Open Access Philosophy is pleased to present this interview with Docear project manager, Joeran Beel. The open source Docear software application is described as an 'academic literature suite' and it offers interesting possibilities for research literature management and sharing.

Q. How would you sum up Docear and what it can offer to the academic user, both currently and in the future?

A. Docear supports students and researchers in the entire process of literature management, i.e. searching, organizing and creating academic literature. At the moment Docear allows you to import PDF annotations you made with your favorite PDF reader, and organize these annotations in a mind map. In addition, Docear has an integrated reference manager. Let me give you an example. Let's say you have the PDF of my paper "Academic Search Engine Optimization (ASEO): Optimizing Research Papers for Google Scholar & Co.". In that PDF are some statements and results you might want to cite later in your own paper. For instance the statement "Citation counts play a major role in Google Scholar's ranking algorithm". Then you could create annotations (highlighted text, comments, bookmarks) in the PDF for all statements that are of interest to you. These annotations are imported by Docear and you can freely organize them into your favorite categories. Later, if you want to read more details on a statement, you select it in Docear and Docear opens the PDF at the page the annotation points to. In addition, Docear assigns bibliographic data to the imported statement. So, when you see in your mind map the statement "Citation counts play a major role in Google Scholar's ranking algorithm" Docear additionally displayed the author of the paper, the year, etc.  Well, that's the main concept of Docear. In the future we want to add an academic search engine, a recommender system, an integrated PDF viewer (right now it's a bit tricky to import PDF annotations) and an MS Word Add-on. 

Q. One feature mentioned on the Docear website is an 'academic search engine / digital library with free full-text access'. We are very interested in promoting open access to research materials. Could you explain how Docear may facilitate access to, and sharing of, research for academics?

A. We have already developed most parts of an academic search engine (web crawler, pdf title extraction, database design, ...) as part of our project Mr. DLib but still need to integrate this into Docear. The search engine will be similar to Google Scholar with the difference that all data will be machine readable (XML and Json). This way, other applications can easily use the data, too. And in the long run it would be great if Docear could offer something like "paper sharing" for our users but that's a vision rather than a concrete plan.

Q. So, for example, Docear would be able work with an index such as Philpapers, and university repositories, to allow for searching, downloading and possibly (in the future) uploading and sharing of papers? 

A. In the long run, yes. However, it takes a lot of labor because all repositories have different interfaces which means Docear needs to be adjusted for each of them. So, in the short-run we will integrate our own digital library Mr. DLib and then maybe Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic Live. Probably in a few days we will already release a new version of Docear that gives you literature recommendations based on the data you manage in Docear (all recommendations are free to download). 

Q. In technological terms, is Docear working with mostly open standards and technologies?

A. Yes, definitely and I think this should be one of the main criteria for researchers when selecting a literature management solution. Otherwise they might store all their ideas and information in a proprietary format. And if there is a better software in a few years they are trapped because their old software does not let them go. This could not happen with Docear. We rely on BibTeX for bibliographic data, XML for the mind maps, Adobe's standard for PDF files, and XML and JSON for our coming search engine.

Q. Can academic users give feedback to the Docear team in general? Are there ways academics could help improve the amount of research freely available in the digital library?

A. Feedback is highly welcome. Many, if not most, of Docear's features are based on users' requests.

Q. How else can academics and universities support the development of Docear?

A. There are many ways to support Docear: Tell your friends about Docear, report bugs, or join the development team. And of course, there is always the funding issue ;-). As a user, you could donate some money to cover our costs for server etc. And if you are a university and could contribute some major funding or labor, please contact us. 

Q. Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

A. I have to admit, Docear is not yet very intuitive to use - but I can only ask people to give it a try. All people I know who invested the time to get to know the software were extremely happy to use Docear. I am convinced that there's nothing comparable to Docear that allows for managing academic literature nearly as effectively as Docear does.

Further Information


    Open Access Philosophy

    Supporting fairer access to philosophical materials.


    June 2012