Review: Docear

We’ve talked about Docear the Visual Citation Manager on the blog before, before my time, but it’s been a while we’ll revisit it. Though, the most recent major update to the software was in 2015, and based on the forums it seems that Docear has struggled with finding funding. However, the researchers behind this project are still active. That being said, in the worst case scenario, Docear is an open source project and if things went south, you could still get your information out. If you are considering relying on this software for organizing very long term research projects you need to use an external cloud backup service as their My Docear service is no longer available and supported if it ever existed at all.


Screenshot of Docear demo mindmap

Docear paper demo mindmap showing linked annotated PDF

Docear is an open source mind mapping, reference, and citation management software for those who want a visual way to keep their research organized. It is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux computers. Docear provides plenty of support and useful instructions through their official user manual. The examples on the app itself for trying out the mind map and PDF capability incorporate some of the research behind the product itself and makes for an informative, if somewhat meta, experience. Docear staff like to compare the software to Zotero and Mendeley, but it’s a very different type of beast. Specifically, a combination of Jabref (without the OpenOffice support) and Freeplane for mind maps, and, depending on what type of PDF viewer you use, a document annotation software. To enjoy the full capability of this software you also have to download PDF X-change viewer, though you can still do some annotating with other less supported PDF editors. Docear also uses Mr. DLib or Machine-readable digital library cataloging. While Mr. DLib has not really caught on elsewhere, it is featured as part of JabRef and specifically powers the article recommendation function. If they ever get their funding together, Docear could become a space where you can research, organize, and write an article. And unlike some of the software options discussed on this blog and in our LibGuides, you can download Docear from a zip file and run it to full capacity on Scholarly Commons computers.

Although Docear is not quite the all-encompassing research suite the creators envisioned, there are still lots of funky little features not found in other services. For example, in the Tools and Settings tab you can add map locations with OpenMaps (unfortunately there is no search function — you have to zoom and select your location) to add a geographic component to your otherwise mental map,which you can see by clicking on “View Open Maps Location” later.

Screenshot of Docear Open Maps features

You can also add time alerts for time management in Tools and Settings. But before we get ahead of ourselves, it’s easy to add a node with keyboard shortcuts and the node panel in the toolbar. You can add links to websites and other nodes right in your mind map by right clicking on a node. Apparently, you can add formulas to your mind map using LaTex but I didn’t try it, as I am not one of the people who cares about that sort of thing.

And while you do have the option of writing in Docear itself, there is a plugin for MS Word, but only on Windows. On the one hand, the plugin is old and hasn’t been updated in a few years, and it doesn’t work on the computers at Scholarly Commons. But on the other hand, since it’s based in BibTeX, if it actually does work the way they say it does, you should be able to use it with any BibTeX bibliography, and not just Docear. This means, it could give you that MS Word integration that you might be lacking with another reference manager.

Overall, if you wanted a reference manager and document annotator that is easy to get started on this is NOT the one for you, but for those patient enough to deal with the learning curve, Docear can be a good addition to your research strategy. I really hope this project gets the funding it needs to fully live up to its potential, but for now it’s still a solid option for researchers looking for a unique way to organize their work.

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