Finally! A first look at Citavi Web

For a long time, the well-known literature management tool Citavi was only available for Windows. Recently, the beta version of Citavi Web has become available. A first look is convincing. But there is also a real drawback.

At the beginning of my studies, I was a big Citavi fan. At Freie Universität Berlin, we had the choice of Citavi or EndNote, and Citavi immediately seemed more inviting and easy to understand. So it became the literature management tool of my choice. Until I switched to a MacBook. Suddenly I had to reorient myself, because Citavi doesn’t have a Mac version. And that is still the case. Nevertheless, there is now a solution that is interesting for everyone, no matter if Windows, Mac, Linux or mobile platform: Citavi Web. This article is explicitly not a comparison to the Windows version. So I won’t say anything about whether any features are missing or work differently.
So I jumped into the fray with great interest and took a close look at Citavi Web. After logging in, you are first in the project overview. A project could be e.g. a seminar paper or the bachelor thesis. When creating a new project, you can import literature from other applications (EndNote, Mendeley, RefWorks and Zotero), which is of course very nice if you want to change and still have old data in one of the mentioned apps.

Clear structure, high information density

When you open the project, you are in the first of four views – the title view. In addition to the title view, there are also the text, knowledge and task views, but more on these later.

The first view is the title view. Where in the middle of three columns you can find all the titles you have added to the project. In the left column are filters to not always get all titles displayed. The filters offer various possibilities to show only certain titles, including: certain keywords, titles with PDFs, with a certain rating (0-5 stars), or certain document types. Unfortunately, there is no option to create your own filters. Maybe that will come at a later time.

The right column contains the actual bibliographic information of the selected title. In addition, there is meta information such as tags, citations, and tasks associated with the text, which I will discuss below.

Die Titelansicht von Citavi Web
The Citavi Web title view

I especially like the fact that the column width is variable. So you can easily see the important details even on smaller screens and keep the filter column rather small, for example.

Another nice little feature is that you can assign a small cover to literature entries, which facilitates quick orientation, as it breaks up the many lines of text a bit.

An easy import function

New titles can also be added very easily by clicking on the small plus symbol. There are various options for adding via ISBN or DOI. Web searches are also possible and of course the manual entry of titles or again the import from other literature management tools.

And of course PDFs can also be assigned. For this purpose, there is the little paperclip icon, with which you can either link a web address or directly upload a PDF. In my test, however, this did not work properly yet. Linking to a URL didn’t really work. But that’s why it’s a beta.

But uploading a PDF worked without any problems and the result is really convincing.

A simple PDF reader is on board

If you click on the PDF icon in the title view, you will automatically jump to the text tab.
This is the place where you can view, read and mark uploaded or linked PDFs.
In this view you will find the titles in the left column, the actual text in the middle and the collected quotes from the respective text on the right.
Die Texte-Ansicht in Citavi Web mit dem integrierten PDF Reader
A PDF reader is integrated

The integrated PDF reader is well done, even though it is only a simple reader. First and foremost, it can be used to mark text passages in different colors. A search function is also integrated. Only comments or other advanced functions of PDF viewers are missing, which is not really tragic. Citavi Web definitely offers a complete package that is easy to work with, even though some users will certainly miss some functions of “full-blown” PDF viewers. I think the integration is great in any case. If you mark a text passage in a PDF, the passage is directly assigned to the text citations in the right column. If you click on the small link symbol in the right column, you will jump back to the same place in the PDF. In this way, quotations can be quickly found again in the text.

Gather knowledge across texts

This leaves the Knowledge and Tasks tabs. Knowledge is quickly explained: Here you will find all the knowledge elements, i.e. all the thoughts you have noted down while reading. These are also linked to the place in the PDF where you originally wrote down the thought.
Die Wissenssammlung in Citavi Web
Here you can collect thoughts, notes and the like
This also allows you to write down thoughts across texts, which can be especially helpful for larger projects. However, it is also clear that you have to make sacrifices here – just like with the integrated PDF reader. Of course, you don’t get an app for knowledge organization and linking like Obsidian or Roam Research. But you have integrated another aspect and if the possibilities of Citavi Web are enough, you will be happy to have everything in one place.

Text tasks always at hand

Speaking of everything in one place … The fourth column in the layout is tasks. In principle, everything that is related to the texts can be noted here. There is a quick selection that includes tasks like discuss, borrow, buy, copy/scan, or note quotes. Of course, you can also define your own tasks, you just have to write in the text field. I find it helpful that you can set the importance and the processing status of a task.
There are a number of predefined tasks

Being able to create tasks in a literature management tool can be handy, even if you actually already use a task manager like Todoist. For example, I’m a big fan of OmniFocus and actually organize my entire life there. However, I still write tasks in the texts I’m working on if they relate to the text in question. Why? Because it’s more direct. After all, I want to stay in the text when I work with it and not always jump back and forth between Obsidian and OmniFocus. Besides, it’s mostly small tasks like revising a paragraph, inserting a screenshot, or the like. The effort to transfer everything to OmniFocus first would not be worth the benefit. Citavi Web’s task feature solves this problem and completes the picture of the all-in-one solution.

And of course, all collected tasks can be filtered again – by type, importance and processing status.

Hidden export function, but very powerful

Now we come to one of the most important questions: How do I get all this out of Citavi? Say: How can I create a bibliography with Citavi Web?

First I had to search a little. The function to create a bibliography is hidden behind the button with the three dots at the bottom. I think this could have been solved a bit more, obviously.

Export-Screen von Citavi Web
The export function is easy to understand and very useful at the same time
However, there is nothing to complain about in the function itself. On the contrary. The creation of literature lists is highly configurable and remains easy to understand. Clicking on Save bibliography locally takes you to a new overview where you can set the title selection (all or selected), the format (Word, PDF, Open Document), the citation style, as well as a possible grouping (e.g. printed literature – Internet sources). There are no less than 11,530 citation styles available. The actual export took a while in my test, but this may also be due to the beta version.

Citavi Web – quite well done, but the price…

What is my conclusion of Citavi Web? I really, really like this solution! The app seems well-thought-out, is easy to understand, and works well on mobile platforms. I tested it on my MacBook and on the iPad. You can tell it was designed more for the desktop computer, but you can also use Citavi Web well on the iPad.

Of course, it is clear that this is a closed web application. Either you’re happy with what you get, or you’ll have to look elsewhere. Extensions like with Zotero are not feasible here.

With this in mind, I see two ideal-typical groups of users. On the one hand, there are those who simply want a very solid literature management tool. Citavi is best suited for this. And then there are those who want an integrated solution for their complete workflow (i.e. reading, marking, extracting citations, creating bibliography), but do not have the highest demands. The integration of a PDF reader, the possibility to write down thoughts and create text tasks is great, don’t get me wrong, but if you have special demands in one of these areas, you will also come up against limits. But that’s not surprising, because Citavi Web is still a literature management tool – and not a PDF reader, task manager or knowledge management tool.

If I personally would use Citavi Web, I would probably rather belong to the first group and only use the task function for very specific text tasks.

Only the price discussion remains, and here it becomes less pleasing. There is no longer a Citavi Free version, as was the case in the past. In the past, you could save 100 titles per project, which was more than enough for many. Unfortunately, this is no longer possible.

Now there is only a thirty-day trial version. After that, you have to make do with a subscription model, which is quite a challenge. Academics have to pay €145 for one year and get only Citavi Web. Students pay only €73 per year and get Citavi Web and the Windows version. Still a not insignificant recurring expense. Hopefully your university has licenses for Citavi. Because the app is also really useful on the web!

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