DEVONthink for thinking and knowledge management

Continuing the discussion from Roam Research for thinking and knowledge management:

Yes! After several attempts and much frustration, DT just became the dumpster where I put receipts and the occasional tax document. That’s a perfectly valid use-case for it, but thanks to @Kourosh’s book I see that I can do so much more, and grow my thinking garden within it.


I am still reading the book but my mind was blown a first time by the automatic wiki linking which allows for aliases, allowing for different expressions referring the same document. That’s already an insanely powerful feature.

I’m curious, @johnatl, are you linking your notes sequences (Folgezettel) in the text itself (as advocated by the manual) or using custom inspector fields (the other method)?


At the moment, I’m not sure. I’m using Kourosh’s header info on my notes, with
# Title
Previous Note: _The_linking_note_

so I’ll probably use
Next Note: _Some_other_note_
at the bottom of the note.

I’m a little hesitant to start using the inspector fields for some reason. I guess I’m afraid of becoming mired in complexity.

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We seem to have multiple overlapping threads going.

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Yeah, this was amazing to discover. I publish a local sports website and have been pulling in the RSS feed to DT3. I typed a note based on some phone conversations and realized I now have the name of one coach linked to every other mention of him over the past several years. I still can’t even get my head around how to use this information, but I’m sure there will be reasons to have it.


I just finished checking out the sample of Dini’s Taking Smart Notes with DEVONthink made available after you sign up for his newsletter. It looks like he covers backlinking, though it (as I figured) looks an AppleScript and Smart Rules approach.

I imagine Dini’s solution works in the same way as others posted to the DT forum:

I wonder if the DT team is considering implementing these features into DT/DTTG in the near future. (Funny, it was first requested in 2011!) AppleScript works, but I’m a bit nervous about depending on these scripts for some reason—they seem fragile, considering the number of moving pieces that are involved.

And then, of course, is the lack of WikiLinks and custom metadata on DTTG. I agree with the general theme of discussion around DTTG around here. It’s making great progress, but still playing catch-up. I worry it’ll be set back again with the imminent WWDC.

Feature parity seems to be an immense demand, but popular features (wikilinks in particular) would surely warrant it!

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I understand your concern about AppleScript but DT seems a shining exception to me. As you may know, a lot of scripts come with DT and the devs seem extra careful to not break anything and support them continuously. If there’s any app where you can trust scripting, I’d say it’s this one.


Oh, I should clarify: I use a tonne of scripts on DEVONthink. I’m not worried about the app’s stability that way.

Rather, I’m nervous about the fragile management of lists of links via rich text and of multiple kinds of custom metadata created by these scripts. It would be better if these links were actual properties of DT’s records—i.e., if they had real integration into the app.

Maybe that’s just a sort of superstition on my part…?

Ah, I see what you mean. It’s absolutely true that for data portability, the more into the text itself, the better… but then what would be the fun of using DT :wink:

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Finished @kourosh ´s book. Liked it very much and really makes me want to push forward with managing my knowledge.

After some soul-searching, I agree with his choices : using DT for managing your data and markdown for notes.

Advantages of DT:

  • Stores anything you throw at it (although Obsidian is catching up on that front)
  • E2EE
  • Automatic wiki linking (… but if Obsidian would implement that as well, that would make it an incredible contender)
  • document aliases which compound the strength of automatic wiki linking

Advantages of markdown over RTF in DT: RTF does not have persistent styles, so if you’re a bit obsessed with everything looking neat, MD really is the way to go. DT’s editor is ugly but you can edit in place MD documents using iA Writer for instance, which I find a much more beautiful writing environment.

I like the fact that you can basically throw anything at DT and it will work. But I would say that, despite my initial « meh » impression of Obdisian, I find that I increasingly like the direction the project is taking. If it was to implement automatic wiki linking and aliases, I would be very torn.

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You can use both, if you index your Obsidian files in DT.


I have thought about that… and I’m sorely tempted. But wouldn’t that break manual links? I would have to choose between using DT object links and Obsidian-type wiki links, potentially making things messy.

What do you mean by “manual”? If you use [[links like this]] (and turn on the appropriate setting in DT), those links work in both apps just fine.

I use those for notes and DT item links for folders/tags/PDFs/etc.

It would absolutely work but if you do that you deprive yourself of the wonderful feature of automatic links detected in the text through “Names and aliases” which I think is a major selling point of DT for building a Zettelkasten – you can link manually (using DT objects links) but if you use “Names and aliases” any text that you type that is a file name or alias will become a working internal link to other notes. Very few apps do that (only Tiddlywiki and maybe the Zettelkasten package for SublimeText I believe).

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Yeah, you lose that feature. Trade offs!

FWIW, I tried automatic links for a while—it was neat, but lost value as more files entered the system. You have to be careful to name things descriptively, and to avoid names within names. The deliberate use of [[links]] is more tedious, perhaps, but helps you better protect your namespace.

The “unlinked mentions” feature of connected thought apps like Roam and Obsidian bridges this gap nicely, showing you the files you’ve mentioned without necessarily polluting the text with links everywhere.

But yes—damned compromises.

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Just to mention, DT’s See also and Classify serve this function well.

And if you like graphs, clicking on a word in the word cloud shows a graph of connected/related words.

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Great point! And See Also and Classify might see “unmentioned mentions”, too.

Different subtopic for this thread: how are folks dealing with this on mobile? Or do you never “take smart notes” on iOS/iPadOS?

I would love to have powerful apps on iOS and have strived for feature parity on my platforms but then I realized I’m mostly Mac-bound and there was no sense of not taking full advantage of the apps there.

On iOS I would mostly capture or annotate (using Kindle, Instapaper and Drafts). The processing would happen on the Mac later.


I purchased @Kourosh’s book in part to support him and I knew by reading it I would be able to apply some principals to have it useful for myself.

One of the things I’m wanting to use DevonThink for is keeping track of my medical records. I was pretty sick as a little kid and though I’m 26, keeping track of it all is something I want to get better at. I already keep track of my medications (in MedSafe) but would like to get my various medical records that are digitally available into a Medical DevonThink database.

I’m also using it to manage my financial records as well.

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Buy his book, it’s worth it. Pricing is relative - his audience is limited versus a generic book so it’s more than fair for the knowledge he shares

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