Labmeeting releases a Firefox plug-in

labmeetingWe’ve been hearing a lot about reference managers lately, and I have another post brewing that probably goes into way more detail than anyone needs, but in the meantime, here’s a quick rundown of one particular tool: Labmeeting‘s new Firefox plug-in.

It’s still in beta (or alpha?) and therefore behind a registration wall according to Mozilla’s policy, but blog reviews are supposed to help move it out of beta so here we go.

First, what is Labmeeting? At the most basic level, it’s online software for managing and sharing your reference collection. On top of this, it allows you to search for new papers, share documents and have discussions with your lab (hence the name Labmeeting), and read the papers in your collection, all within the browser. Your paper collection is available to you wherever there’s internet access.

One thing that’s been missing from most tools is a way to automatically add items to your library without disrupting your normal workflow. Many people still find most of their papers through PubMed (old habits die hard), and it would be inefficient to navigate to and redo the search in Labmeeting or upload a downloaded paper. Bookmarklets for posting a new item help, but these still take you away from the page you were on so that you can enter tags and confirm the submission manually.

plug-inLabmeeting attempts to do this one step better with their plug-in, which, in theory, allows you to add references to your library with a minimum of interruption. After registering for Mozilla (a bit of a pain, thus the move to get it out of beta), I downloaded and installed the plug-in, which placed a little button on the top of my browser window.

Now, when I search or go to PubMed and navigate to a particular paper, I should be able to add it to my collection with just a click of this button, no questions asked (unless the answer’s not obvious). I gave this a whirl but it didn’t work quite as well as I’d hoped. For example, I searched for “microblogging” and was routed straight to the abstract page for the ISMB microblogging paper. But when I clicked “send to labmeeting”, it gave me this:

error

It says, “could not find PubMed Record… try navigating to an individual citation page…” Hmm. What could be more “individual citation-ey” than this page? At first I thought it might be because the PubMed record is “in process” rather than “indexed”, but if I take their suggestion to “highlight a record id” and then clicking “send”, the posting is successful:

success

Note that if there’s no link to a PDF or you don’t have access to the journal, it gives you this handy error message:

noaccess

But back to the problem. Maybe it’s still possible that I tripped it up with an in-process PubMed record, or the “online only” publishers behave differently. But the same thing happened when I tried adding articles from paper journals from a few years ago that are obviously indexed. So I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say here in this review, other than that the plug-in is a decent idea, but it needs some work. I can see how easy it would make adding papers to your collection, if it only did what I thought it was supposed to do.

I feel like I’m missing something, or doing something wrong, because how can it be that the plug-in has trouble with every. single. paper. I tried? (Also, the three reviews of the plug-in on Mozilla were very favorable. Different plug-in?) Go to PubMed. Navigate to an article. Click the button. Right? Here, let me try a few more random papers just to be sure. Nope, same problem. And I made sure they weren’t “Epubs” just in case. But the point is that the vast majority, if not all, of the PubMed abstracts I fed to the plug-in failed because it couldn’t find the PubMed record, and if it’s because of online publishing, or in-process records, or anything else, then that’s a problem they need to fix, because that’s a heck of a lot of records.

I admit that I’m writing this in the wee hours so this is coming out a bit harsher than I’d like, especially because they asked me to write a review. But if it doesn’t work for me, I think that’s an important piece of information. Because either someone on Labmeeting will tell me what I did wrong (in which case they might need to tell everyone who downloads it, if what I did was logical), or it’s a legitimate issue that they need to address.

So here’s my summary.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t work.
  • Doesn’t appear to work with proxy authentication (so I can’t access any closed-access PDFs unless I’m connected to a network with a subscription; even then it’s not clear it would work because of above – I’ll check later).
  • Only “works” with Firefox.
  • Requires 2 steps to install (download, and restart browser – which is a pain).
  • Only “works” with PubMed. It would be nice if you could post an article to your collection from that article’s webpage (on the journal website, for example), among other possibilities.

Pros:

  • The idea of being able to add papers to your collection without disrupting your workflow is a good one.

Bottom-line: Either I missed the memo or the plug-in needs a lot of work. Assuming it did work, there are still some drawbacks that make it less than ideal for a broad audience (PubMed only, Firefox only, no proxy). But maybe they’re not going for a broad audience – just the academic/biomedical research community that uses Firefox from within their institutional network. Or maybe they’ll roll out some new versions that will take care of some of these issues (like the not working one). Because a button like this that could handle a proxy server, worked cross-browser, and allowed postings from multiple web resources would be pretty sweet indeed.

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7 Responses to Labmeeting releases a Firefox plug-in

  1. Iddo says:

    Worked for me. The add-on needs to recognize a PMID in the page, so that is why it did not work for the microblogging paper (as you discovered).

    Try uploading a PloS or BMC paper that is not in-process. Then you do get PDF access and pubmed records. You may have a problem through a double proxy, like trying to drill first through Stanford’s and then through Cell-Press’s. But works OK with publishers such as OUP.

    As for the 2-step installation: that is a standard with all FF add-ons. FF actually gives you the option of saving your session, so that you don’t lose any of your gazillion open windows at the time. Rather painless: you wait less than a minute for your browser to restore itself.

    PubMed only records: yes, that is a limitation. In their defense, writing up a good text recognition software for any journal is rather painful, putting it mildly. Even cite-u-like which is doing so very well, breaks on Wiley publications, and a few Springer ones.

  2. shwu says:

    If you say it works for you then I must have missed something but I tried a PLoS paper that was indexed and I got the same error – that it couldn’t find the PMID. The in-process records still have PMID’s in the page it just says “PubMed – in process” rather than “PubMed – indexed for Medline” next to it. I also went to the “Citation” option in the display menu which sounded promising at first but that gave the same error, too. Regardless, the page it should work on should be the page you go to when you click on a search result, since I would assume that is fairly typical user behavior.

    The proxy problem is rather frustrating because a significant number of the papers I might be interested in I have to go the usual route of going directly to the publisher website to download and then upload (or post to CiteULike, citation only), which kind of defeats the purpose of the plug-in. I believe Papers works with proxy servers if you tweak some settings.

  3. Iddo says:

    No, you did everything right. I just got lucky and used a small sample space, which is not very good scientific practice. :)

    It’s seems like the addon has a picky parser. It will take only those papers that have a pbbmed ID that is indexed in Medline, as opposed to PMIDs supplied by the publisher.

    I’ll stick with cite-u-like. I never used labmeeting, but i opened an account now. I could not find any “endemic” software to get papers form the web, it seems like LM is geared to manual uploads in the first place.

  4. shwu says:

    I definitely tried lots of records that specifically said “indexed for Medline” or whatever and if that’s not indexed for Medline then I don’t know what is!

    I wouldn’t say Labmeeting is geared solely towards manual uploads since they do have a search tool on their website which searches both your paper collections and PubMed in general (and has links to other search services like Google Scholar). The tool is pretty prominent on your home page when you login, at least for me.

  5. John Woods says:

    How sad. I can’t get it to work either. And of course the EndNote plugin for Firefox is only for FF2. That figures.

    I’m ever grateful for LibX, though, which lets me reload the page with ezproxy when I’m off campus.

    Current publication methods are so out-dated. I really think science needs to evolve in terms of how research is made available. Why PDFs still, for one thing? Why space limitations? Everything is designed to waste paper; you have to print it and highlight, because there aren’t enough line-breaks for it to be screen-readable. And then, of course, little of the knowledge contained is put into any kind of framework for easy searching.

    This rant just went way on topic.

    Greetings to you; I’m a first time poster, but I’ve been enjoying your blog since I saw it printed in…was it Science? Congratulations. =)

    –John

  6. shwu says:

    Welcome, John! I’ve heard multiple people mention that they’d love an e-reader for scientific papers – don’t want to waste paper but can’t read on the computer screen for too long without the eyes hurting – but all the current ones for books are woefully inadequate for rendering color figures. But if there is a demand, maybe we’ll see such a product soon, and a new format to go with it.

    Love the “radish” font, yarrr :)

  7. John Woods says:

    Oh, for me it’s not even about the eyes. I tend to skim when reading, and highlighting forces me to read everything carefully. Thus, on-screen stuff–unless printed in a very readable format, which it isn’t–fails to be absorbed.

    And thanks. It’s still a work in progress, the site, mostly because I’m being steamrolled by prelims right now. (Argh.)

    =)

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