A better way to organize your research

Ajinkya Mulay
5 min readApr 16, 2022

And its not the one you’d expect

Photo by Windows on Unsplash

With the avalanche of research articles being published every day its been real hard to actively collect the ones you actually care about. Now from the beginning there were quite a few apps that helped you collect your research- Mendeley, Zotero and the newer ones like Papers and Paperpile. I had been using Paperpile for a while now but I just recently discovered a great alternative. One which has a dedicated desktop app and an extremely smooth Safari Extension.

This app is called Raindrop. Raindrop is primarily used for storing links like popular web clippers like Instapaper or GoodLinks. Even though Raindrop is not primarily designed to tackle research or find the right citations, its a powerhouse. I will explain the few reasons why I switched over.

Reducing Browser Clutter

Just a tiny glimpse of how quickly my tabs fill up!

The moment I start my literature survey I get bombarded with article after article each one claiming to be the best one for my specific problem. I click tab after tab until its almost impossible to track down articles in the browser. Now, a good way to avoid tab fatigue is obviously to close a few. But, I am always afraid that I might lose out on some good.

On chromium browsers like Chrome or Brave, Paperpile does a wonderful job of quickly storing your article along with the pdf with a single click. However, for now there is no Paperpile Safari extension and with the number of tabs that I have open often times Safari is a much better browser than Brave.

You get the full app without having to switch or close tabs.

But, with Raindrop you get a full-fledged app right in your browser’s extension without having to switch tabs. You can drop in the pdf or just add the link and Raindrop will open it up for you and store the pdf on its own server so that now its accessible from anywhere. Finally, even if the original link is removed from the server with the Pro plan Raindrop will give you access to the archived version forever.

Desktop App

You get a desktop app and an accompanying web app.

Sometimes you just want to view pdfs without the browser or you want to make sure that everything is well arranged and a powerful Desktop app can provide these features. With PaperPile being web-first, its pretty hard to work with some features like Folders. Basically put the folders are not buttery smooth. Other apps like Mendeley do have a desktop app but they are not even as fast as Paperpile for the purpose of adding a new link.

With Raindrop you get a native app with incredible performance. Plus, you can view the pdfs right in your app rather than opening the browser. That’s a big win for distraction-free reading.

Similar to Paperpile, Raindrop also has a dedicated iPad app with the speedy interface.

The good stuff summarized

- It’s the same cost as the Paperpile student version (around 3$/month). Plus if you pay for a entire year you only pay 28$ for the entire or you will save 8$. You can view Raindrop pricing here. I am not sure if Raindrop has a student discount yet.

- Full app directly in Safari (and other browsers) without tab switching and fast! Paperpile does not even open in Safari in view mode.

- Dedicated desktop app with support for speedy nested collections. It’s a breeze to work with.

- Beautifully designed fast iPad app. Paperpile’s app is a little sluggish.

- Persistent storage. The pro version lets you store pdfs on Raindrop’s dedicated storage or with the Pro version you can choose to use Google Drive too. PaperPile only uses your Google drive. I’d say both of them are equally poised.

- You only need a single web clipper now. You can store links and pdfs side-by-side.

The not so good stuff

So, Raindrop is amazing and works pretty well but it’s not perfect.

- Since, its not a dedicated app for research it does not give you access to tools like viewing the bibtex file (a file type used for storing research citations). I don’t believe this will be a future use-case for Raindrop and so I do not see it launching any time soon or at all. This is not a big concern for me since I get my citations from Google Scholar but you still waste some time copying each citation.

- It does not support annotations for now and only allows for highlights on the iPad app. This is not a big problem for me since I take most of my notes either by hand, on Notability, Craft or on Overleaf. But it’s something that’d quite useful for most people. I hope the team at Raindrop considers adding this functionality.

- The app has a dark mode but the pdf viewer is not customizable so you are left with a very bright pdf page. This is not a big deal breaker for me since I can handle this on macOS Safari with the dark reader but it could be an issue if you use it on iPad. On the other hand Paperpile has a wonderful dark mode for reading pdfs but its app does not have a dark mode.

Paperpile is probably the best full-fledged research app I have used until now and they have a team with a long development roadmap. I’d love for it to improve upon these few caveats before I can start using it again though!

I’d love to hear any feedback on what works for you especially for research and if there are better alternatives out there.

--

--