Papers (Reference Manager Software)

I am just about done with moving a wide variety of research materials into the research management application [Papers][]. After trying to embrace Zotero for several years and never finding myself using it, and I recently found that the Application Support directory for Zotero had grown to an astonishing 2.82 GB. By comparison, my new Papers support directory, which has more material in it, weighs in at 268 MB. Quite a difference. I by no means mean to diminish Zotero: it is a fine, community-sourced app that is trying to be many things for many people. But its interface was always a limitation for me, and it has limited support for writing applications outside of Microsoft Word. (It’s RTF scan functionality never worked for me.)

I chose Papers over Sente for a couple of reasons:

1. Papers is cross-platform, and, like my writing application of choice, [Scrivener][], appears to be a Mac app that developed such a fierce following that demand for a Windows version made it a compelling option. By being cross-platform, like Scrivener and like Lightroom, my workflow is not tied to any particular platform, only to a small collection of developers who have shown their interest in providing excellent software and support for their paying customers — and I don’t mind paying at all for good work, and both these apps represent that, I think.
2. While I respect Sente’s move to address problems its users were having with DropBox syncing, forcing me as a user to sign up for their service and face an additional charge is an additional cost which I resent. If there were a clear way to support a local syncing infrastructure, I might have explored Sente more. I certainly found their dual note/quote stream very compelling, and I will urge the developers of Papers, at some point, to pursue that more. (For those interested in the dollar amounts: Sente’s free account is limited to 100 references per library — libraries are unlimited, so I guess one could simply produce an infinite number of libraries in hopes of never paying. Each library is limited to 250MB in attachments. After that, you need to pay $50, $30 for academics, for an expanded library.)

I was very close to purchasing Sente, for the dual note-stream of quotations and notations mentioned above, but I balked at the added cost of syncing. Papers’ syncing requires that the two devices be on the same network, but here’s hoping that its developers eventually realize that working with the DropBox library is preferable for some users. (I understand, however, that that could lead some users to have both apps open at the same time and make conflicting changes to the library. If the Mac app handles the syncing with the iOS app directly, this can be avoided.)

Why a reference manager? So I can do away with all the various `/sources` directories I have created in every single project directory for the last two decades. Doing so and working with sometimes overlapping projects meant that I either moved sources around or created duplicates — and if you have ever annotated one copy of a PDF and then lost that copy, with all your really good notes and highlights, you know it’s the same pain as loaning out a favorite book with all your marginalia and have it never come back: some part of your long-term memory has just been lost.

I already feel saner with having a central location in Papers. I haven’t used the application long enough to warrant the trust I currently feel, and I will certainly report any issues or problems I come across. Perhaps by summer’s end I will be able to give a better evaluation of the app’s utility and fidelity.


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