twelve days since my last post. alas. I can only half blame Marco Polo; the remaining culpability must be roughly distributed between (a) manic funding and fieldwork administrative tasks, which I have been less-than-enthusiastically undertaking in preparation for my uncomfortably imminent departure from England at the end of this month; (b) the lovely National Archives @ Kew, which has sucked up most of this week, and (c) DEVONthink, which is all set to usurp my entire brain. (All are direct offshoots of the First Cause, viz. my own geekery).
The Wikipedia article for DEVONthink doesn’t do it an iota of justice, and actually, even a Google search, apart from the obvious links to the product website and a tantalizing write-up by DT evangelist Steven Johnson, doesn’t do much to entice, and it takes a little digging to get a really good sense of just what the program is capable of. DEVONthink is basically an intelligent database, with an  incredibly flexible filing structure,  script support,  spreadsheet and table/listing support, and comes with not only Spotlight search functionality but  inbuilt semantic concordance. Simply speaking, it sucks up your research (in all manner of file formats), lets you arrange it however you like, and spits out research connections you mightn’t even think existed.
I think writing comprehensively about DT is hard, partly because its richness is best appreciated through exploration, but also because it’s a database that ends up reflecting your brain, and everyone’s brain is different — organized differently, stimulated differently (I recommend doing the Google image search to see just how different). So I think doing a prescriptive write up, where I say “this is how you use DT” would somehow denigrate the wonderful diversity in brains-on-display. Nonetheless, when I first started trying to find out about DT, I found myself wishing there was more, in more detail, out there about it — I was curious to see how other people used it. So here’s my bit, which will be spread out over maybe two or three posts.
(I should mention that DevonThink is Mac-only, so statistically, around 80% of you can stop reading).
 Incredibly Flexible Filing Structure
upon first opening DT, you’re either met with the sullen, blank and intimidating gaze of an empty and wholly unhelpful database window, or with a vasty tabula rasa of infinite possibility — however your cup is filled. You can immediately start to import files (click-and-drag works best) and file them in any way that makes sense to you. For me, this works:
The most self-explanatory ones are the Library and the Notebooks. In my library I have various category folders of books — as yet incomplete and understocked, because I’ve only just started with DT (6 novels? c’est absurde). Nested inside my general Library is my Research Library (that is to say, the PhD), divided into (for now) Books and Journals. Each book and article gets a citation folder, in which I keep notes, thoughts and extracted quotes and citations, in various individual RTF files.
The Journal folder also contains, where possible, PDF files of the article in question, many of which are also searchable by text. A similar principle governs my general library — for example:
Notice that the main folder text is in red: this indicates that Nietzsche is replicated elsewhere in the database. Effectively, what this means is that unlike bookstore managers, DT-users no longer face the unconscionable choice of having to decide whether to place Foucault in sociology, philosophy or history; whether to place Alain de Botton in philosophy or self-help; whether L. Ron Hubbard should be placed in religion, science fiction or the bin. All things are possible. Replication means you can categorize, or in DT terms classify one file or folder in a dozen relevant places; updating one instance of it updates them all. Alternatively you can also duplicate rather than replicate, which allows you to make a copy of a file in another location that’s different from the original.
My notebooks are part of a longer term project — a place where every time a theme or topic comes up that I’m interested in, I open a folder into which I can create or classify thoughts, notes, files and even websites (yes, DT handles full web support) related to that topic. Or even just homeless quotes I pick up along the way that don’t (yet) have an associated Book in my library —
I’ve arranged these notebooks to accrue over time — if I am diligent in my accumulation & upkeep, I’m hoping they’ll age like fine wine, or, well, a lifetime of learning.
Tomorrow: script support. Stay tuned.