DEVONthink in academia

by Giles Turnbull

Ever since I wrote my Delve into DEVONthink article back in August 2005, I’ve kept an eye on the app’s growth and development. I don’t use it myself, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think it an admirable piece of work and a very useful tool for certain kinds of people.

One group of users that seems to get a lot out of DEVONthink is students and academic researchers. I’ve just discovered AcademHacK, which devotes a lot of space to DEVONthink and related hackery. There’s a fascinating piece concentrating just on different ways of using it:

This program fascinates me, I really do think there are a thousand Oompa Loompas running around inside my computer sorting and retrieving data. The hard part of this application is that there are so many uses and it can do so much that at times it is impossible to figure out anything it can do.

What clever things are you doing with DEVONthink, or apps like it?


Randy Smith
2007-02-08 04:38:22
I have run into the same problem. While I find that the entire Devon line of products to be very powerful I have a hard time using them for something truly useful. About the best use so far is using Deventhink as a database for letters to and from my doctors and lawyers having to do with my back injury. Hardly fun and not using much of the power of the program but it does make it easy to keep track of things.
2007-02-08 09:12:41
I have Devonthink Personal, and agree with the rest that it is powerful, but am kinda at a loss about how to construct an efficient mechanism around the technology. Many people who experience this quandry simply abandon tech due to the impression that it makes life harder. A friend of mine, Jack Roush, once said: "I'm not afraid to break a few eggs to make an omlette". Right now, I'm in egg breaking mode. It looks like I'm going backward right now, but when I come off the line, I should be pretty fast.
I'm lookin forward to seeing how others use Devon (videos would be nice :-) )
2007-02-18 16:00:24
I used DEVONthink Pro for about a year as an academic. It's a solid database that's best for collecting large numbers of relatively small fragements of text (~200-1000 words) and organizing them by contained words and word patterns (the company isn't too specific about the exact approach). It's pretty good at "find more text like this", and also offers phrase searching, but doesn't offer "near" or same sentance/paragraph searching for multiple terms. If you're an academic and working in a particular area, managing 3000-5000 word manuscripts in combination with smaller text snippets that have a lot of the same word relationships, DT may not be that useful. It's relatively weak in allowing users to assign metadata to entries and things like smart folders and multiple views on entries are awkward. The former are managed by writing and attaching Applescripts to folders, and the latter require explicitly storing "replicants" of an entry in multiple folders.

DT has something to offer people who would find it useful to automatically classifiy small-to-medium text exerpts by similarity. As a database for managing files according to user tagging or user-defined hierarchies, where files may appear in mulitple hierarcies, DT is awkward and there are other interesting choices.