Keeping track of research documents...yeah, again.

In my work writing non-fiction, mostly biographies, I photograph thousands of historical documents as source material. This includes letters, diaries, reports, articles etc, even book chapters. Up until recently I have simply used iPhoto for storing, dating and tagging this material. Its worked very well. iPhoto handles large amounts of photos and it allows me to tag multiple or single pictures, its was easy to change creation date to the date of the original document etc. Thus, if I wanted to view all documents from a certain date period dealing with letters on a certain topic: click click and voila! It was awesome and colleagues with paper filing boxes cried in admiration! :wink:

However - since iPhoto 11 was released, changing of creation date has become more cumbersome, making what before was a simple click & type action into a process involving several steps. When I need to do this with say one thousand documents every extra click & meny choice adds a huge amount of work to the process. I need a swift and easy way to tag & date a document and then jump to the next document for processing, preferrably with only key-commands, as mouse usage breaks up the speed of the process.

I am therefore looking for a new way to store my ever growing collection of primary sources. I have browsed the discussions here, tested heaps of software, but found none that can meet these requirements (ignoring to state the obvious: ability to handle large amounts of data):

  • simple & fast way of changing creation date for both single and batches of pictures. Absolute must!
  • simple cropping&rotating abilities (not a must)
  • simple & fast way of adding tags/keywords (preferrably with the ability to import keywords from iPhoto! - but not a must…)

I have followed a bunch of discussions on this forum dealing with similar software, but I keep feeling that what most other people here want are more complicated ways to aggregate data post-tagging. I’m not interested in anything but fast and date or keyword-driven retrival of the documents I want. Therefore this separate thread.

I have looked at the following software (and others that I don’t remember…):

DevonThink: It looks so nice and would have served my needs so well! But i haven’t been able to find a simple way to change creation dates - anyone?

EagleFiler: interesting, but no batch date change…?

iDocument: also interesting, but again, no batch date change.

Yep & Leap: A bit confusing for my traditional mind - need to explore these further, but does anyone know about date changing here?

Papers: lovely in so many ways, but no easy way to change dates, and no batch change.

Any help solving my problem with these or other software-solutions would be greatly appreciated!

Have you explored this: Not exactly what you’ve described but maybe useable with some modifications to your routine?

Regarding DevonThink: have you posed this question on their forum? There are some clever AppleScripters congregated there. Also, DT have been talking for a while about custom meta-data - maybe of use when it arrives?


Thanks! Abetterfinder looks interesting, I will check it out.

Date changes are discussed in dt forums, but it appears to have landed om using a script for this. I will check this out though.


Good! I’d be interested to know whether “A Better Finder Attributes” is any use.

Take a look at Bento. It’s a mini-database application that, among other things, talks to iPhoto and supports meta-data for iPhoto contents.

Ok - been playing with A Better Finder Attributes 5. It does what its supposed to do just fine. But I do not think I will be able to properly incorporate it into a smooth workflow with eg. Yep or iDocuments for date changing etc.

Checked out Yojimbo, but it falls through on several issues…


Off to take a look I go! Thanks!

There’s a reason not to make date-changing easy. For scientists, changing the creation date of one’s research notes is known as fraud. You wouldn’t want a program to let you do it accidentally.

For a program with that view of things, the answer would be some piece of custom meta-data. In DevonThink – the one I’m most familiar with – the easiest way would probably be to prefix the date to the filename. They supply a script for doing exactly that to batches of files.

Since I haven’t actually done this sort of thing with iPhoto, I’ll defer to your greater experience. But I’m not sure I see the problem with the iPhoto11 Photo>Adjust Date and Time command. Doesn’t it work well for large numbers of files?

Have you looked at iPhoto’s big brother Aperture? It’s aimed at professional photographers, so would be much more accustomed to dealing with massive photo libraries. Aperture also appears to have a thriving script community.


Although I share your concern for date manipulations in the digital age, I seriously doubt software developers have this issue in their minds when deciding to implement or not implement this feature in an application.

I will follow up on this one. Thanks! A bit unsure if DevonTHink will let me sort files chronologically by this method, but I’ll test it.

Yep - it works well with large number of files. But it doesn’t work well with individual files. I need a solution that allows me to click on an image/document, then click on the creation date and then edit it. To use the method currently available in iPhoto is too cumbersome when I’m dealing with, say, 300 documents to be dated in a day. I want it as simple as it used to be.

Yep - I tried Aperture, but was not all the way sure it was the way to go. Still not done evaluating it though. Thanks for the suggestion!


This was the reason the DevonThink developers gave when asked.

Software developers generally, probably not. But software developers whose products are aimed at a research audience would be smart to consider the needs and concerns of that audience.


It will let you sort by filename, so just make sure the embedded date is in a format that will give the correct results in an alphanumeric sort. So 2011-12-05, rather than 12-5-2011.


Was about to post exactly this (except I leave out the dashes) when I saw Katherine’s post.

The other benefit of DT is that it allows Replicants. These act like duplicate items, but without actually duplicating the original file. This means that you can have a “folder” of 1930’s photos, another of fire stations and a third of Mayors. If you then had a photo of the Lord Mayor opening a new fire station in 1936 the same photo could be in all 3 collections.

Admittedly I don’t do this with photos, but I use it all the time with research documents.

Finally, you mentioned photographing articles and book chapters, so if you use DevonThink Pro Office you can run OCR on those so that their contents are available for a full text search.

The way you describe replicants sounds very much like a tag-based smart-folder, which is supported by most other such information management software…or am I misunderstanding? I can make “folders” in iPhoto, Yep etc that lists photos that exists in other “folders” too.

However - as a general update to my journey the last few days. It appears that Yep in combination with the batch date changing from A Better Finder provides a very good workflow for me. Now to get all my keywords from iPhoto into a format that the finder or yep will recognize…sigh. Anyone?

Replicants is very different. DevonThink also does rule-based smart groups (“smart folders” but is not limited to tags. Smart Groups can be based on any combination of content, tags, keywords, date (created, added, modified, opened), file type and many(!) more. In contrast, replicants act just like files and can be manually added wherever you choose. So I don’t need to tag something as “Christmas” to put a replicant in a Christmas folder, I just do it. But then again I’m not a big fan of tags, finding them unwieldy and needing constant attention, so I use them sparingly and prefer to do things manually or through searches. Because most of my work is text related, it stunningly easy to search in DevonThink and just as easy to look for related information (sometimes turning up surprising relationships). However, if you are only using photos, and not interested in OCR, then you probably would not be using the main strengths of DT so other software may better suit your needs.

Good luck!

Thanks for the discussion of replicants. Not sure how I feel about it.

When I talk about photos, I mean photos of original documents, be that letters, reports, or book chapters etc. But as JPG-files. For OCR, does DevonThink do this with jpg-files, or does it need to be converted to PDFs? Can DevonThink do this? I’m thinking of the resulting searchable text layer, and assuming that it would have to be converted to PDFs?

Nevermind my last question, I figured it out.

OCR is just awesome. I did a few tests in DevonThink’s “version” of ABBYY Fine Reader engine, and was shocked to see how many of my old and messy typewritten shots of documents actually give excellent OCR-results! This may just make take away the main need for tagging…interesting! I need to include this in my process and therefore be able to downplay tagging…

One of the (many) reasons I don’t use tags much is that DevonThink is just so good at finding things based on text content.

Yes - this is the way to go for my kinds of documents, that much is suddenly obvious. However - I still have 15000 documents in iPhoto with tagged with keywords. And I don’t want to toss out the keywords I’ve sacrificed so much to enter. I see that I can export keywords out in such a was as to find them again in the JPG - file (and thus also in DT). But I want these keywords from iPhoto as tags in DevonThink - is there a way to convert iPhoto keywords to OpenMeta tags (or whatever kind of format for tags that DT seems to support?)

(I will be posting a summary of what I end up doing here, because this has been a journey that perhaps others with similar needs might learn something from. :slight_smile: )

Have a look at AppleScripts – there may be something that will convert tags for you. Either search on Google, or have a look on the Devon forums. There is one that is devoted to scripting. You might even find someone who will write you something suitable if you ask for help.

Cheers, Martin.

I don’t know any simple way of doing so, but I haven’t had the need to try. I second Martin’s suggestion to try the Devon Tech forums.