My intent for this blog was to focus on open source software for learning and, even though the open learning thread got going first, it’s time to come back to the open source theme.
Two fantastic open source applications that are made even better because they work well together are Zotero and VUE. Zotero is a FireFox pluggin for organizing, managing, citing, and accessing research sources and resources of all kinds. [Note: Zotero handles resources in closed systems like the ESC on-line Library and other other reference collections. If you are not logged in you are prompted to do so, and once you are logged in you go straight to the resource - it handles this very smoothly]
Zotero has all of the features you’d expect in a citations manager, and if you sign up for a (free) account, you can store you references on their server so that they are available on any computer. There are limits on disk space, but you can pay for more space if you need it. Why would you need more space? Well, if you have documents on your local computer that you want to be able to access from anywhere you’ll have to copy them to a web location. Zotero will do this for you automatically so that all of the documents you reference are available wherever you go. You can put your references into folders, add tags and notes, and generally keep track of a lot of stuff. To add a reference, just open the Zotero pane (it opens like the Firefox bookmarks pane) and drag the URL of the page to the folder you want to put it in. There are other ways of course and it’s all very slick.
VUE – The Visual Understanding Environment was create by a groups at Tufts and this is an absolutely fantastic piece of software. First of all it’s a pretty nifty diagramming tool that you can use to do all sorts of diagrams (be sure to note that it allows for layers – very powerful). But VUE also allows images, documents of all kinds, and links to documents and web pages to be dropped into your diagram where they are then displayed as nodes. You can draw connections among nodes, and you can associated data with the connections. So if one node is your “subject”, and another is your “object”, and the connection is a “predicate” you have the makings of an RDF editor and VUE will create RDF for you from your diagrams. It can also do semantic analysis of HTML pages and other files containing structured data and you can open data files and use VUE to analyze it in intriguing ways.
So you can use VUE for diagramming, as a sort of semantic web toolkit/editor, and as a design tool. But wait there’s more! Wouldn’t it be great if VUE and Zotero could work together? Yes, it would and they can. VUE and Zotero are integrated and can use the combination to organize and track information and diagram and analyze the connections. This has great potential for turning data and information into knowledge – an elusive goal if there ever was one. I recommend installing Zotero and using it to get a basic level of comfort with how it works. Then download and Install VUE and play around with it to get familiar with the basic features. Both products have video tutorials to help get you up to speed.
Then try the VUE/Zotero Firefox add-in that combines the two products. As is so often said, we all need new and better tools for managing the info-glut in which we exist. VUE and Zotero are two tools for doing just that – and they both deserve your use and support.