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E-readers, note-taking, and research

Nov 9, 2013 6:54PM PST

Hey! So I'm a grad student in social science, trying to put together a research method that'll let me use an e-reader. The idea is to avoid the expense of print texts and the insanity that comes from staring at a computer screen for twelve hours a day reading books and articles. As a content consumption device, they're perfect.

But any academic will tell you that there's very little point to just reading something; academic practice is all about research with the goal of finding points of commonality, congruence, and contradiction, both within and between sources. In other words, note-taking (a kind of production) is a non-optional part of consumption.

Computers offer the best note-taking possibilities. Digital notes can be sorted, tagged, linked to content, and searched.

But ereaders, the best format for consuming digital text (at least, I think so), are not AT ALL smoothly integrated with digital note-taking systems, although some of them allow PDF markup. The point is that you need the notes to have their own interface, they have to be accessible without opening up the PDF file (or whatever file) and scrolling through it. Lots of computer apps have that functionality - Mendeley, Kindle - but they're still document-specific notes, which makes any real research-relevant organization impossible. So in Kindle, you get great cross-platform syncing of the highlights, underlines, and comments that you make, but to see them, you have to go back to the specific file. And there go all of the benefits of a digital text, because there's no cross-source organization.

I know that Evernote was getting built into some of the Sony readers, which would be incredible, but I don't know if that actually panned out or if they're going to expand.

Any additional information or thoughts on integrating note-taking and e-readers, from anyone, would be very very much appreciated.

I've just bought an Onyx Boox m92 reader, which has great PDF display capabilities and some markup capacity, although I'll have to explore exactly what it can do (my computer is a mid-2009 MacBook Pro running OS 10.8.5). I'm worried that ereaders just don't have enough functionality yet (although a tablet might? But then you don't get the e-ink screen), and the only solution is to use some messy set of handwritten notes, PDF markup, and then typed (seachable, taggable) summaries afterwords.

As I say, all thoughts and advice would be very very welcome, especially about e-readers and apps that I don't know much about.

(Note -- I just tried to revive an old thread on this, but it was very brief, and completely dead, and sort of on the wrong question anyway. Please forgive me if I'm breaching forum etiquette! I didn't mean it. That thread was here:

Discussion is locked

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" not AT ALL smoothly integrated with digital note-taking "
Nov 10, 2013 11:48AM PST

I think you are spot on here. But let's go about this another way. Since these tablets are open for you to write the software you demand, what's stopping you from making a startup company to create this?


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Nov 10, 2013 8:02PM PST

hahahaha yeah excellent point. it seems, at least, like a potentially lucrative market niche. the software would have to work with android and linux and then sync onto mac and windows, and would need to handle bibliographic, file storage and sorting (and conversion to/from plaintext), and note-taking with both document-specific and notes-only interfaces, with lateral and hierarchical organizational tools...all of which have basically been around since Electric Pencil was released in 1976.

But for the time being I'll probably try to find a work-around -_- (what's stopping me is being in grad school + you know, general lack of gumption. maybe next year?)

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And the more you look into this.
Nov 11, 2013 12:59AM PST

The more you see why you would make it "cloudy." Since the device market is changing so quickly it may be foolish to work hard on apps that are make/device/OS specific. That is, for some features you go with the device doing the work and others you do that up in your clouds.

My background includes system design so to me I see why I would never put it all on the device. Maybe as the devices and more importantly the development systems improve it would be possible to get it all on the device but as it stands, app development for Android/iOS/W8RT and such is a minefield of cross platform atrocities. That is why you see a lot of clouds.

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Such system does not exist
Nov 16, 2013 6:31AM PST

The system you are looking for does not exist but some experimentation is in progress on large university/institute level to develop such a system.

I am also a grad student in genetics/neuroscience in one of the well-known institutes in the world and although we are still using paper notebooks to make records. The digitization of these records in this progress. When the beta was launched for handful of folks, they made a comment on the point you make here. Integration of that system is in progress at the moment.

So the system will essentially a server based system, that you can access using smartphone, tablet or regular computer. You can enter data, pull your papers (from Pubmed in our case) and there will be only one copy of the paper on the server. Every user who tries to pull the same paper from Pubmed gets linked to one master copy. When you make notes, on the paper, highlighting/your scribbled notes, sort of get glued to it under your account only. So when someone else opens it, they do not see your note.
Whatever other notes, you want to make, there are multiple options, something like Evernote or Mindmap. You can do it the way you want.

As I said, all these things still in beta and I have no clue how it will progress.

My main concern in this is, we will have no privacy. Although we have our accounts, still everything sits on the server, so if I am working on a project that I am competing with someone else outside, I will personally NEVER put anything on that server. Security as IT experts call it, IMO does not exist.

Other downside as I see it, currently development of OS/apps is so fast that it does not give enough time for certain system to mature. Some system/apps may hold a good future but then Apple or Google or Microsoft makes some changes that screws up entire system. We have burned ourselves so much with Apple that many are seriously considering switching over Windows (Linux for geeks). So someone may try to develop or implement a system similar to what you are looking for but what is the guarantee that these big boys won't do something to mess it up.

On personal level, I remain content with Good Reader and iPad. In fact, that is the only reason, why I still have iPad. iAnnotatePDF is another app but they are not much interested in android version, so I decided against buying their iOS version. The moment, someone develops GoodReader alternative for android, I will dump iPad and go android full scale for the wiggle room it offers me.
As and when I read papers, I highlight or scribble text on the pdf and as and when I have some downtime, I use Bluemind on my laptop to make mindmaps.
Mendeley keeps my articles organized (I used to use Papers but since their Papers2 for Windows, they have royally screwed up once great program)
GoodReader syncs Mendeley article through Dropbox (Although Mendeley offers its own sync, I prefer my method because notes made using GoodReader can be saved on pdf itself.)

Hope this gives you some pointers.

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E Books
Dec 11, 2013 3:34PM PST

I think that the calibre is great for doing all the ebook stuff......

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Link about.
Dec 13, 2013 7:28AM PST