Zotero over Delicious? Web 2.0 Fatigue.

I’ve been using the social bookmarking platform Delicious.com (formerly del.icio.us) for about 4 years.  I remember being very jazzed about it when I started, and enjoying the prospect of collective efforts to catalog the web (see the “Tagging the Labor Web“).  Of course, I understood the value of librarian-created classification systems, and once complained in a review that emerging digital archives were throwing away the work of generations of librarians by not transferring the old subject headings to online archives.  But the prospect of “folksonomy” was just too cool to not love.

Over the last year or so my tagging and bookmarking on Delicious has slowed and practically come to an end.  The new object (or tool) of my attention is the citation management program Zotero, developed by the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University.  The two programs have very different functions, and the collective aspects of Zotero are not easy to use (or easily useful) compared to Delicious.  Zotero operates like a free and much improved EndNote, gathering and organizing research citations, and unlike other online citation managers I’ve fiddled with, Zotero was developed specifically for historians.  Zotero has been around for a few years but became useful for me only with its version 2 that introduced remote storage of citations and syncing between different computers.

So why should Zotero displace my bookmarking on Delicious, rather than being an additional tool for a different purpose? Two reasons.  First, Zotero automatically captures a page image of any website you add to your collection.  This was particularly important for me during the recent student protests when I wanted to capture the content of blogs (including comments) and other ephemeral expressions.  Then it became useful as I gathered images to illustrate lectures.  And finally I started capturing online news that I expect will go behind pay-per-view barriers eventually.

The second reason might be cataloged under “Web 2.0 Fatigue.”  For instance, of late I’ve pretty much stopped using Facebook, which I find an outrageous time sink, and my blogging has pretty much stalled too.  In part I’ve become a more passive user of the web–reading news and commentary, but rarely commenting or publishing.  In part, I’m spending more time online doing research with full text databases (esp, historic newspapers).  And in part I am spending a lot of time putting the finishing touches on a long overdue digital project.  With two little kids, I also have more interesting and truly interactive things to do with my spare time.  I have grown weary of so much screen time, so many programs, so many distractions.  Anything peripheral drops out, and Delicious has been one of the casualties of my overall fatigue with Web 2.0.

What am I losing in this transition?  Well, Delicious is really simple and fast.  Zotero’s online functions are really slow so I almost never interact with other users online.  I tried to integrate Zotero into a undergraduate research seminar last fall, but frankly it was too clunky for the students.  A few latched on to it, especially the ability to create instant bibliographies.  But at this point, Zotero is really more useful for me as a solitary scholar.  Meanwhile, one thing I’ve always enjoyed about Delicious was mining the tags for interesting cultural and political trends.  Given that the universe of Zotero users seems to be other scholars, I’m not getting any new insights beyond that demographic.

Given my state of Web 2.0 Fatigue I don’t imagine I’ll go back to being a heavy user of Delicious.  Only so many keystrokes and mouse clicks in a 24 hour day.  Given that, I hope the folks at CHNM are working on ways to make Zotero faster and more social. For instance, it would be great if I could save things in Zotero and Delicious with one click.

Overall, I hope for new Web 2.0 programs that actually simplify online life.  I suspect that various forms of cross-platform integration don’t actually simplify, nor are they designed to do so.  Given the commercial goals of Facebook, Google, and Apple, etc., the goal of cross-platform integration has to be more screen time, more eyes on ads.  In this sense both Zotero and Delicious (and my other favorite, Flickr) remain uncluttered with advertisement and so rank higher than many other tools in my book–it’s important enough for me to pay the annual subscription fee.

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8 Responses to Zotero over Delicious? Web 2.0 Fatigue.

  1. Tim Lacy says:


    It might not seem like it, but I too am suffering from a bit of web 2.0 fatigue. My version derives primarily from work and personal circumstances rather than the medium itself (e.g. a long winter of computer time spent revising diss chapters for a book proposal, and now typing energy used up on cover letters for the job hunt).

    But I think my diminished enthusiasm is also coming from a general professional fatigue among historians about the medium—especially in terms of blogs. My evidence is diminished comment engagement in that particular web 2.0 medium. To me, that’s the whole point. And when it lessens or ceases, then the appeal of a blog is minimal. Then again, I’ve noticed more and more historians on Facebook. I’m not sure FB is better than blogs, but it’s certainly attracting the attention of historians.

    On your topics, I’m still enthused about Zotero. I’m not quite dialed in to Zotero 2.0, but I admire the technology—and find it enormously useful for my own selfish reasons. But in its 2.0 iteration it’s a sharing program and I need to get behind that aspect of it.

    I don’t save page images in Zotero, however, because they take up too much digital storage space! I took snapshots of a blog series at Britannica a few years ago, and I was shocked at how many bytes each snapshot used. Then again, I use (currently) a 60 MB thumb drive (with Zotero using 26 MB of that memory). I should just buy a drive with more memory.

    I’m so glad, by the way, that Zotero is free.

    – Tim

  2. Tobias Higbie says:

    Hi Tim: I used up my free Zotero space (I think 1Meg) and had to pay $20 (I think) for extra storage. So it’s not “free” anymore for me. But I think it’s a small price to pay. You should definitely upgrade to 2.0. Much, much more useful.

    No doubt that many historians are on FB and that it’s replacing the historian blog world. I may even get back on there by necessity as I try to publicize a new project. But I resist. I resist.

    Good luck with the book and the new blog!

  3. Tim Lacy says:

    Toby: Just to clarify, I am using Zotero 2.0.3—just not using its full functionality (sharing, synchronization). FB is indeed hard to resist. My new blog is just an effort to make public my wider interests. Most of my blog work these days is still with USIH. But I can’t resist commenting on other matters in a less conspicuous fashion. – TL

    • Tobias Higbie says:

      Maybe USIH authors and readers could set up a Zotero group. That would be a great service for grad students (and non intellectual historians dabbling).

      • Tim Lacy says:

        Toby: I’ve actually created a USIH Zotero group in anticipation of this very thing, but haven’t yet publicized it with the USIH blog team. In general, they’re surprisingly mixed on technological advances despite being blog members. – TL

  4. Andy Brown says:

    Give WizFolio a try. WizFolio is a web 2.0 bibliographic management tool with Free 1 GB online storage with Word 2003/2007 plugin that allows you to cite your citations. With WizAdd you can almost easily import anything off the internet in cite-able format using our powerful parsers. You can also share your collections instantly by simple drag n drop. We will be releasing a citation tool for Google Docs and Open Office in June 2010. Do let us know about your comments at techsupport@wizfolio.com

  5. Dave C says:

    Hi. Nice post.
    I’ve never really used delicious as I find Zotero too good. Although, I’m curious about the ability to mining tags in delicious that you talk about. I might check it out to see how it compares to Zotero.
    Anyway, you mention that taking web page snap shots in Zotero images uses up a lot of space. You’re right it’s a big pain. I got round this by referencing individual pictures in comments. That way you can reference either from an existing web pages or other free online storage like Google Docs.
    I know its not saving the whole page, but at least this way you’ve got the most important images. Plus, even if you turn off the ‘snap shot function’ in settings, you can still ‘Create New Item From Current Page’ then nest a comment inside that item with just the important images. This also stops the really annoying problem of inserted images dissapearing from comments when you open them on different PCs.

    • Tobias Higbie says:

      Thanks Dave C! I’ll check out your suggestion. As for space, I ended up purchasing storage space from CHNM ($25 and have not hit the limit in about a year of saving notes).

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