, and thankfully this time I’ve figured out where it fits in to my personal media/technology ecology. I use Zotero now for the search process, so that as I browse online I can create citations without having to go back and document everything later. (If you’re not keen on Zotero, recommended alternatives include Mendeley and Endnote).

Dipity: Suggested to me by John Dupuis (@dupuisjohn) of York University’s Steacie Library, Dipity is a site for constructing timelines. This became important for me because of the nature of the research I’m doing for my dissertation—i.e. I am mapping institutional developments onto provincial and federal policy and political trends, so for me it really helped to be able to see those things in a kind of linear, comparative way. My “Post-Secondary Education in Canada” timeline is still very much under construction, but I think it will eventually be a time-saving tool for others looking at the same topic.

Moo: A final nod goes to Moo, not technically a “tool” but rather a site through which you can design your own business cards, post-cards, and so on. I wrote a bit about Moo in a post in my other blog, where you can also see the images I chose to use. I love this idea of having my photos in this miniature form that I can hand out to new acquaintances. The cards arrived the other day in the mail, and they look lovely; I can’t wait to start dishing them out.


  1. I'm very conservative with software. I use Word to write (lots of small docs that I move around and join into master docs when I'm ready to publish a chapter). I like the formatting options in Word - I created a 'thesis' template with all the text styles in it and that's the one I use for all those docs. I like to format as I go - the heading levels keep me on track. I use Excel to keep track of things. and Powerpoint for posters and presentations. I did a complex poster last year which needed lots of graphs. I prepared those in excel from numerical data I had there, and imported them directly into powerpoint. I could even edit them in excel and they would update in the powerpoint file. I also use Endnote, which searches my Uni library and syncs perfectly with Word, for all referencing. The Uni provides all these for me, free.

    I have paid for NVIVO for my data analysis. It is expensive, but I can claim it off my tax, and they have excellent tech support. Sadly, there's no Mac version, so I have to use parallels on my Mac for this.

  2. I meant to say... That poster had a timeline too, but I constructed ity manually. I didn't even think about software for that! Doh! It sounds a bit similar to yours. I was tracking themes in the papers offered at the national Quality in Postgrad Research conferences since 1994 against the changes in federal govt policy and funding in that period.

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