Devonthink

Can anyone offer their opinions about this? I now use scrivener as my main writing application - along with omni outliner, which i use as a simple starting point for brainstorming/drafting outlines - then moving over into scrivener.

my usage is this - i have a website with short pieces which i update about twice a week, based on press releases and other research i do. i also write short stories, and short magazine articles; reviews, as well as longer pieces.

at present i’m trying out DEVONthink Pro, and i have a couple of questions / observations for fellow scrivener users

what does it do exactly? that probably seems like a stupid question, but i can’t seem to get my head round how it’s supposed to work. of course i understand the basic cataloguing and collecting functions, but the grouping / sorting / linking ability with devonthink is obviously very powerful, but it’s also a bit scary - is the program going to start moving stuff around so i don’t know where to find it? - yesterday, i had Devonthink catalogue my whole documents folder, which it did with ease, but it just sort of looks like i now have two document folders - one on my hard disk, the other replicated in devonthink, - do i now start generating duplicate versions of things, just because they may be semantically connected under Devonthink’s suggestion, it’s all very confusing at the moment- it doesn’t seem to make for clarity, rather just increasing complexity …

and then there are all those scary looking applescripts which come as extras …

am i supposed to ‘live in’ DEVONthink? - a kind of replacement for the finder?

i’m not an academic (well, not anymore) - so i don’t need to amass and scrupulously annotate huge amounts of reference material - i’m a freelance journalist who occasionally writes short stories. Don’t get me wrong, i can see that Devonthink is a very powerful and well-designed piece of software, but it may be overkill for my purposes

scrivener’s clipping and research facilities seem to be capable of doing everything i need.

btw - i also have voodoopad - which is beautiful, but i haven’t been able to use it other than playing around with it- it just seems too vague and diffuse for me- all those wikilinks and pages proliferating all over the place - makes my head spin (although i think it could be a fantastic vehicle for hypertext fiction work).

i’m coming to think that scrivener will do all i need, but i’d appreciate some second / third opinions

We’ve kicked this topic around quite a bit in previous threads, so you might look there for specific advice. I use DT Pro as a filing cabinet. The main folders are drawers and the sub-folders are file folders within, grouped by projects. To me, its main advantages are storing URLs and other files, mainly RTF and PDF, that I may instantly view and label as I wish. So that’s an advantage over the Finder. Scrivener will store URLs from some browsers but not Safari, alas. The search function in DTP is very fast and you can customize it as needed.

For me, DTP keeps the research clutter away from Scrivener, which I use mainly as a drafting tool. DTP works best as a single database, so you may turn to it often for data to use in multiple projects. Scrivener is project based. If you place a research file in one project, it may be hard to find later on. To answer your question, the DTP database is not an alias of your Finder files. They remain separate and unaffected by any changes you make to the DTP entries.

If you read the tutorial, examine the sample databases, and look at other materials on the DT Academy page, and most of all, work with it awhile, in time it won’t seem all that confusing. I probably use only a third of its capability, but I use it every day.

I too am trying to work out whether I need an information management system to work with Scrivener, and if so, which it should be. So far, thanks partly to recommendations from Scrivenistas, I’ve concentrated on DevonThink Pro, though I’ve also toyed with one or two others.

My conclusions? Other databases (and Spotlight) will find you the document or piece of data you know you have, but DT will also find you the stuff you’ve forgotten you have, or don’t realise is relevant.

To give an example I’ve seen quoted: if you’re searching for documents containing the word “dog”, DT won’t just find you those documents, but also others containing the word “canine” as well. I’ve heard the process described as “fuzzy data-storming”.

To make using this software worthwhile, you obviously need to have a mass of data in your database, a number of ways in which it can be grouped and viewed, and a need to dig out all kinds of bits and pieces, remembered and forgotten, on a frequent basis, from that mass.

To try to do all this with Scrivener would be difficult, if not impossible. But to use DT for fewer than, say, a couple of hundred items would be a waste of time, effort and money. It’s possible that several thousand are needed to make fuzzy data-storming work best.

I found reading some of the recent threads in the DevonThink forum helpful in my attempts to try to understand it: http://www.devon-technologies.com/phpBB2/

I use it, but I prefer MacJournal. If you find Devonthink a bit overwhelming you might find MacJournal is a lot more intuitive.

As howarth said go to the top of the page and enter some of the keywords here into search (Devonthink, MacJournal, Database etc). You will find well argued approaches to several solutions.

:slight_smile:

I’ve used DT, in a couple incarnations (DT Personal, and DT Pro as soon as it was available), for almost four years, and I have to say that my fondness has not grown with time. It has become infuriatingly sluggish as my database has grown larger; and I have maintained a single large database both to maintain the conditions in which the “fuzzy” procedures Hugh mentions might operate helpfully and because DT can open only one at a time. Frankly, I’ve come to hate the sight of the damn thing.

I’ve been trying EagleFiler again for the last couple weeks. It works very nicely even with very large databases, and it permits more than one open database at a time. In several ways it is not as slick at DT: EagleFiler’s web capture, if that’s important to you, is not as neatly implemented; no cloning of entries, though tagging does some of that work; it’s a little, um, ugly. In some ways it’s slicker: I like its handling of PDFs better; each EagleFiler entry has its own URL. So far I’m finding it more efficient than DEVONthink for storing, sorting, classifying, and deploying the research for my (academic) writing: I spend less time maintaining the database, more time using what’s in it.

I have been using DT/DTPro since both were in early beta.

The application can be an invaluable resource for capturing, sorting and searching information. However, I have found that I only use it for specific writing/research projects, not for daily information management.

This is due to the ungainly (by current standards) UI and the “Devon” way of working. It is not an intuitive application though the developers and software forum can be very, very helpful.

It is one of the most apple script friendly apps I’ve seen, which accounts for a significant amount of it’s power.

Further, the DT database is not accessible via spotlight so it must be open to use. In many ways, it doesn’t function in ways that are consistent with other Mac apps.

It needs a UI overhaul and better interaction with the OS filesystem as well.
If you don’t mind a few kludges and the isolated proprietary database format, it may prove to be highly useful. Check out the forums and spend some time reading before you make up your mind.

IMO, the developers are very good and deserve our support.

I have paid for upgrades even though I don’t make regular use of the app because I think the next version will be quite good.

FYI, version 2.0 (it has been pending for ~2 years) is pending the release of Leopard and promises to eliminate many or all of the aforementioned issues (and then some).

cheers

:slight_smile:

Edit: IMO, DT is NOT a very good writing environment. It provides quasi-basic text functionality and adds power via linking/searching and indexing. You can add links to external files through a kludge by using the comments field of the get info window, but it’s not exactly elegant.

I tried to “live” in DT but could not do so. There is too much missing. It is not a Finder replacement nor should it be evaluated as such. Version 2.0 will provide a file system-based database so that files are not duplicated in the OS and inside a DT database.

Thanks for all the comments, both for and against DT, they’ve been very informative.

i’ve been playing with DEVONthink Pro fairly intensively for about a week now, and i’m coming round to the view that although it does have some uniquely powerful features for associating topics and grouping files, unless i’m going to deal with really enormous amounts of detailed research material (i’m not) DEVONthink isn’t for me. i find i’m generating far too many groups and sub-groups for information, and i REALLY don’t like having two parallel databases on my computer - DT Pro’s, and the finder’s. continually having to make decisions about how many and what kind of iterations of my documents and clippings i need, is really doing my head in. and the hard disk overheads are going to be far too demanding for my 60 Gb MacBook. There are also some issues for me with the interface - i’d like to be able to customise the folder pane, add my own colour labels, stylise folder names etc… i know the application is being upgraded, and i’m sure many of my issues will be addressed. Looking at DT PRo’s forum it seems that the next revision will emerge a few months after the release of Leopard - which will probably bring us into 2008 which seems a long way off. perhaps i’ll have another look when it finally emerges.

i’m beginning to wonder if it might not be just as easy - using spotlight, smart smart searches, and smart folders, to achieve much of what these kinds of applications do with varying success - after all, i’ve already paid a lot of money for OSX.

What keeps me in Scrivener (and Omni-Outliner, which i also love, and regard as an indispensible preliminary to writing in Scrivener) is elegance, power, an intuitive ease of use, and a simplicity. - i’m not getting this from DT

Hi. I’m not advocating DT for you. But I do use it and I do have massive amounts of research material, which is why. I also use DTs wiki function, which is very powerful for associating pieces of information in my db.

I agree that if you don’t have a large research db, then you probably don’t need Dt. But I didn’t quite get the duplicate db. I store everything in DT that pertains to research save pdfs and media files, which I merely index. So all but those latter files are in DT pro alone and not duplicated in the Finder. Wouldn’t make much sense to do both. Another option is to house your files in the Finder and then index everything so it’s not duplicated but you can still use DT pros other functions.

I myself have tried many other db programs and always come back to DT, clunky interface and all. But then again, my DT pro dbs are all well over 300 mbs, which is small by many users standards!

Alexandria

the DT Pro manual says that they don’t officially recommend indexing - and for practical purposes, as i understand it, indexed files are only editable in their original contexts - then they have to be synced again in DT Pro … i’d also like to be able to use some sort of tagging and keywords too … -for me, it’s all just too cumbersome.

i was tempted by yojimbo, but the lack of hierarchical folder organisation (maybe something that’s coming … ) it’s a bit limited.

Finally … taking a deep breath… i’ve dusted off SOHO notes again - this has a look and feel VERY similar to yojimbo - it has some really good clipping options - from the services or contextual menus. it supports note to note linking (by alias, rather than wikilinks admittedly), and seems to have everything i need for now. Its big plus is that it includes smartfolders and keyword tagging- ‘hurrah!’ - in version 6.0. One of the first things i’ve done is to set up a ‘recent notes’ smartfolder which will show me everything which has been created or amended n the past week, and i think it will talk to scrivener very well. i was reluctant - given chronos’s poor development and support record, but this seems very stable and well thought out, and without Devon’s idiosyncracies (sorry, unique features :wink:) it looks like i’m going to be very happy with it.

Ah, yes there is that. :slight_smile: I don’t have my DT Pro rtf/html, etc. files in the Finder, so no duplicates, and the things I do index don’t need editing, so I don’t have this problem. But you are quite right. For most files, this would be unwieldy.

What are the issues with Chrono re development and support? I’m downloading Soho notes as I write this. I use Dt Pro and have found nothing better yet, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to find something better. I can’t just use Scr. because I have too much information and it goes across numerous Scr. projects. It works much better to have one central warehouse of information and bring it into projects as needed.

But I’m not crazy about many elements of DT Pro. I agree about Yojimbo and VoodooPad, two programs I would LIKE to have work for me, but they don’t. I’m also counting on future development of Dt Pro. Version 2.0, if we ever see it, promises many improvements and I do believe in the Dt Pro development team. It has a user base similar to Scr.s in that it’s a very active forum and the folks are helpful and work and play well with others. It’s not quite as fun as this one, though! :slight_smile:

Alexandria

Is there any way to use the power of Devonthink to search a Scrivener package? Every day I seem to run into the wall of Scrivener’s search capabilities.

–rob

Good luck with SOHO notes - shortly after posting yesterday the app froze and refused to quit. i haven’t been able to resolve this yet. i’ve had similar problems before with soho products, and without going into too much detail, i’ve been reluctant to re-commit large amounts of data entry to something in whose stability i have less than full confdence. i sent a very peeved email to their support department yesterday - so for the time being SOHO notes goes back on ice … :frowning:

Thanks for letting me/us know. That is part of why I have stayed loyal to DT. I have had it crash, minor ones, twice in two years. I have most of my research material housed in DT and trust it (also do the recommended maintenance which is minimal–I’ve never had it show any kind of error when I do it either). It’s hard to find the right product! I had this problem with every writing program I’d tried until I found Scr. So far, Dt comes the closest for my information management needs, and I suspect the next version will be even more on target.

Best of luck!

Alexandria

Just to let you know, seeing as how this app gets a lot of airtime here, that MacUpdate’s Promo of the Day (http://mupromo.com/) is DEVONthink Personal. They’re offering a 50% discount (so it’s $19.95, down from $39.95), good for the next 21 hours or so.

Personally, I don’t get it, so I’m not getting it… :slight_smile:

I use DT Pro, VoodooPad Pro, and MacJournal. I might be odd in that I use each for a somewhat specific function, even though they have some functional overlap.

I use DT Pro for project related information collection, searching, and organizing. I create a DB for each project. I have one DB I use for archiving IM/IRC chat logs, for example. I have one for my novel, and one for an open source project I’m working on (emails, chats, task lists, etc.)

I use VoodooPad Pro as a dump for links I want to remember but not bookmark, text snippets, and all sorts of miscellaneous things like how tos. I’d have more trouble giving up VoodooPad than the other two, but then I’ve used it the longest.

I use MacJournal for blogging and my personal journal.

I suspect there’s some on the forums with experience using these apps that might enhance/change my usage. I doubt I’m scratching the surface of what DT can do. :slight_smile:

My answer to that would be that it is
(a) a giant filing cabinet in which I have a good chance of actually finding things because of its excellent search features

(b) a way to make good use of pdfs, because DT Pro includes OCR software from IRIS – a pdf that is unsearchable in Preview converts into one that is searchable in DT

(c) the only outliner I’ve ever been able to use, because the folders and subfolders I create are intimately linked to the documents they contain.

My problem with other outliner solutions is always that the units of the outline become disconnected, in my mind, from their substance. The box labelled, say, ``Pre-War’’ becomes an empty vessel, and I move it about without realizing the effects that my symbolic manipulations will have on the prose. But with DT, in the view I use, I see what the box represents, and it never goes blank.

This is hard to describe precisely, but to me it makes a big difference. I guess I don’t think visually; I need to see words, not just symbols that stand for prose. So I find that DT forces me to think carefully about how to structure its content, and that this really clarifies the writing process later

(d) A way to stay flexible. DT lets me put the same pdf or web archive in several different places, which means I am not required, when I first file a document, to think about more than I want to think about – if I decide that file x belongs in Folder Y, it’s not there for life. I can decide later to put a copy in Folder A.

(e) The thing for which it is touted, which is not a huge deal for me, but I do occasionally benefit from it: Because it indexes everything and lets you categorize in multiple ways, DT can show you relationships among documents. Looking at anything in the database, I can ask DT to (a) suggest folders to file it in or (b) show me docs that it believes are related. The results are not generic associations, but reflect my own previous decisions about filing things. It’s a kind of mental mirror, and that is sometimes helpful in showing me how I think. Also, more practically, it helps to turn up stuff I didn’t think to look for.

Hope this helps.

Cheers,

David