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Springer Gets Reference Manager Papers
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Posted On November 19, 2012


Springer Science+Business Media acquired Mekenatosj BV and Lifve Ltd., known for the reference manager software tool, Papers. Developed by Alexander Griekspoor with his friend Tom “Tosj” Groothuis, Papers improves the way that researchers handle workflow as they search for, download, annotate, and organize scientific literature (together with supplemental material), appropriately citing the works in in term papers (students) and publications (scientists, authors). Lifve allows Papers users to share their collections with peers. Griekspoor will head the unit within Springer. The Mekentosj team is expected to remain in control of the strategic direction for the unit and product innovations.

Designed simply to organize PDFs of scientific papers of developers Griekspoor and Groothuis for their personal studies while they attended university, this app has won an Apple Design award (while remaining unavailable in the Mac App store). The tool, meant to facilitate the exchange of scientific literature and protocols, has become a favorite for users who like reading PDFs on their iPads that they want to annotate, consult again, or share with colleagues with similar research interests. (A Windows version of the product—a collaboration with Scimatic—was released in February 2012.)

How It Works

Papers acts as a repository for digital academic documents in one’s personal library, accepting 85 different types of documents, including books, articles, web pages, patents, reports, etc. Users can search bibliographic databases (such as Scopus, ScienceDirect, PubMed, or Web of Science), importing relevant articles, into the system for future reference, review, and re-use. In addition to making the full text of the item available searchable, the system automatically populates metadata about the documents, attaching it to the PDF files, and will name PDFs to any convention the user specifies. Users can personalize imported documents, highlighting, annotating (notes directly within the application), and tagging each, making the items meaningful to them.

While storing full-text PDF files online, users can sync their desktop (Mac or Windows) with their iPads or iPhones. (The system not only keeps track of imported items, but what is read.) Papers stores and helps users organize references, using any number of styles to incorporate formatted references in manuscripts. The “Magic Manuscripts” function allows users to cite any type of item, in appropriate format to automatically generate a bibliography. The app synchronizes digital documents and folders with an iPad and sends references along with their PDFs via email, allowing individuals to share webpages and PDF files with the Papers user community.

The Competition

Competitors include a range of tools, some of which focus on reading and annotating PDF files; others are more traditional in terms of managing citations for publications. With the acquisition of Papers, it may be helpful to look at the tools that have remained independent vs. those that are owned by other database vendors. The following selection of tools continue to remain independent of a major publisher or database vendor:

  • Sente (www.thirdstreetsoftware.com/site/SenteForMac.html), available for the Mac and iPad, is known for its clean interface and ease of PDF annotation. Targeted browsing lets users add references from many websites such as EBSCOhost, JSTOR, and PubMed within Sente; a second click downloads the PDF and adds it to your library. Quick Tags can help to organize references, easily adding fields to describe the resources downloaded.
  • iAnnotate PDF (www.branchfire.com/iannotate) is an app for marking-up or making notations on PDF files on your iPad. Users can search, bookmark, add annotations, insert images, email, or open an image within another app. According to Dave Yearwood, “iAnnotate responds well to many of the gestures that you have come to appreciate when using the iPad. Tap and hold, single and double tap, swipe, and drag, just to list a few.”
  • CiteULike (www.citeulike.org) is a free web-based social bookmarking and traditional bibliographic management tool for scientists and researchers who want to store, organize, share, and discover links to academic papers. By tagging papers they post, users build domain-specific 'folksonomies.' As Kevin Emamy and Richard Cameron mentioned in their review of CiteULike for Ariadne (29 April 2007), “RSS feeds and Watchlists allow users to track tags and users' libraries that interest them, showing the latest additions to these chosen categories.”
  • Citavi (www.citavi.com) began in 1995 as LiteRat. Developed by Swiss Academic Software (a Microsoft Certified Partner), the product has had a strong foothold within the German academic community. In 2003, Citavi took its current shape in terms of features to support the entire research process, from searching for sources to finishing your paper. With the introduction of an English version, Cheryl LaGuardia noted in Library Journal (March 2, 2011) that the program “is especially well-suited to inexperienced university students, since it guides them through the entire academic research process…. Citavi offers comprehensive online search and import options. Over 4,000 research databases and library catalogs can be searched from within Citavi.” The free version of the software has a 100 reference limit; Citavi Pro begins at $79, though there are government, education, and not-for-profit discounts, plus alternative versions for teams.

Adding Papers to the international publisher’s lineup of tools to assist readers of their publications makes Springer competitive with ProQuest, which acquired RefWorks in 2008 and uses its COS Scholar Universe product to facilitate networking among individuals with common research interests (with an eye toward future collaboration, creating new knowledge and generating new works for publication).

Since 1999, ISI/Thomson Reuters has acquired or developed three citation managers—EndNote, RefMan Reference Manager, and ProCite—though these software tools remain within the publishing and managing bibliographies space rather than online community development and collaboration. These reference managers, innovations in their time, have been mainstays within the academic library community, while two free reference managers, Mendeley and Zotero, have captured the imagination of students, happy with one-click captures and access via a web browser toolbar.

  • Mendeley As Alison Hicks wrote this summer, “Mendeley is a web/desktop/mobile tool used to manage the research process, including organizing, citing and collaborating. It builds on and combines traditional reference management tools such as Refworks or Endnote with academic social networking tools such as Linkedin or academia.edu to create a super category of productivity tools that is more in sync with today’s networked and collaborative research environment.” Created in 2007, the tool now has 2 million users with 313 million documents catalogued. Caveats: There is a 1G storage limit for a free account, and it does not manage book citations (e.g., WorldCat) well. 
  • Zotero is simple, flexible, portable, and free. Today, it works with all browsers and platforms, syncs well, and sports multiple citation styles. Users add items to their Zotero library with a single click, organized and tagged as they like. Much can be automated and groups created or joined to share among colleagues.

The Future

Association with Springer is likely to give the Papers team additional resources to innovate. Concentrating on Lifve may allow Papers to catch up with the social network capabilities of the free, browser-based competitor, Mendeley. Projects for the near-term are likely to include further development of Papers for Windows and syncing (between several Macs, several PCs, Macs and PCs, iOS, and Windows). According to Eric Merkel-Sobotta, executive vice president Corporate Communications at Springer, “the Papers team does not have an Android version in development … Technically, it’s more challenging than porting the Mac version to the iPhone.” After enumerating other challenges, Merkel-Sobotta did note that “everyone at Springer, including the Papers team, loves a challenge.”

Papers is expected to remain competitive at $15 per user, though institutional licensing is likely to expand, post-acquisition, with additional pay options. Other Mekentosj molecular biology apps (e.g., 4Peaks, EnzymeX, iRNAi, LabAssistant) will not become part of the Springer family. These free apps have a new “home,” but the developers who worked on these products will be working on Papers, so users of these apps are not likely to see updates any time soon.

Springer Science+Business Media is a leading global scientific publisher, providing researchers in academia, scientific institutions, and corporate R&D departments with quality content via innovative information products and services. Springer employs nearly 6,200 individuals across the globe and generated sales of about EUR 875 million in 2011. 


Barbie E. Keiser is an information resources management consultant located in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area.

Email Barbie E. Keiser
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