10 Browser Based Research Tools
Some time ago I wrote the text below to a friend regarding tools (Firefox Extensions) for research and writing. I figured it would make a decent blog post as well, so here it is.
It goes something like this:
Firstly, it is all mainly Firefox related.
1. YubNub: Replace the default Google search for your address bar that does not look as URL’s, to instead use Yubnub. Instructions can be found over at (one of my fave sites) LifeHacker.
To fully use Yubnub you need to have a look at yubnub.org but in short, it is a “command line interface” for various online services. Have a look at their “most used commands“. If you, after implementing it in your browser, type in (in browser address bar, without quotes): “gim football” the browser will open up Google Images on the search result page for the search term “football”. Now, that was a quick illustration only, yubnub has thousands of commands that, when learnt, dramatically speed up searches for various things. “youtube pantera” searches YouTube for your term, “wiki management by objectives” open up the relevant search result page on Wikipedia etc.
You can even combine a few commands, so “gimflint dolphins” will open up BOTH Google images AND Flickr (sorted by “interesting”) on the topic “dolphins” in your browser, side by side. This also leads me on to the next thing on my list which is:
2. Install the Autopager extension: (download Autopager)
It does one thing, but it does it well: it preloads “paged” pages automagically when you scroll. No more clicking “2”, or “3” or “next”, just keep scrolling.
Works awesomely well with search results, twitter etc.
3. One of the reasons I will have a hard time switching from Firefox to something else is Ubiquity which is made out of pure awesome.
A little bit like Yubnub, Ubiquity is a powerhouse of a collection of tools. No matter where I am (online) or what I do, I can always go CTRL+SPACE which opens up a Ubiquity overlay window. Searches, word definitions, Wikipedia, Twitter, Google Maps (you can even select many addresses and have them plotted out on Google Maps). You don’t even have to remember all the commands (and there are loads, and you can make your own) as it fills things in as suggestions as you type.
4. A wonderful tool for research is Juice.
Select something on any website and drag it out on your right in your browser window, and Juice starts, which allows you to search Wikipedia/Google etc at the same time as you are still reading the originating page.
5. Another great tool for research is Zotero. In fact, as far as research tools go, Zotero is probably the only one on the list that is a properly dedicated research tool.
It basically sits in your tray and when you click it, it opens up a window at the bottom of your screen, allowing you to save bookmarks, assets, notes, links etc, all of which are of relevance for your entry, and relevant for the page you are viewing.
This is a great tool for saving snippets and quotes, and to be able to link back to the source (because that is how it should be done). It allows advanced grouping and tagging, so you can have a moment of inspiration, and still find it again quickly.
POWERTIP 1: If you store your Zotero database in a Dropbox folder it will synchronize between all your machines as well. Take notes in one place, access them everywhere.
POWERTIP 2: The Dropbox trick obviously works for other note taking software as well, and I use a desktop Wiki that does the same, mainly to be able to take notes outside of the browser. Notepad on steroids, and shared between all my machines in a secure way. In short, get Dropbox, regardless. It has versioning, you can access it via a browser, even un-delete files, and you can collaborate with files between different people.
It “reads” your text as you type it when you are in WordPress and Gmail, and it suggests possible relevant articles/photos elsewhere. It does a whole host of other things as well. Some hate it, as it can slow down loading of said services in your browser. I like it, as I normally am on a fast machine on a fast network.
7. If you are looking at a blog and wonder who it belongs to, or where else the author has online activity, Identify, is great. Just type ALT+I on any page and you are quite likely to get more information about the person. It basically reads the h-card information of the site and tries to be clever about combining information from various sources into a package that gives you more than any of the separate sites. Sometimes it gets it wrong. Often it gets it right.
8. For finding things online quickly that you visit somewhat regularly, install the official Delicious extension.
Apart from doing the obvious thing (adding bookmarks and integrating them into your browser, and searching them quickly when you press CTRL+B) a not-so-known function is that you can right click any bookmark within the Firefox sidebar where you have your bookmarks, and choose properties. In there you’ll find a “keyword” field. For my Flickr bookmark to my profile I have put “fl” as a keyword. I have then amended the URL to instead of http://flickr.com/photos/hellquist it now says http://flickr.com/photos/%s . It is the “%s” at the end that is of interest here.
I can then type, in address bar(sans quotes): “fl hellquist” or “fl rebba” (’cause she’s awesome) and the “fl” bit will know it should use my bookmark keyword BEFORE it uses Yubnub (or other search engine) from point 1 above, and it replaces “%s” with whatever I put in there as the variable. “all programming” will take me to http://programming.alltop.com/ and “all bacon” to http://bacon.alltop.com/ (make a bookmark there btw).
This trick can be used on any and all websites that use a variable to differentiate the content presented to you. Another beautiful thing with the short hand code described above is that it is being stored centrally by Delicious, so you only have to set it up once, on one of your computers, and it will work on all of your computers that use your Delicious bookmarks!
9. If you think all these extensions etc are too much for you, just use Gmail. You can install all kinds of things to enhance your Gmail experience as well (like GTDInbox, which is great), but even out of the box it is actually a very competent place to store notes, to-do lists, bookmarks, articles etc. If you add “tags” (just add them as text, in an email to yourself) you can easily search for them with the built-in (doh) search in Gmail. Google will own all your data though. 😉
10. The rest is more about using the correct web sites. Flickr, Twitter and Delicious are great for finding ground breaking news. Linkedin is obviously good when interviewing people etc. Google is your friend. Use it. Very often I answer questions by typing them into Google as they are being said, and look at the top responses. If I want to find lots of articles on a specific topic, Alltop.com is my friend (and it works great with the delicious trick in no 8 above). I also sign up on various email lists on topics that I am interested in. I rarely have time to read all the emails on them, so I sort them into folders and mark them as read. The point? I use Gmail. I am collecting information in a bag that I can always reach (yes, I have the offline capability “on” for Gmail), and it is a great first/last thing to resort to.
Nothing vastly groundbreaking above, but I have setup all my machines as per above (plus another bunch of extensions that didn’t fit this topic today) and when you get used to it all you don’t really want it any other way, and you find other browsers flawed for not letting you do what you are used to.
The trick is mainly to FULLY use the things that I have installed.
Do you use any other tools that I have missed or forgotten to mention? Tell me about it in the comments.