Social bookmarking and reference management

Why use social bookmarking and reference management tools?

  • Discover new information and research
  • Access your references/bookmarks wherever you are
  • Organise, and search your references/bookmarks using tags
  • Share your references/bookmarks with others in your research area

Social reference management tools also allow you to:

  • Store documents, images and other formats
  • Import reference information from other researchers’ libraries
  • Use other web 2.0 tools with your library such as using RSS feeds to import reference information, or to add information to blog posts and other online publications
  • Generate shared and individual bibliographies and format papers collaboratively
  • Set up groups for collaborative projects

What is social bookmarking?

Social bookmarking (SB) enables you to store and share websites, photos and other resources within an online community and is a way to help you stay up-to-date. By using tags you can organise saved websites, photos and articles for future reference and also browse other people’s bookmarks to discover additional information. There are several SB tools including Delicious, Diigo, CiteULike and Pinboard (paid for), Pinterest (for images).

What is social reference management?

You may already be familiar with the subscription-based packages available at Imperial: RefWorks (web-based) and EndNote (PC-based). These have some collaborative features but there are more online packages that are grouped into what can be called social reference management (SRM) tools. These are different from social bookmarking services, although there are similarities, not least the ability to share bibliographic details of the sources you’re using with other researchers.

You may decide to use more than one SRM package to take advantage of the features available, and you should be able to export and import reference information between the packages (most commonly by RIS file format or BibTEX) whatever you choose to use.

Open source and free software is frequently under development, and can be affected by browser upgrades (as can proprietary software), so it’s not advisable to rely on a free reference management tool as your sole reference database, particularly for your thesis. However the services and tools listed below are widely-used: Zotero and Mendeley have strong development investment so you can be confident that they will be supported.

Zotero (free, open source) is a browser add-on available for Firefox, Chrome and Safari that allows you to capture reference and document data found online.  With Zotero you can create and join groups and add references to these groups enhancing collaboration between research groups as well as enabling you to discover other researchers working in your field. There is an offline version, and you can work within Word to insert citations and produce bibliographies from your Zotero collection. In addition, you can sync your Zotero account between your local (home) computer and other computers/mobile devices, as well as with a Mendeley account if you have one.

Mobile apps are available for both Android and iPhone. Zandy allows you to add, edit and view your Zotero library while Scanner and BibUp will add book details to Zotero by scanning the ISBN barcode.

Papers (paid-for, Mac/PC-based) is a commonly used reference management package devised originally for Macs, but now also available for Windows. Papers allows you to share and review your Papers library in a similar way to social citation tools. You can also search for research documents in some databases and repositories from within Papers itself. The Manuscript tool enables you to cite your references in word processing software and to generate bibliographies. Papers also renames the PDFs you import according to a naming criteria you set up. When you purchase Papers you can install the software on up to three devices and sync between them using Dropbox.

Mobile apps are available for the iPad and iPhone only and cost approximately £10.00.

Mendeley’s (free, paid for premium account available: web and offline access) objective is to give researchers access to a vast library of bibliographic references and information through the sharing of individuals’ personal libraries. Through tags and other metadata you can search through all of the information uploaded by other researchers to Mendeley online. It is fast establishing itself as a research and reference management tool among scientists; the collaborative features, including groups, and social networking features make it a significantly useful tool beyond bibliographic management.

Mobile app, Mendeley Lite is free, but only available for iPhone or iPad. Syncs with your Mendeley library and allows offline reading of PDFs.

colwizcolwiz (free) offers many similar features to Mendeley such as the ability to import and annotate PDFs, share papers and create groups. But you can also create common task lists, calendars and manage events through colwiz as well as store larger documents in the cloud using colwiz Drive.

Mobile apps for colwiz were launched recently for both iPhone, iPad and Android devices. Using your mobile app you can search your colwiz library and search across a number of databases to add new papers and references as well. You can share documents with your groups and sync data with colwiz desktop.

readcubelogoReadCube (free) can import PDFs from your computer into your ReadCube library and uses this content to create personalised recommendations and direct you to other papers in your area of interest. ReadCube links to articles related to the paper you’re reading, including those which have cited it. You can also annotate your PDFs with sticky notes and highlighting. ReadCube provides enhanced PDFs from some publishers with easy linking to supplementary information, references and other papers written by the authors.

Mobile app for iPad/iPhone and Android are due for release in 2014.


1. Set up an account with the Social bookmarking tool of your choice and add some bookmarks
2. Set up an account with the SRM tool of your choice and import or add your references
3. Use the features offered by these services to discover new resources or papers

Links to further reading

Fenner, M. (2007-current year). Goobledygook. [Blog] Available at:

Heck, T. & Peters, I. (2010). Expert Recommender Systems : Establishing Communities of Practice Based on Social Bookmarking Systems. Business, (September), pp.458-464.

Heymann, P., Koutrika, G. & Garcia-molina, H. (2008). Can Social Bookmarking Improve Web Search? Categories and Subject Descriptors. Work, pp.195-205.

Wikipedia (2011). Comparison of reference management software. Available at:

Wikipedia (2011). Social bookmarking. Available at:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s