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Dear EndNote

Dear EndNote,

I use your product to manage my ever-growing collection of PDFs and bibliographic references and, on occasion, to suck those references very handily into the writing I do. I teach your product to students and faculty and have spent quality time figuring out how to present it in a way that’s simple, memorable, and not overwhelming. I tweak custom filters and styles for anyone on campus who asks and even for some who didn’t think to ask. I boldly stand up for your product when people curse its steep learning curve, explaining that there are times when the cost-benefit analysis tips in favor of learning a massive piece of software like this. For those times, there’s EndNote.

I’ve got to say, though, that I’m finding this generally sanguine attitude toward EndNote more and more difficult to maintain. First, there’s the way you always put off releases for the Mac platform until quite some time after releases for the Windows platform. This is not an uncommon practice among software companies, I know, but it’s less and less tenable with each passing year. Have you been to a conference lately? Look around and notice all the Macbooks in the audience. Mac users are no longer a fringe user base.

Now, after years of proving to us that you think the Windows platform is at the top of your value scale, you’ve modified your implicit value system to favor the Windows XP version of your favorite platform. I know people love to complain about Vista, but it’s been out for 2 years now. I should not have to teach tedious work-arounds to my faculty and students who have happily used their Vista computers for years now. There was no excuse for allowing EndNote X1 to have been released last year without full compatibility with Vista. None. You had access to Vista. It was your job to make your software work with the platforms your user base were using, not for Vista to conform to your software. Imagine if I decided that my town should reorganize itself so that my favorite hang-outs were near my home rather than deciding that I should move to be nearer to the places I work and play? Absurd, right? The town was here before I was, and there’s nothing I can do to change it.

EndNote X2 is just out, and I hear that it’s doing better. That’s great, but late. Let me reiterate: if you proclaim your belief that the Windows platform is the platform of choice for EndNote users, you belie yourself by making that same user base wait 2 years for a software upgrade that makes EndNote work correctly. And since many campuses can’t upgrade EndNote until the school year after you release a new version (so that we can make it work with our lab builds, and so that we can have both PC and Mac users on the same version of EndNote without having to teach one version to half our patrons in the first month of Fall term and then suddenly switch all these Mac-using patrons to another version all of a sudden) we’re stuck using X1 for yet another year. My Vista-native computer will be due for replacement before I get an EndNote version that works well for me. I realize this is half our problem and half yours, but even so, none of the other software I use has inflicted this frustration on its customers.

But enough about platform compatibility. What about being a good citizen of the software community? A healthy response to competition is to capitalize on your unique benefit, not to pout that others can do the most basic part of what you do. (Yes, I’m talking about Zotero, here.) Your unique benefit is your vast array of output styles. I mean, really, 3600 citation styles is amazing! And the fact that I can instantly customize these styles to fit my needs or those of my patrons… that’s a unique benefit. When the German department here on campus requires its students to use the early 1970s version of MLA as the citation style for their senior theses, we can accommodate that. When the Music department makes up its own citation style, we can accommodate that. This is a Very Good Thing.

Simply collecting citations is no longer the coolest thing on the planet. Taking bibliographic information and spitting out a citation in one of the top citation styles is also no longer the coolest thing on the planet. These are not functions that set you apart from any number of other products that are now in existence or will be in existence soon.

So if your old kingdom is no longer new enough to be different by default, concentrate on making your unique benefits your selling point, and concentrate on making them even better. You might even take a page out of Zotero’s book and make the data-collection piece of EndNote easier on your users. But for heaven’s sake, whatever actions you take, stop doing things that make your long-time users ashamed of you. That’s no way to grow a user-base.

Yours,
Iris

8 thoughts on “Dear EndNote

  1. Thank you, Iris, for this! I’ve been sort of waiting and watching for someone to say exactly what you have here. I’m hoping more people talk about this, because I’ve been surprised that there hasn’t been more discussion.

    As someone who uses and teaches EndNote AND uses Zotero (along with other tools for personal information management), I’ve been very disappointed with the GMU lawsuit. You summed this up well, particularly when you wrote: “What about being a good citizen of the software community? A healthy response to competition is to capitalize on your unique benefit, not to pout that others can do the most basic part of what you do.”

    My suspicion is that people use EndNote for different reasons than they use Zotero, and perhaps use each differently depending on the purpose. Having choices for tools to manage information is good, but it’s even better to be able to share knowledge across formats and platforms. Interoperability makes this possible. I am more likely to use a product if it works with other products. My use of and enthusiasum for Zotero hasn’t hampered my use of EndNote. The people I know who use Zotero exclusively probably wouldn’t use EndNote anyway for a variety of reasons.

    So, what else can we do to support Zotero?

    Many thanks again,
    ht

  2. Wow. This is the best response to the Zotero lawsuit I have seen yet.

    Perhaps one reason they are running scared is because some of the benefits you cite really aren’t all that unique. You could make the custom Carleton Music Style in RefWorks, too, and push that out for all your users as soon as you had it finished. Here’s a link to a Google cache page (or, if you prefer, the original PDF) that shows how it’s done. Looks like it could also be done in Zotero, though it seems like the process may not be for the faint-of-heart. That hasn’t stopped other people from creating styles, though.

  3. @heather_t
    So, what else can we do to support Zotero?

    Use it. Evangelize & teach it to others. Make CSL styles to fit your needs. Be open and honest about room Zotero has for improvement & help ensure it gets improved if you are able or know someone who is able.

    @steve_lawson
    There is an online CSL creator, it isn’t too hard to modify pre-existing CSL styles that are close to your needs to fit your needs. Also, people in the Zotero forums have volunteered to write requested styles (though this free work is not often fast work).

    The style files are simple enough that I bet that if you were in a rush, you could easily find someone to write some for you for much less than the cost of an EndNote license.

  4. Do I hear an “Amen, sister”?

    I hate being the lone voice of support of EndNote among support people on my campus and now Thomson has put me in a position where I can no longer defend them; the lawsuit against Zotero, the Vista problems, and delayed Mac releases infuriate me.

    I’m tired of being EndNote’s apologist, despite what a powerful program I know it can be. If this lawsuit had happened any earlier, I’d have recommended our campus license RefWorks over EndNote. At the rate things are going, I’ll likely recommend we move that direction anyway. Who wants to deal with the bully software publisher? Not me, not when there are reasonable alternatives out there that cost less and create significantly fewer headaches and heartache for support staff.

    Angrily,
    –Megan, former EndNote enthusiast

  5. Thanks for the info, Anon. And after I posted the comment I was thinking that it probably wouldn’t be that difficult to find someone willing to learn CSL. It would probably take less time that it would to count all the dollars you saved canceling your site license to EndNote.

  6. As a side note, I just taught Zotero to a class of students for the first time. They were mightily impressed. The one student who didn’t have his own computer even said he didn’t mind that he’d have to install and change the preferences on Zotero every time he logged into a lab computer. I guess he liked it!

    I may have to look into the CSL creation idea… After all, learning to make EndNote filters and styles wasn’t easy either.

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