Utopia Documents: Bringing Interactivity to pdfs

Information OverloadAs the information age brings more and more innovation, I am sometimes torn between amazement and annoyance. “What do you mean we don’t have to do that anymore” cried the brain cells that spent years memorizing all my passwords just before the availability of “an App for that” caused their untimely demise. Similarly, the part of me that knows how to look up things in an encyclopedia is quite miffed that all my children have to do is type a couple of words into Google and voilà, their school project is done. On the other hand, I am only too happy to use these tools myself and to let go of the tedious tasks that they have rendered obsolete.

Recently I learned about Utopia document reader, a free pdf reader that makes information stored in pdf documents interactive, and has the potential to save researchers and students many an hour sifting through search returns and tracking down related papers. Utopia documents is designed for reading and exploring scientific articles stored as pdfs. It rescues the information from the “dead end” of the pdf format and provides an impressive array of tools to help search related articles, explore topics, generate citations, and find lab supplies related to the concepts discussed in any particular paper. It also provides ways to quickly see what others are saying about the article and subject matter on social sites and in the blogsphere, to look up proteins and chemicals in relevant databases, and to explore the data presented in figures. It is a tool that brings the power of web search to the pdf, but takes the added step of sorting information by relevance to the specific concepts being explored, and presenting that information without making the user leave the original article.

I became familiar with Utopia documents because some of the products in the Promega catalog are indexed and presented in the “For the Lab” section if they are referenced in the methods or are relevant to the topic explored. Other life science companies products are also indexed and linked. The type of functionality available in Utopia documents is yet another thing that makes me think “I wish I had that when I was in the lab”. Undoubtedly I could have avoided the mounds of photocopied articles that spewed from my desk shelves and are now gathering dust in my basement if I could, from accessing a single paper, easily have explored related papers and searched for associated references within a single user interface. For scientists, students, science writers, and anyone exploring scientific topics that are typically available as pdfs, Utopia documents is a tool that will make writing papers and studying new topics easier. Importantly, it also provides an efficient solution for finding and collating relevant information in an information-overloaded world.

Utopia DocumentsThe web-based functionality in Utopia documents is activated by highlighting text within the pdf to reveal links to databases such as Pubmed, NCBI, Protein databank, Uniprot, Google Scholar and AQnowledge (the lab supplier product database) in the document sidebar. It is also possible to export tables into spreadsheet format and convert tables to scatter plots. The features of Utopia document reader are explained in the demo video here, where you can also download the reader.

Here’s another opinion of Utopia documents. Try it out for yourself the next time you read a pdf document.

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Isobel Maciver

Isobel is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh and of Aston University in Birmingham, U.K. She is a technical writer and editor, and is also manager of the Scientific Communications group at Promega. She enjoys writing about issues in science and communication.

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