Organising references with citeulike

This post, whilst a bit geeky, might be useful to anyone who’s got to write documents with references in them…

I’ve recently discovered Citeulike, a website that organises your references and bibliographies for you in a nice shiny web2.0 kinda way. A colleague pointed me at it a while ago and I was sceptical – because it would be terrible to have all of your references and bibliography saved on an internet site and then for that internet site to go bust. But you can always download the database files (they export to many formats) and keep your own backups, and now they’re now sponsored by Springer so are probably a bit more stable than most web startups. And as someone who works from homes in France and the UK, and from my desk in INPG, and from lab machines in Leeds, and from cafes and trains and other places with WIFI, it is really handy being able to access my references from wherever I am.

I have only been using it seriously for a few weeks but am already very impressed. Here are the things I like about it:

  1. You can install a browser button in Firefox that lets you post directly to citeulike from various online journals with one click. IEEE Xplore, ACM Digital Library, Springerlink, PubMed, DOI links… Pretty much all the major online journals and databases seem to be covered. This sucks the bibliographic information from an authoritative source directly into your bibliography. No more mis-spelled author names! No more typing anything in!
  2. You can download your bibliography in loads of different formats. I’m a LaTeX person so I choose BibTeX, but you can also get the bibliographical information as RIS, BibTeX, PDF, RTF, Formatted Text, or Delicious.
  3. You can import existing BibTeX files, so all those references that you HAVE typed in yourself won’t represent wasted effort.
  4. You can tag each entry with keywords of your choice, and you can choose to download your entire library or just those with particular tags. So when you’re writing a paper, just tag each entry you will want to cite, then export it. Et voila! Instant bibliography.
  5. You can mark your own publications as being yours. This means that you can use citeulike as a dynamic publications list with links to the right places. Here’s mine.

There are also lots of social networking type functions where you can see people who are “close” to you in terms of articles they’ve posted, and you can link to specific individuals. I’ve not really been using it long enough to evaluate these features, but it seems to me like it’s going to be a very useful tool already.

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