Posted on Tue 12 February 2013

Digital Housekeeping

Digital Recordkeeping

I read a recent post by Jack Baty on digital recordkeeping with some interest. Out here in the analogue world I’m really rubbish at organising things, but I’m a lot tidier in the digital world. If only my physical desktop looked like the one on my computer!

Jack’s article is about the software he uses to organise and store his data and his problem, like me, isn’t in finding the software to do this it’s “the abundance of great software”. He uses three applications to store data:

The list of ‘information manager’ applications available for the Mac is very long and I never quite worked out why this should be. I've always wondered whether they are working around deficiencies in the Finder or perhaps Mac users tend to want to group data differently. Anyway, that’s an unanswered question on Quora if you have any views.

I tried to store all my data in one place in the past, but that never felt quite right. There seem to me to be two types of information — that stored simply for reference (receipts, bank statements, software licenses etc) and data stored for research (articles, links, quotations etc). The two are used differently and it is better to keep then apart. When I need to find a receipt I just want to find that one thing quickly. If I am writing something like a Parent Council newsletter I may want to find lots of information, perhaps about school closures in Edinburgh. Very different criteria.

My equivalent to Jack Baty’s list is actually pretty similar:

  • Paper notebooks or plain text files synced via Dropbox as notebook.
  • Yojimbo as my digital archive.
  • DEVONthink as my filing cabinet.

What I value about DEVONthink is the ability to have separate databases and intelligently search each one. I can have separate files for different projects.

Yojimbo is simply a single ‘box’ that one can throw things into and then organise using tags. The application is starting to feel a little bit long in the tooth now; the classic three-pane interface looks old, Barebones have a big problem with iCloud syncing and I wish it also recognised OpenMeta tags but it does work. Unlike other tools, I’m very comfortable in the knowledge that I can get my data out of Yojimbo if I need to.

I’ve played with Tinderbox in the past but it has never quite clicked into place for me. I like pens, stationery and plain text files and, in general, am happy with applications that are good enough. This split works well for me and I don’t feel the need to revise it anytime soon.

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