I’ve written about Zotero before, it’s an intriguing tool, essentially a Firefox plug-in for managing your reference list and other pieces of information. It’s a bit of a hybrid between online management tools like Connotea and things like Papers which you store on your own computer.

The bad news is that Thomson Reuters, the manufacturers of EndNote, are suing George Mason University and the Commonwealth of Virginia because a new version of Zotero lets you take your EndNote reference lists and convert them for use in Zotero. Yes, this is the same Thomson of Thomson ISI, secret gatekeepers of journal impact factors. They really seem to be going out of their way to lose what little goodwill they have left with the scientific community. It will be interesting to see if this reverse engineering for interoperability holds up in court as something that should be prevented.
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More importantly, it’s yet again, a lesson in tying yourself to one locked-down proprietary format for your data and your work tools. If you’ve put a huge amount of time and effort into maintaining your EndNote list and a better tool comes along and becomes the standard, all that work may go to waste and you’ll have to start over again. A similar lesson was learned last week from anyone who purchased music downloads from WalMart. Richard Stallman recently gave a warning along the same lines about the much-hyped concept of “cloud computing”.

As you experiment with new online tools for your research, heed these lessons well. Demand tools that support open standards and open formats, tools where if you put in an effort (and most of these tools demand a lot of effort), you can get that work out again so you don’t have to repeat it for the next tool you try. Further discussion here and here.