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ReadCube: just another reference manager?

26 Jul, 12 | by BMJ

Last month, ReadCube (a free, cross-platform reference manager) announced a host of new features in the form of  ‘enhanced PDFs’. Articles published by Nature, PLOS and Wiley can now be enhanced with active in-line references and automatic fetching of supplementary data.

ReadCube was launched at the end of 2011 by Labtiva, having received investment from Digital Science, a division of Macmillan Publishing Ltd. Reviews of the product have focused on its ease of use and integrated search on PubMed and Google Scholar. Another neat feature is the daily recommendation service, which is based on your research interests and the contents of your library. Some have questioned what problem ReadCube is trying to solve and how it fits into the current landscape of reference management software. Perhaps the newly released PDF functionality is a bid by Labtiva to differentiate its product from competitors such as Mendeley, Zotero and EndNote. But by doing so, are they giving themselves fresh competition in the form of more established PDF reading tools, such as Utopia Documents?

Martin Fenner wrote a review of ReadCube when it first launched and pointed out that:

ReadCube is a reference manager with a particular focus on organizing the PDFs of scholarly papers. There are a number of programs out there that can do the same. Papers for Macintosh for example is a very similar program, but the first version of it has been released four years ago. Even more traditional reference managers now include inline PDF readers with annotation support, including the latest version of Endnote. Mendeley and Zotero are two other alternatives, and they are both free and available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

Apart from the built-in PubMed/Google Scholar search and the daily recommendation service, the other key difference I can see between ReadCube and existing reference management software is its focus on the PDF reader and integration with publisher websites. ReadCube’s Web Reader brings the enhanced PDF functionality of the desktop app to the journal website. For example, the tool allows users to access content in an editable, interactive form that can be synced to the desktop application. The Web Reader also enables an integrated view of supplementary information and associated News & Views (an article type in Nature), as well as direct links out to the literature with in-line references.

As mentioned earlier, it does seem that Utopia Documents and ReadCube have a few things in common. Both apps improve the experience of reading scholarly articles by combining static PDF content with additional data from the web. Both apps also fetch data from third-party databases and facilitate commenting/annotation of PDFs.

However, Utopia offers commenting that can be enabled as public for discussion; integrated online resources like semantic search tools, certain data repositories and article metrics (including Altmetric); and an impressive figure browser, interactive 3D images and dynamic rendering of figures. The next release will also contain FigShare links, thereby linking directly to relevant data files and collating usage metrics on the author’s FigShare profile.

While ReadCube is in the process of establishing itself as a one-stop show for research literature, covering both reference management and advanced PDF tools,  it does seem that its competitors in the two separate fields continue to offer their customers extra functionality. However, the Digital Science blog explains that:

ReadCube’s integration with is only the beginning, with plans to extend their reach and availability to other content providers in the sciences in the future. Do stay tuned for future developments.

I certainly will!


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