Reference manager showdown


Update (April 2018): I now use Paperpile. It’s not free, but it’s very nice. It does, however, occasionally create some weird citations. A simpler (and cheaper) alternative is to just use Google Scholar’s tags feature. It doesn’t let you share references in quite the same way, but I haven’t really been using those features on PaperPile very much.

Part of my job is to read a lot of other people’s research. I have a bad memory, so keep tracking of that research is pretty hard, unless I write something down. But in general, I tend to write things down on physical copies of the paper (which I physically lose), text files (which I lose on my computer), or in my head (which might as well be lost the second they are written). I also have no desire to ever write out a bibliography by hand again. What I need is a reference manager with the following required and nice-to-have features:

Required features:

Nice to have:

The options I know of are BibDesk, DocEar, Mendeley, Papers, and Zotero. I’ve used Zotero for the past couple of years, and it’s been pretty good. I don’t love the interface or the note-taking, and it can be a little finicky with storing PDFs. But overall decent. Recently, I ran up against the space limit of my online storage. Before biting the bullet and paying for more, I decided this was a good opportunity to look into other options. I ruled out BibDesk due to it being only for OS X, Papers because its reputation as a commercial product is that it isn’t well-supported, and DocEar because the mind-map thing looked excessive relative to what I need and the interface was, in general, pretty ugly. That leaves Zotero, the devil that I know, and Mendeley, the one I don’t.

Tomorrow begins my first foray into Mendeley.