Weava: best tool for online research (and offline pdfs)?

I just discovered this tool called Weava that helps you annotate websites and pdfs and collect the snippets that you highlighted on various pages. I have hardly tried it yet but thought I’d briefly mention it here because what I have seen so far looks really exciting. It’s pretty much what I’ve been looking for since years.

As you know, it is easy to discover ever new things or snippets of information on the web (including on the websites of academic journals where you went for one article but end up finding three others). What happens is that I end up having about 356 open tabs in my browser because I don’t want to loose whatever I just found but I don’t have time to look at it more closely now. Yes, that’s what bookmarks are for. But bookmarks only save the link to the whole page. With Weava, you save the snippet of information that is relevant on that page.

Anyway, I don’t want to convince anyone. That bookmarking use case is not even the primary use case for which the app was designed. They started off wanting to help students do research online as well as – perhaps more importantly – systematically read and annotate pdfs, perhaps even collaboratively. And then they noticed that not only students are using it…

To really answer the question in the title, some more research needs to be done, because, of course, Weava is not alone. Here is a list of Weava alternatives that probably should be part of a comparison:

I’ll stop here because the list could be continued almost indefinitely. So what do you do when there is such a large number of similar services to compare? I don’t have time to look at them all (but see here for a previous little review I did). So in those situations I try to find open source or at least non-profit projects that seem to be active and promising. And in this case, these would be Zotero with Zotfile and hypothes.is.

If you have some experience with any of these, please share it, even if it’s only a brief “why I like it” or “why I don’t like it”.


Google scholars disappeared from Google bar

Do you also do a general google search before consulting more specific Google engines? I do! And Until recently Google made it easy to resubmit a search term to Google scholar: you just clicked on the “more” button on the Google top bar and selected “scholar”. This option has recently disappeared and I really hate it because now I have to copy the search term, enter “scholar.google.com”, paste the search term and resubmit it. I’m not the only one annoyed with this, as you can see here, and I really hope that Google is going to reconsider that decision which seems to suggest that Google is not really interested in academics or – even worse – Google believes that the average user is not interested in academic texts.

If you want to tell Google that you are not happy with that decision, you can tell them here and here.

Meanwhile, you might want to try the scholarfy bookmarklet provided by Johan Ungander. Or if you use chrome, this plugin may be of interest. Or if you’d like to use the opportunity to try something completely new, have a look at Microsoft Academic Research.

BTW: I believe that Some time ago it was even possible to redirect a google search to Google Books, also through a link in the Google bar, but that one also seems to have disappeared. 😦


Forget Atlas.ti and MaxQDA: NVivo is your friend!


[UPDATE: Please note the updates at the end of this post, which basically revoke my enthusiastic statement in the main post]

Okay, I admit that the headline is perhaps a bit premature since I have not yet extensively worked with NVivo, but I just have to note that I am absolutely thrilled with what I’ve seen so far (NVivo 9.2)! I’m just wondering how it could happen to me that I did not see this earlier. I know I looked at it about 5 years ago so maybe it just wasn’t so good then or maybe it was too expensive for an underpaid PhD student? Maybe I was turned off by its rather commercial rather than academic appearance and self-presentation?

I can’t remember the reasons why I ended up choosing between Atlas.ti and MaxQDA, but I’m pretty sure I’ll work with NVivo from now on. I will write more about my NVivo experiences in a couple of months. At this point I can just mention some of the features that completely won me over:

Firstly, Since NVivo 9, several people can work simmultaneously on the same project (coding data etc). This is only possible in connection with NVivo Server, an extra software with an extra license (and hence extra costs), but I am not aware that any other QDA software offers such excellent team work features. In Atlas.ti, for example, you have to bundle your project and send it to your colleague who then can work on it, bundle it again and send it back to you. You can also merge projects in Atlas.ti, but once they are merged, its again only one user who can work on them at a time. (A note of caution: I have not yet had the chance to try out NVivo server but a colleague told me that there still seem to be some instability and connectivity problems that need to be resolved. So I’m not yet praising NVivo server! I’m just saying that there is huge potential!)

A second feature which is a must for me is the possibility to code scanned pdfs (handwritten fieldnotes!) Atlas.ti can do this but not MaxQDA. And NVivo can do it. I’ve tested it! Excellent!

Thirdly, I like to have my audiofiles linked and synchronized with my transcripts, which allows me to do rough transcripts at first and then go into detail where necessary by jumping to the respective audiosegment by clicking into the text. Again, Atlas.ti can do that. I think MaxQDA also introduced it recently (not sure though). Well, and NVivo can too, but my first impression here was actually a bit disappoiting since it does not seem to support “karaoke mode” when playing the audio and it puts the transcript into a table in which every row corresponds to a segment in the audio file. Its a bit clumsy to handle compared to the pure text version in Atlas.ti, but the problem with Atlas.ti transcripts for me has always been that they easily get messed up and the deitor is behaving strangely, for example by inserting a timestamp in front of the cursor instead of behaind it and and sometimes not allowing you to move the cursor past it. Well, anyway, the table layout of transcripts in NVivo seems to make the whole thing more stable. Hopefully anyway.

Another thing I like about NVivo is the way it displays code stripes not only down alongside your transcript (or other texts) but also across, along the envelope of your audio. It is also very flexible regarding which codes you want to have displayed.

Finally, I will just mention the incredible variety of analysis features, including the possibility to cluster your texts according to similarities in word use, the possibility to show the contexts in which a word is frequently used, and the possibility to automatically include synonyms and similar words in a word search. So for example, if you search for “tourist”, it can also look for “traveller” etc.

Let me know what your experiences witj NVivo or, if you prefer another QDA program, why you think it is better. Just post your comments below!

[UPDATE 04/11/2011: Here is a blogpost that came to a different conclusion than me, and I think Abdulrahman is making some valid points, especially about the speed…]

[UPDATE 13/10/2012: I don’t have time to write much today, but since this post is still one of the most popular ones on this blog, I need to say that I basically revoke my judgement: I cannot recommend NVivo 10 any more than Atlas.ti 7! The main reason why I am annoyed with NVivo is not so much about certain functionalities (if you want to import web-pages or study posts on social networks, NVivio 10 probably is still your choice) but about those little annoyances that keep bugging you while you work. I have a whole list of these, but the most annoying thing has been the way that NVivo links a transcript with the respective audio file: the transcript is in a table and one paragraph is a table cell. In addition, scrolling through the transcript table doesn’t go smoothly but takes quite big jumps so that you don’t know where actually you are in the transcript whenever you move the mouse wheel. It is also cumbersome to play a specific passage that you are looking at. Firstly because the way to get the audio playing is not intuitive and once you get it to play, it always starts at the beginning of that particular table cell. So if you got a long text within one cell, you cant’ really count that as text-audio synchronization in a meaningful way. The second huge drawback that I want to mention is that although NVivo 10 has become somewhat faster, it is still very slow (at least when you use it with NVivo server) which gets the more  annoying the more you are accustomed to the program and want to move around quickly. Finally, it seems that Atlas.ti has greatly improved with version 7.0 and I will check it out in the coming days to see if it still annoys me as much as when I decided to move to Atlas.ti with my new project.]

MaxQDA or Atlas.ti?

I just received an email from a colleague asking me a simple question that is probably relevant vor many people: “A student of mine is looking for a good qualitative software program to analyze interviews. Perhaps you have some recomendations?” So here’s my answer:

There are basically two alternatives: MaxQDA and Atlas.ti. [Update Nov. 2011: I now also consider NVivo worth considering] I myself still work with Atlas.ti simply because it allows me to scan my handwritten field into pdf-files and code them like images. Although MAXqda does now support pdf files, it only supports coding of text in these pdf-files, which renders it useless for coding scanned fieldnotes. Apart from this difference, which is essential for me, (and putting asside the rather restrictive license terms which allow you to install the student license on one single computer only) my personal impression is that MAXqda is the better software package at this point. But my judgement is based only on a quick look at the trial version of MAXqda. I have not actually worked with it (while I’ve used Atlas.ti for years). What makes me think that MaxQDA is better is its more intuitive (and prettier) user interface and such things as its visualization tools.

Apart from the better pdf-support, another advantage of Atlas.ti might be the better integration of audio transcription (and what they call “Text-to-Media Synchronization”). But there are probably other important differences depending on the type of analysis one wants to make. If you work in a team, check especially for team-functionality (i.e. sharing of data, collaborative coding etc). If you are wondering which dimensions of comparison might be relevant for you, check out the following book: Lewins, Ann & Silver, Christina (2007): Using software in qualitative research: A step-by-step guide. Los Angeles: Sage. Note, however, that this book reviews older versions of both programs, so that you should make an up-to-date comparison yourself. But the book might guide your comparison. Feel free to post the results of your comparison as a comment below.

P.S. If you’ve been wondering what the “Max” in MaxQDA stands for: In an introductory workshop held by one of the MaxQDA developers, I was told that “Max” is a reference in honour of Max Weber.