I love software that makes my life easier. As an academic, I do a lot of reading. I read a lot (I mean a lot) of PDF articles on a huge variety of topics. I have a virtual stack of papers that would probably reach half-way to Phoenix and cost a forest if I printed them all out. Of course I’ll never get to read them all, but just in case.

So as a new student of academia, I started looking for a good way to organize my files. Surely there must be a better system than storing random PDFs in whatever nonsensical names their publishers give them in a million places on my hard drive. That’s when I first discovered Mendeley. It was a dream come true.

Mendeley is a cross-platform software program for managing research. It can consolidate files into a single directory, manage metadata for each article, search the metadata, tag and highlight PDFs, and a whole bunch more. Additionally it can sync all that data to a BibTeX file for easy inclusion in a paper. On top of all this, it provides a cloud syncing functionality to keep your information consistent across devices.

After a few months with Mendeley I discovered Qiqqa. Qiqqa was sexy. Qiqqa was newer. Qiqqa had more features. Qiqqa could highlight with different colors. Qiqqa could OCR my documents to allow me to search ugly old PDFs. Qiqqa had neat brainstorming tools (that it turns out I never ever used). The biggest reason I switched is that I like software that is being actively developed, and Qiqqa was. Mendeley seemed to have stagnated, with no real new features in the months I’d been using it. Qiqqa had a new release every month with cool stuff that I could actually use.

But after spending almost 2 years as a Qiqqa user, I’m switching back. I was a Qiqqa Premium user for over a year, but when my premium subscription ran out, I felt it was time to move on. The interface felt too bloated. The features I loved (like multi-color highlights) were just not enough to keep me there. I also felt that in the years I’d been using it, Qiqqa had spent more time developing features I didn’t care about and added fewer and fewer things I did.

So I’m back with Mendeley now. UA has purchased a site license to give me extra storage and a few cool features. It’s still not perfect, but it’s good enough for free. In case Mendeley is listening, here are some killer features I want, in order of awesomeness:

  • Get smarter about gathering metadata. I have to correct the data about 75% of the time.
  • Make a Papers-esque ability to grab BibTeX keys from anywhere. Writing a paper in LaTeX and inserting citations could be seamlessly integrated with my synced BibTex file.
  • Highlights should appear in the notes section
  • Qiqqa’s hierarchical tags were pretty neat. The ability to drill down within a set of tagged documents is a cool feature.