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Digital Tools Review


March 24, 2015 by nbrown24

For the digital research tool review, I decided to check out Zotero, Dropbox, Evernote and MyHistro. With the exception of Dropbox, all of these resources were new to me, and before this semester I had never thought of using Dropbox as a research tool. I guess you could say I’m a little old school – previous to this project most of my notes could be found in a moleskin, notated by date and, if I happened to remember to do it on that particular day, a heading with the briefest of descriptions. Needless to say this wasn’t always the best method and, thanks to this assignment, I’ve seen that it wasn’t the most efficient either.

My experiences with Zotero this semester were fantastic. I had heard of the app in several classes over the past year (especially within Public History courses), but neglected to give it a try for no particular reason. What I enjoyed about Zotero was how easy it was to use. Getting used to the interface was easier than I thought it would be, as the app is pretty straightforward in what it has to offer. The amount of information stored for each item is a great feature and I found that it allows me to easily find the item I’m searching for. The ability to have instant access to the website url, the way that the software kept abstracts on academic papers, and the organizational abilities of Zotero were all features that I found to be helpful as well. The ability to add my own notes was another tool that I often use when reading through articles, and I appreciated the way that Zotero will create a bibliography for you (thought it didn’t always have the complete information). The main drawback was the apps syncing functions, and I found it difficult to access from computers that were not my own. Yet I enjoy using the app and will continue to in future research.

In contrast with the difficulty I had trying to access information from Zotero across different devices, using Dropbox provided me with the opportunity to keep information stored online or, if I really needed it, on my phone, though I admittedly didn’t use the mobile app very frequently (or maybe even at all?). I have had experience in using Dropbox in the past but those had been professional settings, when the ability to share files between coworkers or employers was its primary function. Until recently, I hadn’t even thought of using it as a research tool, but I soon found that I was leaving my trusty thumb drive at home more and more frequently. One of the great things about Dropbox is the way that it is organized. It basically serves like an online filing system, arranged in a fashion that is easy to understand for anyone who has used a computer. In this way, if you can remember how you are organizing your information, it can easily be retrieved by memory. I ran into this problem at a previous internship, and found it easiest to organize the folders exactly as it was on my computer. However one of the drawbacks of Dropbox is that, unlike Zotero, it doesn’t have a way of storing information, such as author, url, title, and date about the file, information that is useful when preparing a bibliography.

The third digital research tool that I have been using is Evernote. Evernote allows you to capture a variety of sources, such as pdf documents, website clippings, and photos, all in one place. Similarly to Dropbox, Evernote is a tool that can be accessed in a variety of ways across multiple platforms. It is this function that creates one of the most useful features of Evernote – the ability for a user to upload pictures taken from a mobile phone into the software. I found that I use this function most when I was doing research in the old fashioned way, scanning through books or periodicals. Several times I took pictures of important passages in a book, along with a snapshot of the inside cover and any notes that I want to include, and it allowed me to create a reference point and bibliography without having to take the book out of the library. Another function of Evernote I found useful was the ability to create a to-do list right in the app itself, and I would often use this when running out of time to remind myself to check out a specific website for more information. My criticism of Evernote is that it is not as straightforward and easy to use as Zotero. It took me much longer to get used to the app and I still feel that I am probably not using it in the most effective way, as it feels as if my stored information has a tendency to get scattered.

The last tool that I’ve looked into, but haven’t really used yet (assuming that adding one event doesn’t count), is MyHistro. One of the reasons that I am interested in this website is the way that it works and how it displays the information, how you are able to add both a date/time for an event as well as a specific location. There is something about the spatial aspect of the website that intrigues me. It seems like this website would be most useful as a tool to assist someone in creating an exhibit, as a way of organizing and presenting information about a series of important events, albeit one that has to rely heavily on text in order to convey information. As far as using MyHistro as a research tool, it’s hard to see how exactly it will help, at least in its current format.


  1. Adina Langer says:

    Nathan, I’m glad that you have had such a positive experience with Zotero. Have you found that Zotero and Evernote can work together? I always find my greatest challenge to be integrating my favorite tools together.

  2. nsakas1 says:

    I feel you and I are probably coming from the same place as far as Zotero is concerned. Before Zotero I also would keep my research written in a notebook. This as I have said in my post would often times result in loosing some of my sources, or not having written down enough information would forget why I had the source in the first place. I am thankful for having found Zotero as it has made my life so much easier as far as research goes. However, I am not familiar with Evernote. It does sound intriguing barring your comments that it can be somewhat more difficult to use. Having the ability to glean useful information from a book, and be able to cite it certainly is a plus. I would lkie to know more about MyHistro though. Perhaps I will do some digging on my own.

  3. kdaly3 says:

    I’ve been meaning to get into the habit of using Dropbox, as I often work on computers that are not my own and I forget to update files on my flashdrive frequently, so I definitely agree with your assessment regarding that tool. I also used Evernote for this assignment, and I’m curious about what you had trouble with; my own opinion is that it is great for doing research in an archive when you need to take notes on images, but otherwise I found it to be not nearly as useful as just writing down tasks or other notes. I’ve noticed a couple of people here reviewing MyHistro so I checked it out, and I feel like it is more for people who want to exhibit information on a timeline in a way that is interactive. It seems like a lot of people using it were AP History students and the like as a platform for school projects, which I think is a really interesting way to integrate technology into high schools.

  4. acoleman34 says:

    I’m totally with you on Dropbox. I use it for a lot of different resources including music files, pdf files, and even random papers and things. Similar to Kate, i used to pretty much exclusively use a flash drive for these items and that became an issue sometimes. I’ve lost them, they have been stolen, and information has been erased because of improper ejection (yeah i know, i’m an idiot). I also agree with your assessment of Zotero. Organizationally it is unmatched. Like Nick and yourself i used to, and still sometimes do, keep notes in written form and would have to refer back to it for my information. Zotero certainly has helped me emerge from the organizational stone age but I maintain that sometime old school ways are still the best. A great example-vinyl records.

  5. jeldredge1 says:

    I use DropBox a lot myself. It has definitely helped in class situations and in professional ones, when folders can be shared. However, after Preservation Planning, I found that I did have to upgrade the storage space or keep deleting my own files in order to accommodate the files of others. Still, I use it much like a thumb drive, and store excess files that are taking up too much room on my iPad. I don’t know if Evernote is really different enough from DropBox to be worth trying, but it might be more useful when researching in an archive, since the media you find is often varied and scattered. The to -do list might also be really helpful in keeping one organized in archives.

  6. lspencer12 says:

    Glad your experience with Zotero was better than mine. I used Dropbox in the past and I think it is fantastic. The funny thing about my using Dropbox is that on the occasion when I used it, I was using it to share genealogy information between family and friends. It never crossed my mind to use it for academic purposes. As far as Evernote and MyHistro, I will have to take a look at them. By your description, Evernote seems to be the most promising for me.

  7. Susan Prillaman says:

    Interesting that “cloud storage” doesn’t appear with any prominence on the Dropbox site or any of several other websites I reviewed, except for Wikipedia. Has referring to the cloud fallen out of favor?

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