Being My Own CIO: A New Tool, Zotero

Zotero- The Next-Generation Research Tool (20080205)

As every CIO should do periodically, I have reviewed the technology platform that I use to do what I do. As I posted when I started, I have set up criteria and a stable of technology to help me out.

I reviewed the list again, and it’s been pretty stable. Peter Drucker says that a person should write down their major decisions and revisit them 6 months later as a self-evaluation. So far so good.

The only potential change in what’s there now is Office 2008 from Microsoft, but as I stated previously, that software has been deprecated in my life by the Apple iWork suite. Actually, that has been deprecated by TextEdit for my wordprocessor. Sign of times in the Web2.0 world. Maybe if iWork stored its documents in the cloud in Google docs, that would be compelling?

New Tools, Zotero and

I am adding a few new tools to the mix, Zotero, which is an open source reference management tool that’s a plugin to the Firefox browser, and I have previously added for link storage and tagging. Both compete with tools like Endnote for maintaining and formatting bibliographic references. If you are someone who manages references to things and are asked, “Can I get a link to that article you mentioned yesterday?” you know what I’m talking about.

Zotero offers built in integration to the Web browser, although it stores its data locally on the hard drive. It offers a more versatile storage methodology by adding a button to the Web browser that causes it to scrub the page you are looking at for reference information. It’s fairly accurate. I would be delighted to see a few things added to it, though:

  1. A blogging integration tool, to automatically place a zotero-stored reference in a blog post, formatted with hyperlinks, correctly. Right now, all I see is the reverse, plugins to make blog posts visible to Zotero for storage.
  2. Integration with stores its info in the cloud, with user tags. It’s hard to maintain two sets of tags. At least, the two platforms could synchronize tags, or Zotero could upload abstract information to a person’s account.

These are not huge considerations. I experimented with embedding metadata in posts that allow references to be picked up by other Zotero users. Try it out by going to this blog post once you’ve installed Zotero. You’ll see the references light up when you hit the Zotero button. Not bad.

It looks like they are working on a Zotero server, to allow enterprise storage and retrieval. This would be great for large medical group organizations, to be able to have access to personal libraries wherever they are practicing. My worry is that institutional IT departments who are still relatively Web2.0-anxious, will not know how to bring this in.

Thinking about Enterprise IT

I always have to relate what I do at the micro level to the macro level (which is what my day job is). From what I’ve learned about what I’m doing, I wonder two things. What if an IT department actually reviewed every tool it has deployed on a regular basis and with honesty assessed the utility of each tool. That’s the first thing. The second thing is if an IT Department sat down and applied the criteria I used in my tool selection and built an enterprise IT from the ground up this way? What would it look like? Has anyone done this?

As a reminder, here are my criteria:

  • Open source or public source (avoid proprietary standards)
  • Affordable
  • Web 2.0 friendly (maybe I’ll create Web 3.0) – incorporating social networking, tagging, interaction
  • Easy to maintain (and maybe to tinker with)
  • Compatible with Apple, Inc., produced products (which typically means open standards)

The Web2.0 “healing feeling” ecosystem could be leveraged with great benefit in large organizations this way.

Comments are open. Tell me what you think.


As you know, IT departments are often forced to build on what they have. They have a working foundation of technolgies and they are seldom in a position to change that underlying structure.

The problem with IT is that it exists in layers, and is in some ways like a house. If you don't like the rooms, it's relatively easy to remodel or redecorate. But if the foundation or the location is bad, you're in for a lot of work, during which time the whole house is probably unusable. Likewise, if you don't like the applications being offered, you can relatively easily develop something else, but putting in a new IT platform or framework can be incredibly hard.

I agree that Open Source and "easy-to-tinker-with" are nice for users, but those things also make them much more vulnerable to security breaches. We haven't seen that much yet because the big targets (deep pockets) don't use Open Source for their vulnerable parts. In health care, security and privacy are certainly core concerns, and we need as secure a framework as we can find. I think Microsoft understands this.


Great comment about an unfortunate reality, that there can be a lot of waste in IT, based on just a few assumptions.

I think some companies are dabbling in introducing lightweight technologies, if there are companies that are out there doing this, I would love to hear about them.

Thanks for the great comment,


Glad to hear you like Zotero. I thought you and your readers might like to know about a new feature that makes it easier to do exactly what you are asking for. You can now drag and drop references with HTML mark up into blog posts. To see the details check out this post from our blog.


I saw the checkbox, but didn't notice the path-specific settings. A very helpful addition to the tool. Thanks!


This exchange with Trevor made me think of an article i read recently in eHealthCare Strategy and Trends. People are talking about our organization (GHC, Zotero, whatever), so how do we find ways to monitor what's being said?



Ted Eytan, MD