Phyllis Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Principal of In the Know.
Comments? Email letters to the Editor at email@example.com.
For researchers, the Internet is a seemingly infinite source of data. But it can also be a source of enormous frustration to organize all that information when researching a project. How many of you have a disorganized mess of bookmarks, half of which no longer work? Who hasn't collected prints of useful Web pages and ended up with stacks of paper? How much time do you waste trying to maintain control over the information you draw from the Internet?
To meet this need, research manager or organizer software has evolved as a new kind of Internet productivity tool. The research manager addresses some issues of using the Internet as a research tool--namely, organizing research results into easy-to-use hierarchies and presentable documents. It can preserve dynamic content before it disappears. Specifically, it allows you to add your own content to data taken from the Internet, adding value to the information. It can help you build an organized and even searchable archive of research material. It can create a permanent research trail you can use in collaboration with others or for accountability. At its best, research manager software can save time and energy, reduce frustration, and increase the value of the Internet for research.
The six research managers reviewed here vary widely in power and functionality. Your methods of organizing Internet research results should determine which product is worth considering.
Most of the products save Web pages, although frames often cause problems. Some have the ability to save email alongside Web content and even other file formats, such as sound and multimedia. And, while they're not bookmark management tools, some research managers try to incorporate some bookmark management functions.
Generally, they make it easy to work with stored pages offline, and most retain active links that function if a connection is present. Some basic data is attached to each saved page, including the URL, date and time, and a page title, all of which are useful for tracking activities or accounting for currency. Explorer is the favored browser, though universal support for Netscape is not far behind. The ability to manipulate Web content--add personal comments, organize content, or search it--varies tremendously among these products and only a few have the ability to generate a finished report from the saved content.
Research management software has a way to go before it will include other forms of electronic information and increase its flexibility as an information management tool. There seems to be a focus on what "coolness" the general Internet user might want, rather than on tools that an information professional needs to make efficient use of the Internet for research. Still, professionals can improve their research experience by choosing a research management tool that provides the basic functionality they need.
WebForia targets the research market with Organizer and its companion product, Reporter. Organizer's strengths are in its ease of use--a single mouse-click saves a Web page, including graphics. Instead of printing a multipage document just to get a paragraph or two of relevant data, Organizer can capture just the part you highlight, and still retain all the identifying information, such as the URL and page title. Accompanying each piece of saved data are your comments, your title, a set of keywords that you can modify, and an abstract taken from the metatags or the page content. This value-added content becomes vitally important as you manage your data. Organizer also offers powerful search capabilities. Notes, keywords, and content are all searchable.
Organizer's interface utilizes a library layout with cabinets to store pages. Each library can contain multiple cabinets, which in turn can have multiple drawers. …