43 Folders on DEVONthink and Smart Groups

Over at 43 Folders, Merlin Mann is rediscovering the wonderful Mac application that is DEVONthink Pro – DEVONthink: An appreciation of “smart groups”

I’ve now had DT Pro v. 1.1.1 in battlefield action for the last few weeks, and have been dutifully feeding it anything I find that seems tangentially interesting or useful; a few custom Quicksilver triggers mean one-click, no-look addition of any data type, from web pages to text selections to photos, full PDFs, and movie files.

DEVONthink Pro is probably my favourite piece of software. Ever. While I use a score of multimedia applications (Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, etc.) on a regular basis, I am –by nature and trade, in the broadest sense– an information worker. I need a digital commonplace book to collect, track and act upon all those things that Merlin mentions, and much more. While DEVONthink Personal proved an excellent application for doing this, the introduction of DT Pro and its subsequent updates have left me continually astounded. (See my earlier detailed review of DT for more information.)

Merlin goes on to mention the “smart groups” –basically, agents to collect items automatically based upon their content or properties– but I’ve always found that its real power starts to show with things like concordance (estimations of related items — see Berlin’s article), offline archiving of web pages (very useful for changing sites like the NYT), sheets and records (think about a database), Dashboard widgets for quick access, and a teeming horde of AppleScripts. Those starting off with the software might not appreciate all these functions, but I can assure you that they all come in very handy, very soon. And the fact that DT/Pro gets “smarter” as you feed more information into it translates into a more powerful application every day.

Those needing to dig up knowledge on a constant basis can take the application a step further, though: I’m just now exploring DEVONagent, an “intelligent research assistant.” For a long while, I resisted: I’m definitely a Google power-user, and it seemed to do everything I needed it to do. Or so I thought. It turns out that DA has increased my research abilities many-fold. It scours not only the web in general, but also specific online databases to collect and collate information, compiling a useful text-only preview of all those tidbits it thinks I might like to know. With one click I can view the full pages in an integrated (tabbed) browser, or add the information into DTP. The new version also adds an interesting “visualiser” to see how other words and topics relate to your current item. The application takes a little getting used to, but it really pays off after a week or two.

So much information, so little time. At least with the DEVON gear, I can generally make the most of it.

2 Replies to “43 Folders on DEVONthink and Smart Groups”

  1. I’ve been using DEVONthink along with DEVONagent for some time now and it seems I’m never fully utilizing the capabilities of these products. My own personal learning curve is obviously longer then DEVONtechnologies product development curve. I won’t go into what this may say about me, but I think DEVONthink and DEVONagent are two extreamly powerful tools for anyone who wants to manage and analyze information.

  2. I think about a year ago I’ve started to push DevonThink “funcionwise” to the limit. Therefor I developed a native DevonThink-Ruby-Bridge to enable me not just to store documents within DT but also pieces of code. These code snippets should turn DT into a real agent environment. You can read more about this crazy experiment inside the forum-pages of Devon-Technologies.

    What I really wanted was some kind of smart, semantic system that would support me automatically to find, rank,store and distribute relevant information throughout the web. Actually the rather “eclecticistic” combination of VoodooPad, NetNewsWire, DevonThink,Ruby and RubyCocoa made it really possible to intelligently contextualize information as expected. But I couldn’t share this benefits collaboratively.

    As a result of this attempts and because the company I’m working for got funded by some governmental institutions to turn the vision behind these experiments into reality there exists now a very sophisticated web application which delivers a wiki/weblog extended with functionalities related to just-in-time information retrieval, social software aspects, structured blogging and a semantic web backend based on TripleStores.

    The screencast at: http://www.systemone.at/en/technology/overview shows that it’s really possible to do this fancy stuff and as our lab-pages show there are even more things possible: http://labs.systemone.at like finding pictures by drawing, etc. .

    Meanwhile I use DevonThink as frontend to System One and I’m very satisfied that I found a new and improved way to work creatively with huge amounts of digital data.


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