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DEVONthink: Integrated Information Manager

The latest release of DEVONthink [download] seems to scratch several itches I’ve been having lately. Specifically, I confess that I’ve been dashing (very unproductively) between a mountain of txt files, Mail.app, Entourage, two Moleskines, and an Instiki wiki trying to fashion the best solution for managing an amorphous collection of work, web, writing, and extracurricular projects. No single solution has been just what I needed, and, frankly, it’s been debilitating to try and maintain it all (Danny calls me the “patient zero” of productivity fads). It’s like tending rabbits, I tell you. While I know DEVONthink won’t solve all my problems, it looks very promising at corralling some of my thornier information management issues.

So far, I love the way that DEVONthink imports and manages stuff as well as how it draws informal but often rich semantic connections between documents. It has taken everything I've thrown at it so far (incl. Word files, photos, and Quicktime movies), and it still feels fast and stable (knock wood). I’m still getting my head around all the features and am still trying to find the best way to keep a database maintainable and well-organized, but I’m definitely intrigued.

I might also add—coming as this does on the heels of my reviewing two products that many of you found too costly—that DEVONthink rings up at just US$40 (further discounted for students). Given the power behind this app and the flexibility of things you can build with it, I find that gobsmackingly affordable.

So, DEVONthink nerds: if it suits you, consider sharing your thoughts on how to put the app to best use. I’m looking at you and your buddies here, Mr. Fred Reynolds. I know you guys have some pretty hot-rodded setups, and I’d love to hear how you do it. Ditto for good links to tutorials and tips on other sites. Also you can trackback this entry with posts about personal setups and novel uses you've found.

Gustavo Arizpe's picture

These are the uses I...

These are the uses I have for DevonThink:

  1. In GTD terminology, I use it as my digital Inbox. I throw there every bit of information that I just don't know where else to put. I even stopped creating small text files with info about projects, I'm just putting them into DevonThink. It's ridiculously easy to retrieve those files with a simple search. When times come to review, I file accordingly. For those who don't like the fact that you have to file or DT would render useless, remember that filing must be fun and it is fun filing in DT. It could be easier, though.

  2. I keep in DT my PROJECTS and SOMEDAY MAYBE lists. I keep my action lists on paper, as I find my binder more readlily accesible and easier to scan.

  3. As a knowledge base for client support. I used to keep the knowledge in my head, knowing which google search to do when I didn't remember, say, the exact syntax for a regexp. Now I simply copy the instruction into DevonThink, add a few keywords. It's the out of your mind magic.

  4. As a repository of music and software mini-reviews. Sometimes I just don't remember if I liked certain band or not. The same for software I evaluated and just don't remember if were useful or not. So I write it in DEVONThink.

  5. As a small Wiki.

Which uses I don't have for DevonThink: I don't use it for web browsing, I'd rather like to have Firefox communicated to DT via an extension. Don't import tons of PDFs, though I might in the future.

I don't care too much about the proprietary nature of its database. You can export the data anytime you want and, at this moment, DT is the best application, the most thoroughly searchable freeform database. I believe most Wiki apps, including Instiki and VoodooPad would benefit enormously from a better designed search engine.

DevonThink can help you to work in a true GTD spirit: it unloads your head and you can trust that you can find the info later on.

Let me describe my favorite "dream feature" or "wish feature" for DevonThink:

I visit a site, I like it for some reason, I easily bookmark it in Firefox, and add comments, which in turn triggers a new item in DevonThink, which in turn may or may not post it to del.icio.us.




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