A version of Flow— ProQuest ‘s cloud-based collaboration and document management tool—is now available for free to researchers, including those affiliated with non-subscribing institutions. Launched in mid-2013 as an alternative to Mendeley and Zotero, the platform helps researchers discover, store, and organize academic articles, citations, and metadata downloaded from electronic databases, and collaborate with other researchers in a cloud-based environment that enables group annotation of articles, sharing of datasets, and group editing of draft documents, among other functions.
Any student or faculty member with a verifiable academic email address can sign up for a free account, which offers 2GB of cloud storage, and the participation of up to 10 collaborators per project. ProQuest hopes that a critical mass of free accounts will help enhance anonymized usage data, and entice colleges and universities to purchase institutional subscriptions priced by FTE. Those subscriptions offer users 10GB of storage and unlimited collaboration (including course-based collaboration with students), and provide librarians with a robust suite of analytics tools to study how their digital collections are being used.
Both free and subscription-based accounts allow users to store full-text versions of articles from ProQuest, JSTOR, Highwire, PubMed Central, and Wiley databases, and to capture metadata and citation information from other sources, such as Google Scholar, or EBSCO and Gale Group databases. (Access to this content remains limited by an institution’s subscriptions and licensing arrangements with database providers, aggregators, and publishers.) The platform can also import existing citations, libraries, and documents from other reference managers, including Mendeley, Zotero, and ProQuest’s own Refworks.
Users can then sort articles into collections that can be shared with their collaborators, link their account to Microsoft Word for automatic citation updates, and link their Flow account to their Dropbox account, allowing researchers to access all but their most recently uploaded documents when they don’t have access to the Internet.
RefWorks Goes With the Flow
Currently, ProQuest is not planning to discontinue RefWorks, but Flow already incorporates all of the key features of the reference management platform, including support for RefWorks’ custom CSL editor and formatting for 3,000 plus citation styles.
“These two products sit side by side,” Eric Van Gorden, senior product manager for Flow and RefWorks, said during a detailed product demo for the press this week. Flow “is really hyper-focused on full-text. We’re really trying to make a unique and simplified UI [user interface]…we’ve got hundreds of thousands of users on RefWorks today, and thousands of institutional subscriptions to RefWorks. It is where most of our users are. So we are still developing RefWorks. This doesn’t mean that RefWorks is somehow mothballed.”
Van Gorden acknowledged that RefWorks’ legacy code base had made it somewhat difficult to build next-generation functionality into the older platform.
“From my point of view managing both products, it allows our development agenda for RefWorks to be appropriate,” he said. “It allows us to focus on making RefWorks the very best RefWorks it can be…and lets us take Flow in these wonderful new directions.”
However, he added that ProQuest was hoping that the free Flow accounts, coupled with the simple process for migrating content from RefWorks, would encourage users to make the switch on their own. And, institutional pricing for Flow would “absolutely” be discounted during any transitional phase, Van Gorden said. Although he did not offer specifics, he said that ProQuest viewed the sales efforts for Flow and RefWorks as “conjoined,” and that the company would not be attempting to force their faculty and students to migrate to a new platform, or to pay twice for similar products during a transition.
“It’s a user-driven selection. It’s not like we’re going to the institution and saying ‘buy Flow institutional, and we’ll mass migrate all of your accounts over.’ That’s not the way it’s going to work…. We knew the only way to be successful with RefWorks users who have put a decade or more, in many cases, into a product that they’ve lived with and worked with and are embedded with, the only way we were going to entice them to want to use a different tool was to make sure that we could honor that legacy and that time.”
Currently, the Flow platform is best suited to storing and pulling metadata from PDFs and Microsoft Office files, although Van Gorden said that the platform would eventually support other formats and multimedia files as well.