Documentation and community support

I’m frustrated, and I hate the fact that I paid money for this (excellent) piece of software, but the only place for real answers is by plowing through the forums. I’m not a Linux user, and I really wish that I could just look up the answers in a single place. Like, um, real documentation?

And please don’t tell me that DTPro is too complex for traditional documentation. Photoshop and Illustrator are complex, too. They have documentation. They also have Classroom-in-a-book and third-party documentation as well, just in case their standard manuals aren’t sufficient.

We all recognize that the learning curve for DTP is steep, but I think it’s made steep in part because there’s no single good doc to help new (and old) users to figure things out. I still wonder if I’m missing one or two killer features.

But maybe there’s a place for a community solution? Could we maybe have a DTPro documentation wiki? Like what they Blacktree folks are doing for Quicksilver: and then when Bill DeVille does one of his excellent descriptions of a solution, it can be captured in a logical, solution-based organization (rather than the chronological organization in the forum). Then I would not have to suffer, as I just did, to a) wonder if anyone has ever asked the question before and b) if anyone gave a good answer to it.

I think an official Devon wiki is the best solution. I really want to see one in place next week. (Actually, I want to see it in place last year, with all the good stuff already in place and the wiki fully populated. And a pony.) If they won’t, can we do it ourselves (with official sanction and a link from the site)?

There was a wiki, but somehow it is not as lively as the forum is. I like the documentation and the tutorial btw.


The documentation is better than it used to be. :slight_smile: Eric has done a good job with the online Help > DEVONthink Pro help, and the downloadable user documentation is a solid reference. The downloadable Tutorial database is slightly outdated at the moment – e.g., DT Pro 1.1.1 drops the File > Link command and that’s probably still in the Tutorial.

I’m working on getting some Tips & Tricks available on the DEVON web site that will be as current as I can keep them, and won’t get as quickly buried as forum posts.

DEVONtechnologies is just a bit smaller than Adobe. Adobe puts out manuals that (to tell the truth) I can’t always figure out and I gave up long ago asking Adobe Support for help. :slight_smile:

We tried a Wiki a year or two ago, but that takes a level of administrative oversight resources we couldn’t afford. Between hackers and spammers the Wiki experiment didn’t work. Maybe later, if DEVONtechnologies can devote the QA resources, a Wiki might work.

As to third-party documentation, we would like to see a cottage industry devoted to DEVONtechnologies applications emerge. :slight_smile:

The current DEVONthink documentation is a complete rewrite, and is intended to do exactly what its name suggests: document all functions and elements of the applications.

How would an ideal documentation look like from your perspective?



I think that the actual documentation is at a decent quality level and this forum is used very well so i don’t feel the need for further effort on improving this area.

Instead i’ll be glad to read more and more suggestion on HOW to use wisely the software, more scenarios, more little and useful explanations.
This definitely would be a incredible help in understanding devonthink and devonagent.

Hint: I am just in the process of creating example databases that show at least SOME ways how one could use DEVONthink.




That’s a big task. You might ask other users to send you screenshots of their databases, just to show the variety of examples that are possible.

Separately, I’m sending you 5 shots that indicate how I am using DevonNote, which for me has become an invaluable means of gathering and arranging materials for both teaching and writing.


Sorry I’ve been unresponsive: I’m currently in the hospital (!). Just discovered they have public wireless!

xizzy has the right idea. Just a list of “here’s what this button does, and here’s what this menu does” don’t really help me. Just as “here’s how to import, and here’s how to make an outline (ha, ha)” don’t work either. Because DTP is just too complex and too multifaceted for that. I think there’s a much, much broader market that would use DTP if they could just grok how it works.

hogwarth is also right that the proposition of a demo database will be a huge project if it’s going to get beyond one very narrow view of the product. What you need are a dozen demo databases, along with instructions and relevant background info. And, I suspect that very few people who use DTP heavily (and I count myself in that group) havedatabases that look like anyone elses. Or are even sure themselves that they’ve got the “best” solution. I myself have fiddled around with a number of different solutions, trying to get the most of the power I have in DTP. It’s almost worth the cost of Pro just to be able to duplicate my database and then try a completely different setup for a while.

Take, for example, Merlin’s question from last month. What really is the right solution? Well, I can try both to find out, but I’d love to have some deeper info about the real benefits of both, and some remarks from people who tried and loved (and hated!) each solution. A forum does not foster those kinds of discussions. A forum fosters discussions that start today and end this week.

Let me provide you two simple scenarios which, I hope, will illustrate why a community-driven, usage-based or solution-based would be useful.

  1. Yojimbo. I tried it, and spent about five minutes before I realized it was the much prettier and much dumber little brother of DevonNote. Why would I want Yojimbo? Well, the drawer and the quick entry are plain good ideas. But I expect that those are things I’ll see in future versions of DTP. (We will see them, right?)

But I have probably seen it on “best of” lists from a dozen people. Why? Well, it’s not because it’s particularly amazing below the surface. It is a data capture tool and that’s it. It is not, like the Devon apps, good for linking info. People like it because it’s dead simple, it scratches an itch (good capture has been lacking universally, even in DTP), and it’s pretty.

So, even though DTP is much more powerful, the Bare Bones guys are getting more free press, which leads to increased sales. I used to be a BBEdit user, but switched to TextMate, and I use DTP, so as far as I’m concerned, they’re solid second-place software. And I hate it when second-place takes the cup.

Lesson learned: people like what they can understand. Most people decide whether to like (or buy) something in a very short window. DTP is a long-window product, and in large part I attribute that to documentation.

  1. Quicksilver. As a launcher, Quicksilver is a simple product: hit a key combo, type in a couple letters and voila, it launches. Groovy. But that’s the same thing that Launchbar and Butler do. But I’d wager there’s more passionate Quicksilver users than either of the others (despite it being the youngest of the three). Why? Because it’s freaking amazing: the plug in architecture allows it to control basically everything; I can even almost replace the Finder with Quicksilver because it’s file management is so robust. It’s complex, complex stuff.

Quicksilver has a wiki that helps new (power) users navigate the vast number of advanced, complex functions of this wide-open app. And does it work? Well, based on the fact that I use QS and not Launchbar (which I used first) or Butler (its replacement for me). I finally glommed onto Launchbar when it clicked for me, and that was because I could read the doc.

Now, xizzy says that frequenting the forums makes it easy to stay on top of stuff. I agree. But when I haven’t had time to frequent the forums (like, say, the past six months for me), there’s not easy way to keep up. I could try, and swing through the forums to find all the “wow, that’s great advice” or “Hey, I never knew that! That really solves a problem for me!” I would also have to wade through all the other discussions of really mundane, it’s already been discussed, or “there’s no good answer for that”.

OK, so they tried a wiki and it didn’t work. What about a ask.metafilter like “view all posts marked excellent” option? Or a collection of “This is Bill’s latest great answer to a question that might be important to someone”? I guess I’m saying that a filtered, evergreen, “best asnwers” version of the forum for people who don’t have time to pay a time tax by coming every day or so.

I don’t know if it’s possible with phpbb. But maybe just have the admins set up an admin-only forum with “best answers” from the forum. It will be the place I check first when I have a question. And it might increase sales, too.

{Bonus background info} In case you were wondering why I was thinking about this at all, well, I did have a problem, and the answer was in the forum. But it was buried five pages back (in search results!) But once I found it, I slapped my head and shouted, “Hot dang! That’s exactly what I was looking for!”

Would a new user wade thru five pages of search results? Hell no. They’d head over to Yojimbo and never know what they were missing. And I want new users because they fund development, and then I get more cool features faster (like, um, the Yojimbo capture tools?)
{End bonus background info}

And, it hurts to type with an IV in your arm. Sigh.


best wishes to get out of hospital soon!

If I understood you right, you think that DT looses followers because of its complicated user interface, its complexity and kind of superficial (not in-depth) documentation. If that is what you mean, I agree 100%.

First thing to work on is the user interface. Things may become better in ver 2, but I was alarmed when I read from Eric here on the forum that it won’t be out before winter, which means in a year or so. This is far too long. And to be honest, I do not expect those improvements to be siginificant enough to win friends.

There is a lot of “under the hood development”, but the user works with the interface.

As far as documentation is concerned, it may be OK the way it is done, if just the UI is more CONSISTENT and beautiful.

Complexity is OK as long as it is related to the power of the software. DT is incredibly powerful, but people will feel less complexity, if there is more consistency. I believe…

I am really concerned about the way DT is going, particularly after reading Eric’s remark about the new version. It is a dangerous policy. If there aren’t enough developers or the developers prefer working on technology rather than on the UI, there should be someone more with concern about UI. I know it is an economical problem as well as a problem of coordination, and some problems of inconistency will be solved with the new file system, but …



I couldn’t agree more with that since I share that frustration and have mentioned it before.

Certain ways different people can be served by various strengths, weaknesses, and compromises of using forums as a support resource are pretty clear to me. People already using them effectively for their own purposes may not consider or care about concerns of others who’d also like to find ways to comfortably participate and contribute. Forum cultures can be strong and stubborn.

Part of the trouble I see with extensive support with forum feedback (like Bill’s, since he’s the master :slight_smile:) is that it remains trapped and buried where it’s harder to notice or find later. And when previous questions are asked again many details are repeated rather than referring to previous content. which makes it difficult to tell if there’s any new information added. I understand how this is Bill’s personalized style that many readers appreciate (especially the original solution-seeking poster). Unfortunately it’s a redundant and inefficient, ineffective way to create a “knowledge base” for useful, reusable information. I’ve noticed Christian links to previous posts/threads relatively often, which I prefer as a reader since it reduces “clutter” although that’s not a general solution.

The forum’s open, unstructured nature makes it easy to succumb to temptations of becoming at least a partial replacement for other documentation (one of terceiro’s and my concerns). When KB-type information becomes too interwoven with discussions about it there’s an increased risk of frustration. New and infrequent forum visitors can suffer because the amount of content is overwhelming; frequent visitor can suffer because there’s more replication to filter out.

Valued prolific forum responses always make me wonder “gosh, why isn’t this presented as a new sticky thread branch, a FAQ answer, a weblog entry, or anything that would makes it easier to categorize and organize for convenient future access and reference?”.

One point terceiro mentioned about chronological organization in the forum is an attribute I personally like that’s normally missing in wikis when I want to quickly follow or catch up on a linear progression of new/updated content. Wikis aren’t good for visualizing changes over time.

Hopefully DEVON products become “accessible” to more users as more documentation and non-forum support resources continue to be developed.

These are only suggestions; I am not volunteering!

  1. Pull together a band of intrepid documentation hounds.
  2. Assign them to read (and cross-read) the forum since day 1.
  3. Rate the articles on a scale of 5 to 1.
  4. Provide links to the 5-4 articles.
  5. Organize them into topics and aspects of the interface.
  6. Publish online as a Top Tips list.

Even when completed, the hounds need to rate new tips every day and get rid of stale ones (no longer tenable as the product and interface change).

It’s a HUGE amount of work, requiring much generosity and consistency by the volunteers. We can’t expect the developers to do it.

We’re just producing some demo movies for both DEVONthink and DEVONagent, each one at least 20 minutes long and with spoken audio track (spoken by a native American, not myself, just if you would be afraid :wink:)

terceiro: I wish you a quick and thorough recovery!


I echo those sentiments.

Hmm, is it my imagination or wasn’t there another post here earlier responding to howarth’s, suggesting to start by going through the forum backwards? I wanted to add to that, saying just plucking out Bill’s numerous “mini-tutorial” posts would be a goldmine in itself.

terceiro wrote:

Yes, I totally agree with this. When I first began to use DevonThink in February of this year, I saw the potential but was confused with the documentation and thus began to peruse these boards for more thorough explanations (i.e. webarchiving, capturing a web page, the difference between indexing and importing, etc.).

“Take Control EBooks” is a pdf e-book documentation-writing business started by Adam and Tonya Engst, Tidbits authors and longtime Mac writers. I posted a suggestion on this board back in February that Devon Technologies look into having the “TakeControl EBooks” authors write the documentation for DevonThink: … ight=karen

I would like to reiterate that suggestion. I have read several of the “Take Control EBooks” and they are excellent. You can suggest a topic for a future e-book. I have suggested DevonThink and would encourage others to do the same. Following is a link to the suggestion page:

Karen :slight_smile:[/url]

I think Eric edited my post instead of replying to it. If you look at Eric’s last post, the id is “tvillemw” and the signature is Eric.

Oops, it seems so. Sorry!!! :blush: