Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Zotero 1.5 Beta and Zotero's Web Application Released

Targeting the proprietary RefWorks software, the folks at the open source Zotero project have announced the beta release of the Zotero 1.5 citation gathering plug-in for Firefox and the launch of Zotero's web application which allow users to sync up their Zotero collections between multiple computers over the web. This gives students and libraries a free alternative to RefWorks, and one that also doesn't lock researchers into a proprietary format.

Version 1.5 also delivers an improved interface, easier management of pdfs, and better integration with OpenOffice and Microsoft Word for bibliography creation.

I'll be reporting back on how this beta release handles in the near future.

Congrats to the people working on this important project!

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Amazon Announces Kindle 2

After months of leaks and rumors, Amazon announced the second generation Kindle today, called (you guessed it) the Kindle 2.

Thinner, faster, with improved controls and more features than the first generation product, the Kindle 2 is priced the same as the outgoing model.

It's interesting to compare the evolution of the Kindle with the
iPod. Although storage on the Kindle 2 is greater, the company points out that books purchased for the Kindle can be re-downloaded wirelessly at any time, meaning that local storage is less of an issue. The advances in mobile technology in the years since the debut of the iPod now permit this approach, one that still isn't showing up on the iPod.

The Kindle 2 adds an "experimental" text to speech feature. The device saves the user's place in the book and allows users to switch between reading a text and listening to it. Depending on how well, or
seamlessly, this works, it could truly be a revolutionary feature.

It looks like Amazon paid attention to the complaints about the original Kindle and is also trying to drive innovation in the e-reader market. With cheaper readers like the
Foxit's e-Slick coming to the market, Amazon looks to be taking steps to maintain it's place atop the high-end of the e-reader market.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

E-Books Go Mobile

The use of mobile phones as ebook readers in common in Japan, and is growing in the US and elsewhere. A number of publishers are making the leap (last month, for example, Books on Board announced their catalog of 20,000 books would be available for the iPhone).

Now comes word that Google is entering this market. Google has
launched a mobile phone version of Google Book Search that could could eventually grow to include the 1.5 million public domain books scanned as part of their digitization project.

The books currently exist as scanned images-- these mobile versions will be text created through optical character recognition. Where the computers produce only garbled text, readers can click on the sport to retrieve that part of the scanned image.

Not only does this open up smart phones to the vast public domain resources harvested through Google's digitization project, but this also shows that OCR technology has improved to the point where Google (at least) thinks it is ready for prime time.

Scanned images are just the first phase of bringing books into the digital world. Ebooks need to exist as digital text, and human-based projects like Project Gutenberg are probably proceeding too slowly. OCR is vital to the next phase of mass-digitization. We'll soon see if Google's timing is right.