Information Organizers for the Mac

In my job I have to do a lot of research and I usually have multiple simultaneous projects. What this means is that when I come across information that I need, I have to store it in a way that I can reliably find it later. Storing is not the hard part, finding it later is.

If you are like me and tend to gather gigabytes worth of information on almost a daily basis, you know the struggle of keeping it all organized. There are numerous information organizers that take different approaches to keeping your bits of information organized. I have tried a number of them: DEVONthink Pro, Circus Ponies’ Notebook,  Bare Bones Software’s Yojimbo, Chronos’ SOHO Notes, and Journler.

For me the key feature of an organizer is that I need it to be present without being intrusive. Syncing ranks fairly high on the needed features since I work across multiple Macs. Finally, it must be easy to gather, categorize, search and retrieve information. I don’t ask for much.

DEVONthink Pro, for me is the least intuitive for collecting information. It does have great integration with the OS and has scripts everywhere you look. There are lots of really nice features like updating the content in your database from the file system or the web. It also has quite a number of ways to view your information, search, index and so on. If you are a professional researcher, this is the tool to get. However, there is no sync and it is the most expensive of the lot.

Notebook, by Circus Ponies, takes a page approach to storing information, just like a spiral bound notebook. This is a great little app and one that I used for about two years. I really liked the way it handles media of all sorts. One of my requirements is to know the page where I clipped a particular bit of information. Notebook captures those URLs.  In the end, I found the page metaphor too limiting.

Yojimbo is a sleek, pretty, and very functional application. I love the little Drop Dock panel that sits at the side of your monitor. There is good OS integration with scripting support and a Quicksilver plugin – yes for me Quicksilver is a necessary part of the Mac OS. Best of all Yojimbo uses .Mac syncing. The bad news is that in Yojimbo you cannot have nested folders. They say that this is due to their strategy of using tags. That would be find, except the ability to add tags at the point of information capture, such as dragging to the drop dock or capturing information with the Quicksilver plugin, is missing.

SOHO Notes has all of the great features of Yojimbo, but in fact too many great features. SOHO notes just adds way too many things that I don’t think I would ever use. This makes the application cluttered. On the good side, information capture is easy at every point. There is the ability to have nested folders, to sync with .Mac and they also have a drop dock implementation. They go one better than Yojimbo in that their drop dock works even when SOHO Notes is not running.

Finally there is Journler. Journler takes aunique approach. It is more of a writing application that also allows me to store reference material. Journler makes it easy to acquire and interact with my reference material. In fact it assumes I am going to write something about items I enter so it creates a blank journal entry that the reference item is attached to. You can have multiple reference items per entry. It couldhave much better OS integration. While it does have good scripting support, at the moment there are a dearth of scripts. I like the iLife integration – as someone quipped, “Journler is like iLife for your writing”. Journler also has a great price and licensing strategy – if you are making money with it pay for it, otherwise its free to use.  The biggest drawback for Journler is that it does not sync.

Overall, Journler tends to fit the way I need to research and write at the moment. If I have to get more serious about this researching and writing thing, I’ll probably look at DEVONthink Pro and just do all of my research work on my laptop.

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