Platforms, Interoperability, and Academic Workflow


One of the things I do to feel productive (read: procrastinate) during periods of writer’s block is try to improve my workflow.  (Another is blogging, clearly.)  This largely entails seeking out and tinkering with various software tools to increase the usefulness and accessibility of the research materials I use to write and teach. An e-library of hundreds (thousands?) of articles and books doesn’t just organize itself, you know.  Plus, highlighting and annotating on my tablet is far easier and more flexible than reading on a laptop. And of course, I want to make sure I avoid duplicating or losing my research work no matter what device I’m using or where I’m using it, so I need good cloud storage/backup and synchronization tools too. So on days when the words aren’t flowing smoothly from my mind to the page, I often find myself in a situation something like this:

Workflow Automation, per xkcd

A propos: lately I’ve been tinkering with combinations of software to achieve three distinct goals:

  1. Organizing my library so old sources and notes are easy to find and new sources are easy to add, wherever I happen to be working on a particular day, without depending on an always-on high-speed Internet connection.
  2. Linking my library to my tablet for easier reading and annotation of new sources.
  3. Synchronization and backup storage to propagate any work I do on one device across the entire system and insure it against loss from hardware failures.

And the most satisfactory software solutions I’ve found for these problems are, respectively:

  1. Zotero
  2. GoodReader for iPad
  3. Dropbox

Of course, there’s a problem: two of these solutions will work together tolerably well, but getting all three of them to work together is a tremendous pain.  And this appears to be by design.  Let me explain.

Continue reading