Paper Machines, the add-on that integrates a range of text analysis tools into Zotero, has generated quite a buzz in the short period of time since its release. For those of us that store notes, citation information, PDFs, and article links in huge Zotero libraries, Paper Machines has the potential to be a game-changer in terms of how we visualize our research.
Because Paper Machines is so new, it's being updated with added functionality every few days. I'll provide step-by step documentation for how to use specific components of Paper Machines in Part II of this post. For now, I'll discuss whether or not Paper Machines might be a good fit for your research, the tools that it offers, and how it might help your work.
Paper Machines provides a broad range of text analysis tools, but it's not meant for everyone's research. You'll probably benefit most from Paper Machines if you:
- Already use Zotero to manage your sources. Paper Machines draws on a number of open source tools available elsewhere on the web. If you want to visualize your data but aren't already comfortable using Zotero, you might want to look elsewhere.
- Have a relatively large or robust Zotero library. At the time of this posting, Paper Machines incorporates the full text of Web snapshots and OCR'd PDF files into its text analysis, as well as the title, place, date, and subcollection of a source. The option to include notes, tags, and links to live websites will be available shortly.
- Are collaborating on a Zotero library with a group. Paper Machines is very good at helping you figure out the contents of a collection. If you're working on a collection with multiple group members, it's a quick way to visualize what kinds of material your collaborators are adding.
What kinds of analysis tools does Paper Machines employ?
- A word cloud with the option to filter out commonly used words.
- Phase nets, which allow you to visualize relationships between common words in your text (for example, x and y; x is y)
- A Geoparser, which uses location information to produce beautiful visualizations of the places mentioned in your texts.
- DBpedia Annotation, which produces a visualization of what people, places, and things are mentioned in your texts.
- MALLET-based topic modeling, which generates visualizations based on commonly occurring topics in your texts. The author offers some additional information about information about Paper Machines' use of topic modeling here.
What can Paper Machines help you do?
- Assess the contents of a collection. Looking through the Paper Machines results is a helpful way to get to know the contents of a group library or to get reacquainted with a collection that you haven't used for a while.
- Identify gaps in your material. Reviewing the MALLET output for a specific collection in my Zotero library (canonical works in US history) I noticed a surge in books about women's labor history (which MALLET identified using the terms women, labor, work, and activism) during the 1980s. I also noticed a lack of items in my library about these topics since 2000.
- Compare collections. Analyzing two collections with Paper Machines makes similarities and differences evident. Using topic modeling, for example, I could see what subjects came up most frequently in the two collections and if they coincided. The word cloud function is the easiest way to identify concurrent terms and subjects at a glance.
- Find patterns in your collections. Using the "Phrase Net" function, I conducted an "x is y" analysis on one of my collections. I was surprised to see that "democracy is necessary" and "Cold War is necessary" were recurring phrases a number of sources.
Additional examples of Paper Machines visualizations are available on the developer's site. The add-on is available for Firefox and Zotero Standalone, and visualizations can also be saved as html files. While the occasional error or puzzling result is inevitable early on, the creator of Paper Machines is constantly tweaking the interface in response to feedback from users.
Paper Machines is an add-on that incorporates a broad range of text visualizaiton tools into your Zotero library.
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