Community Spotlight: Sebastian Karcher

His nickname “adamsmith” may ring a bell to Zotero community developers, political scientists, or anyone who has had citation style questions on the forums. Zotero interviews Sebastian Karcher and in doing so learns his motivation for authoring citation styles, translators, and why he chose the name of a famous Capitalist as the pseudonym for his open source work.

Name and Occupation:sebastian karcher
Sebastian Karcher
Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science, Northwestern University

How long have you been using Zotero?
Since late 2007 – I switched to Linux then and was looking for a new reference management system. I had used Biblioscape before, but I’ve never looked back.

What got you interested in developing for Zotero?
I really wasn’t initially – I’m not much of a programmer, to be honest. I first just wanted to learn to make simple changes to Zotero citation styles. I then got more involved in style development – which is really pretty basic and doesn’t require much coding experience. What kept me interested was, first, the possibility of learning new things – on the way I picked up on some shell scripting, using version control systems (like SVN and git), regular expressions, XPath, now some JavaScript. I would have never gotten myself to learn any of this without a specific purpose.

The other thing that motivates me is more political. I think it’s important to do our best to keep our tools and data free and open. To me Zotero is part of such an effort.

What development activities have you done so far for Zotero?
A lot of my work has been in style development – I’ve probably had some hand in about half of the ~370 independent styles in the Zotero style repository. We’re also thankfully getting more and more styles submitted by users; when a user posts a style for sharing I’ll usually be the one to briefly review it and then commit it to the csl repository. I also try to come by the forum a couple of times a day to see if there are any user questions I can answer.

More recently, I’ve been starting to work a little on Zotero translators, which has become much easier since Erik Hetzner wrote a framework that essentially reduces the task of writing a translator to identifying the relevant XPath.

Anything else you’d like to add? Cool things planned for the future?
As a political scientist I wanted to get translators for all important US magazines – a couple of them – like The New Yorker and Washington Monthly are already in the 2.1.8 version of Zotero, a couple of new ones – New Republic, Daily Beast, Foreign Policy, Slate – are in the queue – so that’s mostly done. I’m also interested in getting translators for more of the databases in Latin America, a region I do a lot of my work on.

On another note: People on the Forum often wonder about my username “adamsmith”; Why would the “Father of Capitalism” – Adam Smith – contribute to an open source project? The reason I’m so fond of Adam Smith is that he is so profoundly misunderstood. Smith actually believed that people were motivated not just by self interest, but also by “fellow feeling” – here’s one of my favorite quotes: “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.” There is even an entire blog dedicated to debunking misconceptions about Smith, of which there are many.