Tip: Collaborating on Metadata

Paperpile is fantastic for quickly sharing citations and even PDFs with co-workers. It even works if the other people don’t have an account (via a link). However, it is rather limited in terms of what you can do with items in shared folders. I can imagine that there are important reasons for this that make sense from the developer’s point of view, but as a user I found it a little confusing to figure out so I thought I’d share the results of my experiments with the forum. Both because I found some tricks to make it work better, and also because maybe it can spark a conversation about how these features might be improved.

First off, I bought a Paperpile account for my research assistant and shared a folder with him. I also had him create a separate folder and share it with me. That way we could both see what things looked like from both ends. I need my research assistant to help me clean up the crappy metadata that is sometimes generated by Google Scholar and other sources, and so it was my hope that Paperpile sharing would make this easy. The truth is that it does and it doesn’t.

  1. Most items in shared folders can’t be edited by anyone except the person who put them in the folder.

  2. There is an exception for “incomplete” items. Clicking on “incomplete” allows access to the Edit menu. I hope this is not a bug, because it is essential for the work we are trying to do. But once those items are considered complete by Paperpile, the other person can no longer edit them.

  3. Even when editing is allowed (because an item is incomplete) the other person cannot add tags or notes. Both of these would be useful for collaboration.

  4. Attachments are not shared unless the person sharing the item has Google Drive sync turned on. (This one is in the help documentation.)

For now I mostly need help with the “incomplete” items anyway, so the current system is working OK, but there are some items that are not marked incomplete which I would like to be edited. One trick is to keep items incomplete, or make them incomplete by adding a letter “x” after the date. So 2009 becomes 2009x and Paperpile treats it as incomplete. My assistant can update the data and delete the x after he is done. [UPDATE: It seems this trick doesn’t work with “thesis” items or “book chapters.”]

Slightly unrelated, but a more powerful manual merge record option or auto-update option would be useful, since some incomplete items can be completed when pulling from another source. Unfortunately duplicate detection and auto-update features are of rather limited usefulness at the moment.

Five years later and this doesn’t seem to have improved at all. If you want someone to help you clean up a bibliography with bad metadata, you still have to either go through and edit each one to be “incomplete” or you have to delete everything and re-import. If you just try to import an updated item that you already have, Paperpile seems to just ignore the changes in metadata… :frowning: As far as I can figure out, there is a way to edit metadata in a shared document, but these changes don’t get reflected back to your database for the next time you have to use those citations?

An update. This workflow seems to work:

  1. A creates a shared folder with B.
  2. B imports that folder to his/her main Paperpile account and updates the metadata.
  3. B then shares that back with A.
  4. A FIRST deletes the original items that were shared, then re-imports the items from the folder B shared with them.

The result is updated metadata and all the original PDFs are still there with the annotations.

This workflow could be a problem if B had these items already - especially if they had annotated versions of these PDFs themselves.