Smartphone App Makes Book Citations a Snap

Courtesy of Christopher T. Howlett

A new smartphone application takes most of the grunt work out of citing books in scholarly papers.

Quick Cite, which costs 99 cents and is available for both iPhones and Android-based phones, uses the camera on a smartphone to scan the bar code on the back of a book. It then e-mails you a bibliography-ready citation in one of four popular styles—APA, MLA, Chicago, or IEEE.

Here at Wired Campus, we pointed an Android phone at the bar code on Robert Faggen’s Cambridge Introduction to Robert Frost, and Quick Cite sent us the following two citations, the first in APA style, the second in MLA style:

  • Faggen, Robert (2008). The Cambridge introduction to Robert Frost. Cambridge Univ Pr.
  • Faggen, Robert. The Cambridge introduction to Robert Frost. Cambridge Univ Pr, 2008.

As reported by Hack College, the app was developed by a team of seven students at the University of Waterloo, who set out in November to develop seven apps in seven days. They dubbed the project Seven Cubed.

QuickCite was the first app they developed and the only one so far released for sale. The app took about eight hours to make, says Ross Robinson, one of the student developers.

The application isn’t perfect.

E-mailed citations don’t indicate which style is being implemented, so users who switch between different citation styles will have to keep tabs on the differences when using the scanned citations. Another challenge is that bar codes only became standard on books in the 1970s, according to the U.S. ISBN Agency, which is run by R.R. Bowker, so books published earlier might not work with the program.

Mr. Robinson says they will update the software as they get more feedback from customers.

The group skipped classes for a week to develop the apps, which included a campus-based chat service and an augmented reality game. They’d like to schedule another marathon development session, but haven’t yet agreed on a time, says Scott Tolksdorf, another of the student developers.

“It’s really hard to block off a week of your life,” he says.

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