Meet ReadCube: The Free Reference Manager

Researching needs hardwork and patience. And most importantly, the ability to read a lot of related subject matter to make better observations and inferences. Even when your research is 100% original, you will need a bunch of documents to quote and to support your hypothesis. Since most of the academic and research materials are now digitized into PDF files, your efforts are actually cut in half.

PDFs make sifting through tens of thousands of pages of documents easier and they are easy to carry around too. But, grouping together a bunch of PDF files into a library that can be searched and annotated is no easy task. That’s where ReadCube comes to the rescue. The goal of this app is simple – to let you create an article library instantly. Come, let’s take a peek!

Overview

ReadCube lets you create instant libraries in your PC. Just import your PDF files in a single step and a library is created for you. Using the app, you can search, highlight, annotate and make comments on the otherwise lifeless PDF documents. And ReadCube facilitates one click download of related articles too.

Overview

Overview

ReadCube is an Adobe AIR app. Meaning, you need to have Adobe AIR installed, but the app will install a version of AIR automatically when you start the installation process. The app is currently in public beta and is available as a free download.

Getting Started

Sign Up Form

Sign Up Form

To take better advantage of all the great features of the app, you have to create a ReadCube account. To make things easier, a sign up form is made available when the app is launched. If you don’t belong to an educational institution listed in the drop down, don’t worry, it’s an optional field. However, if you find the name of your institution in the list, choose it as it will help the app better work with respective proxy servers.

Head over to your email inbox to fetch the confirmation code and once you paste it in the app, it will be unlocked for use.

Creating a Library

Import in Progress

Import in Progress

Predictably, creating a library probably would be everyone’s first step and ReadCube automatically starts importing documents from Downloads and My Documents folders. It’s a thoughtful step, but a never ending one at that. There were only a couple of PDF files in my Downloads folder and the app found them in under a few seconds. But even after sometime, whenever I tried to do something the app warned me that the import process will stop if I closed that window. A progress bar will make a lot of difference.

Creating Lists

Creating Lists

Creating Lists

Lists help you stay organized. Create as many lists as possible (use the + button in the lower left corner) and move all related documents there for reference. As soon as the documents are added to a list, the app will start analyzing it. At the end of the analysis, all the metadata will automatically be picked up and the document will be ready for a full text search. This analysis also comes in handy when you start looking for research recommendations.

Auto Resolution and Adding Notes

Auto Resolution and Adding Notes

If you don’t see the metadata, use the auto resolve option to manually (!) update the info and you will have your details instantly. At times, the app won’t be able to find any useful data and in such instances, the app candidly admits the same. The Notes section can be found immediately beneath the title of the document and is perfect for some quick observations.

Recommendations

Recommended Research Documents

Recommended Research Documents

The quickest way to find some new research documents is the Recommendations section. You can filter results based on the date of publication. In my case, I found the recommendations to be way off. All my imported documents were either technology or entrepreneurial, but the recommendations for me were mostly medical documents.

Curiously, the screenshots in their homepage also showcase results related to the medical and biological domain. There is no mention of this particular specialization in their copy and some clarification would be nice.

Searching

Searching for Documents

Searching for Documents

There are three search options for you to choose from – local library, Google Scholar and PubMed. I tried searching Google Schloar and got tens of thousands of relevant documents. Each document is accompanied by the number of citations it has received so far and a link to search for related documents. Hit the Download link and the document will be downloaded to your library.

Final Thoughts

As I noted earlier, ReadCube is an Adobe AIR app, which has its own set of merits and demerits. The app looks way better than the windows apps we are used to. But, when it comes to performance it might get a bit sluggish at times. In the era of the Omnipotent Evernote, the average user might think ReadCube is not as feature rich.

That’s exactly the point. ReadCube isn’t for everyone. It’s meant for researchers who have a tough time archiving, analyzing and making sense of the PDF documents. Students and researchers will for sure find this app to be quiet resourceful and I just wish I had ReadCube when I was going to university couple of years ago!