Monday, June 30, 2008

Extending cut-and-paste: batch-copying from an online bibliography

My last example was of batch-copying items from a report to an email. Here's another batch-copying example.

A person finds an online bibliography of papers on an AI topic they're researching, and wants to note down, in a file in their text editor, several of the papers mentioned. Some of the biolographical entries link to online copies of the papers. They want to note down both the text of the entry and the link (if present).

With a single-item clipboard, noting down the details of a paper would mean copying the text describing it, switching back to the bibliography and then copying the link's URL.

It'd be much simpler if you could copy both those things to the clipboard first, and then switch to the text file. And even better if you could copy those details for all of the papers first, then switch to the text file and paste them all.

Lets look at how much difference it'd make if the person wanted to note down 15 of the papers. Using a single-item clipboard, it'd take 8 operations to copy the details for each paper (and 7 for the last one):

1) copy text of entry
2) switch to text file
3) paste text
4) switch to biblography
5) copy url
6) switch to text file
7) paste url
8) switch from text file to bibliography

(that last step isn't required for the last paper you copy)

So the formula for the number of operations for N papers, with a single-item clipboard, is:

((N - 1) * 8) + 7

if N is 15, that's 119 operations

With a multi-item clipboard, to copy N papers you'd need two copy operations per paper, two paste operations per paper, and one switch from the biblography to the text file:

(N * 4) + 1

for an N of 15, that's 61 operations -- 58 less and almost half the number.

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