Paperpile (Tools We Use)

About a year ago I wrote a long post that discussed both my general approach to working with academic PDFs as well as the specific Apple (OS X/iOS) software I use to manage my own workflow: Sente. I still consider Sente to be a kind of gold standard for reference management software, but there are a couple of things about it that lead me to regularly check out the competition. One is that it only works on Apple products and many of my students are Windows users. The other is that, even on the Mac, it does not work within the web browser itself, but forces you to launch the app and use its own built-in web browser, which always interrupts my workflow. In my last post I mentioned a few other issues and briefly surveyed the competition; however my current work environment has me on a Windows 7 computer and so I decided to look again at the competition, especially cross-platform solutions. The first one I discovered is ReadCube but I found it just didn’t meet my needs. It didn’t do a very good job getting citation information (I had lots of errors in my metadata) and the iPad app was too limited for my needs. However, another service turned out to be more promising: Paperpile, and I thought I’d write a short post about how I’m using that.

The first thing to note about Paperpile is that it is entirely a cloud-based service. It is designed to work with Google Drive documents, not Word or Open Office, etc. and I haven’t yet tested it out as a tool for writing in-text citations and bibliographies, something I hope to do later. It is also a subscription based service, not free (the same is true for ReadCube), but they have a 30 day trial period and a deep discount for academics using it for personal use. And it currently only works in the desktop version of Google Chrome, not any other browser. That means it also doesn’t work on Mobile Safari (or Chrome), although they claim to be hard at work on a mobile app.

Despite all that, I still find Paperpile quite useful. That is because it syncs your documents with Google Drive and my favorite iOS PDF annotation application, GoodReader can also sync with Google Drive. Even better, I don’t need to sync my entire library. The Paperpile library has a separate folder for “starred” items and I can set GoodReader to just sync with that folder. (I use the “download only” sync option, making it a one-way sync.) I also find that the Paperpile Chrome plugin is very good at getting metadata from the journals I read. Like Sente I can even upload a PDF and have Paperpile automatically pull the metadata from the DOI or paper title. The web app also lets me organize my PDFs with Gmail-like labels and offers a number of other filter options. It is true that it is possible to do many of the things Paperpile does with some of the other apps I discussed in my last post, such as Zotero or Mendeley, but somehow I find Paperpile works better for me and I’ll probably continue to use it at least until I’m back working on a Mac. After that, who knows…

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