by Scott McLemee on September 26, 2007

My column today is a very basic introduction to Zotero. As noted there, the release of Zotero 2.0 is a thing to look forward to — it will, among other things, allow you to store your searches, annotations, etc. on a server, rather than your computer, which will have all sorts of benefits. But it’s not clear when that will happen.

People have pointed out that the enhanced version faces two potential problems: storage space and intellectual-property issues (regarding ownership and control of stored material, mainly). I asked one of the directors of the project, Dan Cohen, about that. Unfortunately he only got back to me after the column was done. But here’s his response:

Storage is rapidly becoming cheaper and more widely available via the web (note how many free services there are for storing 2-5 GB for free). Although we have encountered Zotero users with collections up to 20 GB, most will have collections under 2 GB. But we are creating distributed storage options (we will offer people the option of backing up their collection to any university/commercial server or media, like a USB key), where our server will only deal with the metadata (relatively small) rather than the entire collection. But even with all of that, you’re right that we might have to limit the size of storage if we handle most of the load.

As with any other web service that deals with documents and a large user base that uploads materials, like the Internet Archive (which stores users’ materials as well as crawls the web), we will be strictly operating under the provisions of the DMCA. Maybe I’m missing the thrust of that last question, but we don’t anticipate that our server will become the outpost for Napster-like activities (but have policies in place to take down violating materials).

Given that many academics will use their local university storage for full backup (metadata + documents) and remote access, we probably won’t be directly trafficking in a lot of copyrighted material. The real strength of the server will be in the metadata anyway–that aggregated set of research collections should provide revolutionary recommendation systems and bibliographic feeds to Zotero users who participate.

I had also asked if there were a new ballpark estimate for when Zotero 2.0 would be released (the last such being this fall, though that was a while back) but no answer to that one.



X. Trapnel 09.26.07 at 2:21 pm

I’m just looking at the tutorials now, but this looks simply amazing. I, for one, welcome our new metadata overlords.


Laura 09.27.07 at 1:28 am

I’ve been using Zotero for a long time and used it extensively when writing my dissertation. It’s a really great tool. As for storage issues, Furl (an early social bookmarking tool) allowed storage of copies. Not sure how they handle the ip issues, but there’s certainly precedent for storing copies. As I recall, only the person logged in could access them. I’ll have to go read your column now. :)

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