Three New Tools

It seems that new productivity tools come out faster than we can keep up with them, but I’ve recently started using three new ones which I think are worth taking a moment of your time to investigate. All three have changed how I work:

  • Jott is a service which works over the phone (sorry, US phone numbers only right now). You call the Jott phone number, record a short message, and then it is transcribed by both computers and humans before being emailed to you, one of your contacts, or various web services which interact with Jott. A recording of your original message is included, so you can figure out what went wrong when there’s a mistake. (It’s pretty accurate, but not pefect. “Ad hoc became “add a hawk” in my last Jott. They encourage you to spell out unusual names.) Even though I’m in Taiwan, my internet phone is registered in the US, so I use this all the time. Its great when I’m lying down reading a book and want to transcribe a short passage or make a note to myself.
  • Evernote is a way to make sure your notes are with you wherever you are. It syncs your notes between your desktop computer (they have clients for Mac and Windows), the website, and even your mobile phone (via a Windows Mobile client, or an experimental IMAP interface for the iPhone). It also clips web pages and even recognizes handwriting, but I’m just happy to have my notes with me wherever I go. Oh, and you can send your Jotts to Evernote for note-taking bliss. (Evernote is currently in closed beta, but I have three invites left, and hopefully those three can share their invites once mine are gone.)
  • Sente is a Mac OS X only application for keeping track of your references and PDF files. Nothing new there, EndNote and Bookends do the same thing just as well. In fact, Bookends was my favorite until recently, but Sente’s new “links” feature is amazingly useful so I’m giving it a try for the paper I’m writing. Download a citation from AnthroSource to Sente and it will see the link to the AnthroSource website, which it shows in the main panel. Click on the link to download the PDF file and its automatically downloaded, renamed, and attached to your reference! If there’s an ISBN number for a book you can see the Amazon and Google Books web pages for that book. And so on. Watch a short video showing this in action. (I should also mention Zotero, a free plugin for Firefox which can pull bibliographic metadata from numerous websites, organize PDFs and make bibliographies. Zotero can’t quite compete with stand-alone apps just yet, but its free and catching up quick.)

12 thoughts on “Three New Tools

  1. Users who don’t want to shell out for Sente should know there is a free, open-source, actively-developed (by very responsive, hard-working volunteer developers) alternative in BibDesk, with more users than Sente, Endnote and Bookends combined on (a longer comparison here: ), and a ready-made template for aaa citation format linked from . Getting anthrosource refs. in requires a cut-and-paste, but that’s b/c anthrosource puts up buggy BibTex, not b/c of BibDesk.

  2. While not free, Sente offers a significant academic discount to both faculty and students. It also offers tight integration with Mellel which is (IMHO) the best word processor on any computer. For free I would recommend Zotero over BibDesk simply because it offers NeoOffice integration, and NeoOffice will be more familiar to most users than Tex (NeoOffice is virtually identical to Word).

  3. Re: integration, BibDesk has user-developed scripts for integration with Pages, Word & rtf formats (via TextEdit) — I’ve used it for 1.5+ years with Nisus Writer Pro & have never used Tex. Also if you annotate your PDFs with Skim (free & developed by the same team as BibDesk), you can display and search Skim notes from within BibDesk. My $.02 🙂

  4. Jørgen,

    I actually tested Papers out for this post, thinking I would write about that as my fourth app. But it seemed somewhat buggy and difficult to use (e.g. It sees the Jstor link in my file and will open it, but to match the reference to the Jstor data I need to do a JSTOR search, I can’t use the embedded link). I can certainly see the promise, and I know some people are very happy with it – but it didn’t work for me.


    Sente will display notes from Skim (and the built-in Preview which now offers annotation tools) as well. Glad to know it that BibTex works with more than Tex – I’ll download it and give it a try.

  5. I spent about an hour with BibDesk. While it seems to have some nice features, and I’m all for open source, I think that most people would be better off to stick with Bookends or Sente – both of which provide a much more powerful user interface. The difference is like working with a Linux computer or working with Mac OS X. After numerous efforts I couldn’t get BibDesk to import more than 1/3 of my data correctly, whereas Sente imported it correctly on the first try – and even attached all the PDF files (copying, renaming them and organizing them in its database at the same time!). Simple things like searching the library of congress for a book title didn’t work properly in BibDesk, even after reading the manual and using the proper search terms. I’m sure it works if you are willing to spend the time to figure out its quirks – but I can’t recommend it for people who just want to get work done.

  6. Evernote is open to new users now. I love it. It solves a major problem for me as I become bilocal — living one place M-F and back ‘home’ to my central work computer for the weekends.
    Thanks for this!
    BTW, I don’t think Zotero works with the new FireFox 3 — or perhaps they’ve put out an upgrade by now.

  7. There is a Zotero update for Firefox 3, but the latest beta of Sente adds the Zotero feature I love most – the ability to detect reverences from some academic web pages. Right now they only support a few sites (like Google Scholar), but they will be adding many more before the new version is released.

  8. Hi Kerim:

    You and I actually went to college together – and now we are both anthropologists. I am thinking of converting to Mac for many reasons, but prominent among them is Sente. However, before I do I wanted to ask you if Sente supports the American Anthropologist bibliography style. I haven’t been able to tell from their website.


  9. Julian,

    Sorry to take so long to reply – I’m just now catching up on the 100 comments which have accumulated on SM while I’ve been busy with other things…

    The short answer is no. There is no pre-set AA style. However, there are probably other styles which are very close and you can easily edit/modify the styles. What I would like to see in Sente is an easier way to share user-generated styles.

  10. Jott is very handy and advance in technology, but can anyone except US resident use it? The phone technology is amazing and Evernote, Sente are also other good techniques to creep on.

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