Friday, March 12, 2010

How to use conkeror and Mendeley to organize information ((tags: Mendeley, conkeror, productivity))

I recently started using conkeror -- the keyboard-centric emacs like implementation of firefox browser for surfing the web. It's a simple, blazingfly fast browser that helps you to focus and cut out the information clutter in a number of ways that one may not think important till one actually starts using it: (1) focus on the screen and use the keybord entirely for writing and surfing the web, and (2) organize information collection. I use Mendeley for organizing  my PDFs and general reading materials. In this post, I'd like to share how I use Conkeror and Mendeley to quickly sort, track, and archive information.

First, for those of you who are not familiar with Conkeror, let me write a few goog things about Conkeror. I was not aware of this new way of browsing the web enitrely using keystrokes till recently. Conkeror is a very small sized but very efficient little browser based on xulrunner (more about xulrunner here

and Mozilla that lets you browse the web very efficiently.

You can download more information about Conkeror here

The software is available for windows, macs, and linux; configuration is very easy (there is really nothing to do other than unzipping a few filles and writing a few lines in the shortcut windows, see "installation" for windows. For linux, the process is even simpler. I am not familiar with Mac, therefore cannot comment on this, but I guess the process cannot be too dififcult either.

Essentially, conkeror has an emacs like feel and functionality. Which makes it very efficient to use for browsing for information almost totally clutter-free. I like the feature that I can extend the browser using javascripting. My use of mouse is minimum; almost everything can be accessed using keywords that you define upfront even if I never programmed anything at all. it has an innovative bookmarking system titled "webjump"; There is a learning curve though. However, the results of time invested in learning the system is worth it in the end. If you haven't tried it yet, I'd encourage you to give it a shot. .

Anyway, conkeror needs configuration to get it to work, and you need to use keyboard and need to learn a little about combining keystrokes to really play with it well. People have written several different "commands" to interact with it in different ways and here is a list of collection of these commands and webjumps

A feature that I wanted was a quick linking to Mendeley because I wanted to combine the simplicity of conkeror and power of Mendeley for organizing information. Conkeror works very well with citeulike and delicious bookmarking services, so one of the ways to use conkeror with Mendeley could be to use citeulike and then use the link between citeulike and Mendeley to collect PDFs and organize references. However, although a reasonable workaround, the process was slow. To speed up the process, I wrote a small javascript code to import references directly to Mendeley (basically to use the web importer). Here is the code:

---- Code for conkeror adoption of Mendeley web importer begins ---

function send_mend(i){
check_buffer(i.buffer, content_buffer);
i.buffer.document.getElementsByTagName('body')[0].appendChild(i.buffer.document.createElement('script')).setAttribute.('src', '');

interactive("mendeley-post","post the page to Mendeley", send_mend);

--- End of the lines of code ----

By default, conkeror blocks pop ups. To enable popups for Mendeley web importer to work, you can use the following (I have used it by changing the about:config part) thus:

dom.disable_open_during_load set to "false"

I  think a combination of the simplicity and distraction free surfing of conkeror with the power of Mendeley can really speed up work and help to stay focused. I think the simplicity and the ability to focus on the screen, reading and reflecting while being less bothered about simultaneously shifting attention between the mouse and the keyboard is helpful. Add to this the simplicity provided by Mendeley to keep PDFs organized in watched folders and automatically scrape references and add PDFs.

It's a great combination of simplicity of a web browser to cut the clutter of information and power of Mendeley to organize them, both for free. Useful stuff.