Information gathering and sharing tool

October 02, 2011 10:32 pm | Updated 10:32 pm IST

This edition of NetSpeak introduces a few more means for discovering and sharing content.

A significant factor that distinguishes a researcher of this age from the researcher of yesteryears is the access to multiple collaboration platforms. The widespread growth of Net-based collaboration tools has made sharing of ideas/resources a breeze. As you are aware, for information gathering and sharing we have several tools at our disposal.

The wide spectrum of content discovery and sharing tools includes the traditional search services (search engines, search directories, subject gateways and so on), social messaging and networking services (such as twitter, Facebook and Google Plus).

Though these services can be used for sharing specialised and scholarly content too, they are more tailored to the needs of general public. This scenario is giving rise to the emergence of more focussed networks and services. The introduction of Circles in Google Plus could be considered as recognition of this evolving requirement.

The popular question answer service, >Quora ( >discussed in the past - Q & A service: evolving landscape ), and the professional social network >Linkedin are a few instances of this emerging trend. >DeviantArt , a social networking site for artists and art enthusiasts is yet another specialised social media service worth a look. Another collaborative application, fast gaining popularity among the academic crowd, is ResearchGate, the social network service catering to serious researchers.

>ResearchGate , the free collaboration and resource-sharing tool, dedicated to scientists and scholars, is an amazing content source for a knowledge seeker. A significant aspect of the service is the ‘Topics' feature that allows one to subscribe to topics of choice. The service offers a wide array of topics that range from ‘Agriculture Science' to ‘Computer Science'. Once subscribed to the relevant topics, the service automatically starts sending you alert messages as and when new discussion threads on these topics surface.

Whatever be the topic of choice, you will find numerous discussions that delve deep into the subject. For instance, if you select the topic, say, History of Science, you will find involved discussions and a plethora of links pertaining to it. A researcher might find such discussions helpful in comprehending the current concerns. Besides sharing content/ideas, the service can be used to find people with similar interests. For instance, if you invoke a search on a topic, ResearchGate immediately lists out researchers who are active in the topic.

Related sites

While reading an article or a blog commentary on a product/service, the information gathering process can be made more efficient if the browser automatically populates articles/blog posts related to the one being read. Of course, the technology identifying similar web pages is not new.

We have already featured several tools of this kind in the past (like >Similarsites ).

The Chrome extension >Google Related is yet another tool of this type worth a try. Once installed, the extension reads/analyses the text of the page being viewed and automatically presents related content in a bar at the bottom of the browser.

Open textbooks

As discussed in the past, a textbook that can be used/edited/modified/re-published by anyone is called an open text.

Several projects meant for creating open textbooks are live across the Net. >The Connexions project, mentioned earlier in this column, is one of them. Besides books pertaining to core subjects, books that help users learn certain application packages are available on this site.

Recently this author stumbled on a couple of such books on this site. ‘Calculating basic statistical procedures in >SPSS ' is one such book found on the site. ‘ >Word Processing Essentials ' is yet another book of this type available here. Those of you who wish to improve your MS-Word skills may find this book useful.

Zotero: new version

The bibliography creation and citation management tool, Zotero, is one of the tools used by researchers of all hues worldwide. One shortcoming of this tool is that you need Firefox to run it. This dependence on Firefox drives some users away from it. You don't need to worry about this anymore.

The latest version of >Zotero pack contains a browser-independent standalone version too. This means you can use it like any other desktop tool. Besides, Zotero offers plug-ins or ‘connectors' that help you access it from other browsers (like Google chrome) as well.

Text to speech tool

We have seen umpteen tools that help us convert text into audio content ( >Emerging text-to-speech utilities ).

The free software eSpeak is the latest one to join in the bandwagon of text-to-speech tools. The advantage of this open-source free speech synthesizer is its ability to read out text in different languages. Apart from English, the software supports a variety of other languages (Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam). Besides reading out the text from a file, it can also be used to record the content into an audio file. An interesting offshoot of this project is its ‘Javascript' version, which can be used in web sites to speech-enable web pages. As shown in the ‘speak.js' >demo page , one can easily integrate text to speech function into a web page with a few lines of HTML code.

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