Docear’s new workspace and workflow concept: We need your feedback!
In the past years, Docear evolved to a powerful software for managing literature and references. However, we have to admit that Docear is still not as user friendly as we would like it to be. This is mainly caused by the workspace concept which is not very intuitive. We are aware of this problem and we would like to fix it. Therefore, we spent the last weeks with a lot of brainstorming and discussions, and we came up with a new concept. We believe it to be more intuitive, and more similar to the concepts you know from other reference managers. In the following, we would like to introduce our ideas for the new workspace concept and some other changes and we ask you for your feedback. Please let us know in the comments if you like our ideas, and how we could make the concept even better.
This is how the new workspace panel would look like after you freshly installed Docear and sorted a few PDFs including annotations (click the image to enlarge it).
There are four main categories in the workspace panel (left).
- The “Collections” let you manage your literature in general. By default, there is one collection (“All Literature & Annotations”) in which you sort your PDFs and annotations. An example of such a collection is shown in the right part of the above screenshot. As you probably realize, the collection is basically identical to the “literature and annotations” mind-map in the current Docear version. The only difference is that for the new version we plan to not having a separate Trash and Temp collection (mind-map respectively) but to have all in one collection. As with the current version of Docear, the collection-mind-maps can monitor folders on your hard drive for new files and list these files in your mind-map.
- In the “Drafts” category, you create a new entry (i.e. a mind-map) for each thesis, assignment, or research paper that you want to draft. You can copy PDFs and annotations from your collections to any of your drafts. In contrast to the current version of Docear, you do not need to create projects and hence you are not restricted to only link PDFs within the same project. Instead, you can link any PDF and annotation in any mind-map you want (i.e. in any collection or draft). The below screenshot shows how a draft for a research paper could look like.
- The “Mind-Maps” category contains ordinary mind-maps that you create to do some brainstorming, or organize some other information. Actually, there is no significant difference between the mind-maps that you create in the “Collections”, “Drafts” or “Mind-Maps” categories. Theoretically, you could create a mind-map in the category “Mind-Maps” and draft a research paper in this mind-map. However, we believe that the three categories are a helpful structure that will help you to keep an overview of your different mind-maps. In the long run, you might also be able to create your own categories.
- “File repositories” combine what you know from the current Docear as “project home” and “literature repositories”. In the new Docear, there won’t be the need to specify a project home and literature repository. Instead, you can specify “file repositories”. These repositories are shown in the workspace panel for two reasons. First, the repositories provide quick access to files you might want to link in a mind-map (you can drag&drop files from a repository in the workspace panel directly to your mind-map). Second, in your collections you can specify to watch the file repositories for new files. In other words, you could create a file repository for the folder that contains your PDFs, and then you could specify in your collection that all new PDFs in the file repository should be added to the collection. In addition you could create additional file repositories for other folders containing PDFs, or other files you want to have quick access to.
After using Docear for a while, your workspace might look like this.
You might have created a new collection for the next course at your university (“Bibliography for Course A”) and about search engines (“Papers about Search Engines). You might have created a draft for your thesis and a paper. You might have also added some new file repositories to have quick access to the files in that repositories or to monitor the repositories for new files.
So, what’s really new about this? First of all, we got rid of the “project” focus and focus instead on the different types of mind-maps that you might want to use (collections, drafts, …). Second, you don’t need to specify a project home and literature repository. Instead, there are only file repositories that are independent from the mind-maps (or projects). As a consequence, you can link PDF (or other files) from any file repository in any mind-map. With our new concept, we also accounted for a future collaboration and sharing feature in Docear. We envision that you can share a single mind-map including all files that are linked in the mind-map (in the above screenshot this is indicated by a blue user icon beside the mind-maps that you are sharing).
However, we do not want to abandon the idea of projects entirely. Therefore, in the long run, we would like to bring back the “projects” as an optional feature. In each project, you would combine certain mind-maps or repositories from your existing categories. This would allow a more sophisticated management of your data and you could also share projects including all files with colleagues (instead of sharing several mind-maps separately with the same colleague). The below screenshot shows an example of how projects could look like in the workspace panel.
We also plan some major changes for the reference management. In the future Docear version, not only file repositories should be monitored for new PDFs but also your BibTeX file should be monitored for new BibTeX entries. This means, when you create a new reference in the reference panel (without having a PDF), the new reference would appear in the incoming node in your mind-map. Similarly, as soon as you add a PDF to your mind-map, a new BibTeX entry is created and bibliographic data is automatically fetched e.g. from Google Scholar. In the long run, the mind-map structure might even be represented in your BibTeX file as shown in the screenshot below. In addition, we imagine that PDF annotations are also shown in your reference panel.
That was the basic idea of the new Docear. Please let us know what you think about it and bear in mind that implementing the idea is nothing that we will be able to do in the next few weeks but rather in the next year or so (hopefully with a first prototype in a couple of months). And there are still some questions left
- If you copy a PDF from one mind-map to another, would you want …
- … that the same bibliographic data (title, author, journal, …) remains attached to that PDF, or would you want to be able to newly enter the bibliographic data? In other words, if you link a PDF from two different mind-maps, would you want to be able to have different bibliographic data in the two mind-maps for that one PDF? Or would you want to have the same bibliographic for the two links, which means if you change the bibliographic data for a PDF in one mind-map, the data would also change in the other mind-map.
- If you are using external reference managers, do you work with one single BibTeX file, or with multiple BibTeX files? How would you want to Docear to integrate (multiple) BibTeX files?