Labmeeting releases a Firefox plug-in
March 20, 2009 7 Comments
We’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.
Labmeeting 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:
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:
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:
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.
- 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.
- 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.