It was early 2005, and I was researching free form databases when I came across this article by Steven Berlin Johnson extolling the virtues of DevonThink. I was sold. The surprising usefulness of DevonThink’s artificial intelligence set it apart from all the other products.
Nearly five years later, I still find myself leveraging DevonThink for research and work. Specifically, here are the three strengths of DevonThink that keep me using it:
- Stores various filetypes
- Data preserved in original format
- Internal wiki-like linking
These strengths conformed to how I worked. For example, I basically use DevonThink for two purposes:
- Data collection – Web clippings, PDFs, mp3s, etc. are all accepted and preserved in their original format
- Project planning – I’ll create a master document for a project I’m working on and internally link it to web clippings, PDFs, mp3s, etc. that I’ve collected.
There are plenty of applications (such as Evernote, Yojimbo, or a plethora of web-based apps) that could be used for something similar to this, but none of them offer all three strengths highlighted above.
That said, DevonThink isn’t perfect. Two critiques are:
- Weak tagging support — Although a form of this is coming in 2.0, DevonThink seems to rely more on folder than tags (contra delicious and Evernote, for example). However, after experimenting with Evernote, I find this to be an advantage because my tagging is wildly inconsistent as I usually forget my taxonomy paradigm. Folders, on the other hand, are more controlled as there are far less folders. In other words, the flexibility of tags was not as helpful to me as the rigidity of folders. (But to be fair, DevonThink allows you to replicate a file in various folders which overcomes the one-file-to-one-folder barrier of folders.)
- No online backup (ala Evernote) — Guilty as charged. However, to partially overcome this, I use Mozy to back-up my DevonThink database. But my DevonThink information is still not accessible from all my computers — much less via the Internet.
In conclusion, while I’e looked at a variety of applications, DevonThink has the right combination of sets for my current workflow.
PS – Here are three links which detail specific use cases:
- DevonThink for historical research
- In conjunction with delicious
- From the DevonThink forums (slightly dated)
PPS – I realize I am only using a fraction of the features in DevonThink.