Mozilla’s Firefox is a pretty good browser. But, thanks to a number of add-ons, it can also be an essential research tool for anyone working online. We look at some of the best add-ons available for improving Firefox’s research capabilities.
Zotero is the leader when it comes to online research. This free add-on allows users to collect, save and organise their online research. This is primarily in the form of saving copies of web pages and categorising them according to research subjects. More importantly for researchers Zotero also saves an offline version of the page as well recording the date and time the page was accessed. Not everyone needs this level of organisation but because web pages come and go it is important for serious research to be able to link back to the original source, and cite when it was accessed. Zotero also allows users to add notes to their research material, add children items to their existing collection and add details about the type of material: journal, book reference, magazine article and so on.
Web sites come and go and very often a page you read last month could either have changed or even completely disappeared this month. And if it was important to your research then you need to find a copy of it. The resurrect pages add-on does exactly as its name suggests. It searches caches, archives and mirrors for copies of the page. It does this by tapping into the cache and archives of services such as Google, Yahoo, MSN and Internet Archive. It’s no guarantee that you’ll find what you’re looking for but it’s worth trying.
Read It Later is not only good for research but also for anyone who finds that they find more things to read than they have time for. Read It Later’s add-on stores copies of articles found online to be read at a later date when you have time. Read It Later’s primary advantage is that is runs not only on Firefox but also on Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer as well as popular smartphones such as Nokia’s Symbian phones, Android-powered phones and the iPhone. So even if you save articles at your desktop you can read them on your phone while you’re in the doctor’s waiting room or waiting for kids to finish school. You can also use this at home as well as the office because it doesn’t depend on the platform or browser you use.
ScrapBook is something like bookmarks on performance-enhancing drugs. It isn’t as comprehensive as Zotero but if you want to simply collect and organise pages around a certain subject, ScrapBook is pretty handy. Sites can be saved in folders and notes can be added to those pages. ScrapBook also makes it possible to capture elements of a page such as images, video, audio and save those as scrapbook items, also with their own notes.
The biggest enemy of online research is how easy it is to become distracted. One minute you’re looking at a research report, the next you’re surfing funny videos on YouTube. LeechBlock is a simple enough tool designed to block time-wasting sites. LeechBlock is very powerful despite its simple appearance. Using it you can set up multiple categories of sites and block those based on day, time or just limit yourself to a certain amount of time a day. The six different blocks (or categories) of sites can each have their own limits. One of LeechBlock’s best features is that it also logs the time spent on each of the categories each day. That way you know exactly where your day went to.
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