I was all excited. I thought I had found a solution to my vexing Journler problems. Crashes, freezes, all manner of frustrations had pushed me away from the love of my life application. Journler was the app I had been immersed in for the first year of my writing, my first crush, but the application’s solo developer had gone off, and it was clear, the bugs that existed would be problems forever. So I went looking for another.
I wrote “Bye, bye, Journler. DEVONThink is my girl now. She’s not beautiful like you, kind of clumsy actually, but she is smart and will be here for the long haul…”
Now I’m starting to wonder. DEVONThink is an application best described as inattentive to its appearance. It is messy in the way it interacts with others and is more worried about the mad scientist, artificial intelligence core of the program than in adding any real value to how users create or manage data.
A web buddy of mine, who also searched for another after her Journler romance failed, called DEVONThink “realy, um…. German.” She was right. DT is rigid in its requirements and often sports a bad haircut. You get the idea.
But I’ve got to say that DEVONThink can hold her beer. The program runs and runs even with huge data sets. One user, a DT Evangelist, has over 150,000 journal articles in his DT folder. Another dumps dictionaries in for reference. I’ve realized from the multiple windows that DT offers, each a bit more quirky than the last, that I will need that kind of power, because I can see for the first time just how much stuff I’ve accumulated.
It was this Arian capacity for endurance that seduced me to DT.
My sense is that once you begin using info manager tools, which is the loose category both these programs fall in, there is a linearity, perhaps an exponentially, to the data you collect. Having access to a library is useful, but having your own library in a tool is totally cool, so you start to capture and produce more and more and more stuff. Steven Johnston, who wrote a ‘famous for the web’ article in the New York Times about how he used DT to write his books, called these applications groundbreaking in how they transform the creative process. I agree.
But the better question is what do these apps do for you that the file system doesn’t? If there is no work being done by the application then it is just an additional layer of code that will eventual corrupt or become obsolete (Anyone here ever use Ecco Pro back in the 90’s? I bet your data is lost too.) That was the point recently made by Alex Payne who said, dump the apps and just use OS X’s file structure. I’m not sure I agree, because at their best these apps enhance the operations of the file system, in other words they do things for you.
Like tagging for instance. I’ve never been exposed to a better system for dealing with multiply interrelated data sets than tagging. For example: A simple text file recording daily activities can include notes on an art exhibit, a snip about the cute girl at the front desk, thoughts about the economics of the art market, the address of the exhibition catalogue publisher, and an idea for new shelves it the closet. With tags that item can be referenced many ways based on the content needs at the time. An application that helps you will add tags when you add an item to it, it will allow for predefined searching and combination of tags, it will make editing tags in one or multiple files easy. DEVONThink does none of this. The evangelist with 150,000 items claims he’d rather use the DT’s artificial intelligence to search than tag, so you should too.
In fact DEVONThink doesn’t really do much. It doesn’t have a common view of multiple folders. It is more cumbersome to use than directly editing Spotlight comments. The text editor is forlorn. For some bizarre reason shortcuts (which they call replicas) are always labeled red. Wiki links do not open in their own window. Tabs look like they are from the 1990’s, refuse to open in a separate window, and resist any reorganization. Labels are written to exported files but are not included in imports. Dozens of keystrokes have to be modified to match standard OS X functionality. Labels sort alphabetically by label name. File metadata is not accessible or searchable, and dates are considered sacrosanct, not editable except by a ‘who knows if it will be there tomorrow’ script.
And that’s how DT solves most of its interface problems. It gets users to write scripts. That’s sloppy programing. What you end up with is a file system on top of the file system with some wiz bang search capabilities, running cobbled together scripts built by users. But it’s not one that helps you very much in getting your work done. The scripts just help overcome the deficiencies of an introverted application. And that’s too bad, because I have a feeling that I’m going to be stuck in DT for a while. There really isn’t anything out there to compete with it.
Journler was the answer, but as I’ve just learned, unfunded solo developers are very risky. Who else to turn to? Together concerns me because it gags on data sets over a few thousand items. Evernote’s business model is committed to datalocking you into the application, which is intolerable. Yohimbo is a starter tool not a long haul application for a serous user. Lastly the Lit / Citation managers, like Papers, Zotero, Endnote and Sente are indexers, not writer’s base pads.
So yea, DEVONThink. She’s good right now, but I’m lookin’
(Note: Yes, yes, I know that DT 2.0 is still in beta and that improvements are coming, which is kind of like saying “She’s off to charm school to take care of that nasty habit of drooling at the restaurant”. Let’s see if the developers, who I grant you are very customer focused, will realize that the future is the front end of usability not the back end of data searching – DDB)
More on file systems, notes and archiving on Dougist…
I’ve moved on … see here > File System Infobase Manager