Managing references with Paperpile

For a long time I have the problem of managing papers and slides I am reading. It’s not only for the papers and slides from computer science, but also the financial reports and the letters to shareholder for my investment readings and researches. Over time I just downloaded a bunch of PDFs to my laptop and they scattered around in my Download folder without a systematic naming and indexing. It makes it hard to clean up the disk space for my laptop since I am not sure which one is what I needed if not by opening them up and review them one by one. It makes thing painful when you are backing up your system and migrating to the other. A couple of weeks back I found that I need to resolve this problem.

An ideal reference management software to me in 2019 should provide the following features.

  1. To be able to store in the cloud so that you are able to access it everywhere. It would be great to let you choose among the mainstream cloud storage providers, and provide options to make some of the papers accessible offline, but not sync everything to local.
  2. Good metadata auto completion. Not everything has a standard to label it or a good database to cross match and automatically label them, but it should be good for the parts that we are able to do it.
  3. Cross platform and reasonably performant.
  4. Providing API so that you could customise it for personal needs.

I know the famous softwares like Zotero, Mendeley and Endnote. They have existed for a long time, but all of them feel more focus for scientific editing. I played with them for a little bit and Zotero maybe the closest but it still feels quite the exact thing I want. Until I noticed a new upcoming competitor: Paperpile. They seem to launch for some years but not that widely well-known. I tried it out and it gives me the feeling it is the closest reference management software I would like. I have lots of PDFs and my main purpose is not for scientific editing, I just need a software to edit it and help me rename them, and easy to look things up. It is a big-bonus to me that Paperpile is based on Google Drive. It resolves the issue 1, 3, 4 by leveraging on Google Drive as the backing storage. With Google Drive you could choose which file to stay offline and providing Google Drive API to let you trigger the hook, for example, to send a new card to my Trello when a new paper is added. The downside for sure is vendor lock-in, but it’s less a priority comparing to solving my need.

I have tried it out for 3 weeks and I can say it is the software that’s closest to my ideal, though not perfect yet. I would stick to it before anything even better come up.