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Remembrance Agent for Web 2.0

I’ve mentioned before an idea that Peter Flynn once put in my head. As I write this, I am taking a break from writing a manuscript (that is late!) using NeoOffice and Zotero. It all works fairly well, but I’m struck that the two together feel rather heavy. Consider the workflow if I need to add a citation and associated information:

  1. try to remember where I saw some information; go to Zotero to find it
  2. go back to NeoOffice to add content.
  3. go back to Zotero to insert the citation

While each time I do this the process is fairly quick, if you multiply it by a hundred it becomes a significant waste of time. More importantly, it’s a distraction. Writing is hard enough to be distracted by interruptions of this sort.

OK, so back to the idea:

Peter once mentioned Remembrance Agent. A screenshot with its emacs front-end:

Remembrance Agent

So the idea here is a service scans the content you are working on, sends it to a backend, which looks through emails, document and bibliographic references to find items of potential relevance, presenting it to the user for quick-and-easy access.

So here’s my thought: with all of the innovations in new Ajax-y applications, shouldn’t it possible to do something like this with web applications?

I’m starting to wonder about a nice web editor for academics: something stripped down and simple (but extensible) like the Mac application WriteRoom, that used a simple Markdown-like syntax, and which could plug-in to a bibliographic service a la Remembrance Agent.

Hmm …

4 Comments

  1. Hamish Harvey says:

    Hi Bruce,

    I think Dashboard http://www.nat.org/dashboard/ was supposed to be something similar, though all tied up with the Gnome desktop. Development seems to have stalled in around ‘04. Perhaps it would be easier to implement on the back of the desktop search engines (which need not be limited to indexing local materials) which have since become available.

    I surely would like this sort of presentation of possibly-relevant materials as I work, particularly because my memory is, shall we say, not as good as I’d like. The combination of easy full text snarfing and indexing, and context-driven suggestion could (could, mind, the devil would be in the details) powerful. Of course such a device could present material I had never actually read as well as material I had forgotten (and I can’t always tell those apart).

    On the other hand, it might just turn out to be another distraction machine …

    Cheers, Hamish

  2. Bruce D'Arcus says:

    Hi Hamish. Yes, I remember Dashboard. But I’m increasingly tiring of the desktop.

    As for distractions, yes, that could be a problem. I’d want to probably constrain it to the essential, and be able to turn off stuff.

    I’m working on another post that is about a more incremental idea I have that relates to this. I only then realized I had this draft post that I’d written awhile back, and thought I may as well post.

  3. Steve Butterfill says:

    Hi Bruce,

    Found your blog by accident today. You have loads of really interesting and useful stuff on citations and zotero (thank you), and the web application for CSL looks interesting too. Anyway, I was wondering who you are and it took me ages to guess that I would find your name in the comments. Maybe add a link to your home page?

    Cheers, Steve

  4. Bruce D'Arcus says:

    Hi Steve. Yes, I’m not that happy with a lot about this site (like the theme!). I’ll plan to add a link (probably to the new home site I’m working on). along with some other changes, soon.