Newbie qn: Spotlight comments

A newbie question here, forgive me if it’s been asked and addressed elsewhere; my search of the BB has been inconclusive:

When I import a file into DTP, what happens to the Spotlight comments/tags that I added to the file while in Finder (via TagBot, Punakea, Leap, etc)? Are they still somewhere associated with the file in DTP? If so, I can’t seem to find them; search attempts (I tried using weird-name tags, like “wburba,” just so they’d stand out in the search results) produce zero returns. Am I missing something obvious? Truth be told, I’m new to the whole tag-your-files movement, so the hidden power of all this tagging I’m doing is still lost on me, but it is a fun and theoretically productive way to procrastinate.

Also, I keep wishing for a simple way to tag files as I import them into DTP, preferable through some sort of dialogue box (and preferably in a manner that doesn’t require me to have my DTP database open at that moment). Are there scripts available that do this? (Not that I know jack about scripting either.)

I’m trying very hard to like DTP, I can see it’s a powerful tool for my needs (I write nonfiction books and gather lots of research), but yikes the entry barrier is high for a technodummy like me. All this talk about scripts and folder actions, reminds me of the days of rummaging around in my WinXP regedit files – and boy did I not have any idea what I was doing back then! :smiley:

For the Spotlight comments: go to the application Preferences > Import tab. First item in the list named “General”. That will do what you want.

Thank you, Annard! I thought I’d looked in there, but must have missed it. Now to figure out what to actually do with all those tags I labored so hard to input …

There are scripts at that allow one to enter a text field into the Comment field of one or more selected documents, or to clear the Comment field of selected documents. And another to create a smart group based on text in the Comment field.

I sometimes use tagging in a database containing, for example, financial records. A keyword or note attached to a project expense record can be useful, because tbe context of my interest in that record remains permanent.

But I don’t bother with tagging in my large reference collections. It’s too much work in a database that contains tens of thousands of documents. More importantly, the context of my interest in the information contained in that database is likely to change witb each new project. So tags done for one research project can be irrelevant to or even impediments to the next project. Instead. I depend on a number of tools in DEVONthink to help me find, aggregate and analyze information pertinent to my current project.

Thanks for the insights, Bill, and the arrow to the Scripts page. Not sure why I’m so attached to tags; maybe just in case my love affair with DTP doesn’t work out in the long run, maybe just the appeal of novelty …


Tags vs folders is a very difficult debate. Personally, I think the problem resides in the user interface mechanisms used for tagging. Maybe the closest thing that could be considered as an adequate mechanism to tagging, is the Aperture module for key wording photos. Unfortunately, there is not such mechanism in any information manager in these days.

A folder in DTP work as both a “tag” and a “container”. I think that your folder structure can “simulate” a tag network. Problems arise when you have items that can be classified in two or more categories. You can then replicate to different groups. If you are organized you can handle all your information with that method (Bill says that he can handle more than 100k documents). However, this method puts the structure over the document (is the structure which organizes documents, as you put things into containers, reflection of the spatial metaphor), and not the contrary : the documents should contain inside the “structure”, as metadata.

One interesting thing, is that you use the “&” tagging trick in the Finder and Spotlight, and you import your files to DTP, then the trick works also in DTP items. For example, if you tag a webarchive with the tag “&debate” and you search for “&debate” in Spotlight, you will have any items in Finder and your DTP databased tagged with that keyword, and similar items not (as “debate”).

A clarification: I’m managing more than 150,000 documents among various DT Pro Office databases, but none of them holds more than 30,000 documents. Each database holds a “topical” collection that represents my needs and interests. My main database in fact contains many topics – many different scientific disciplines as well as legal and policy topics – that reflect my interest in environmental science, technology, law and policy matters.

Filing documents into specific groups in a database, the process of organizing the content, is something we humans like to do. It was necessary when we used physical file cabinets and categorized a sheet of paper into a specific file folder so that it could be retrieved quickly in the future.

But it’s quite feasible to compile a large DT Pro database that has no hierarchical file structure, no groups and subgroups. Some users have such databases. I tend to use some organizational structure for my own convenience, but at any time I’ve probably got thousands of documents that haven’t been “filed” and I’ll probably never bother to catch up.

DT Pro searches and AI features such as See Also and See Selected Text do not require hierarchical organization; they are effectively independent of organizational structure. In a few minutes I can compile lists of all the articles by a particular author that are in my database and all references to that material. If I’m viewing an article about how the populations of native species were affected by introduction of invasive species into an ecosystem, See Also will point out to me a “similar” article about how factors such as temperature, pressure or catalysts can affect chemical reaction equilibria. (Yes, there’s a wonderful relationship between those articles!)

DEVONthink can also assist one to manage and build on to an organizational structure of groups and subgroups classifying documents. Once one has developed structure in the database, the Classify AI routine can suggest one or more appropriate “filing” locations for a new content. The larger the database and the more consistently one has maintained the organization, the better Classify will perform. There’s even an auto-group routine that will suggest groupings for currently ungrouped items, based on contextual relationships. (I tend to view this kind of assistance as coddling the human craving to impose structure on things. The database doesn’t care.)

Other than some attention to organization, I rarely tag the content of an existing database, or tag new content when added. There is one activity, however, in which I often use keyword, hyperlink or annotation tags. That’s when I’m doing a new research or writing project.

The first thing I do when starting a project is to create a group for it, with subgroups for notes, drafts and reference materials. That helps me organize the project and gives me cues as to where the various elements I’ve pigeon holed can be found.

I’ll replicate or duplicate interesting references into this project. If I want to add keywords to the content or the Comment field of a document, I will so so on a duplicate (not on a replicant) of a reference document, as I don’t want to mess up the original. Anything that would alter the original, such as highlighting in a rich text document or PDF is done on a duplicate in the project. I may use temporary tags such as Label or State markings during the project. These are searchable and can be very convenient; for example, when I’m doing searches of the database for potentially useful references, or when I’m marking as potentially useful See Also suggestions I may assign a label color. When I’m drafting sections of a report I may assign a State that indicates whether the section is finished or not. But when I’m finished with the project I’ll erase all those Label and State markings so that I can start the next project with a clean slate. When the project is completed I’ll generally spin off the project files as a separate database for historical use, leaving only the finished article or report in my database.

But these are just my personal habits (or eccentricities); DEVONthink is flexible enough to accommodate other habits by other users. :slight_smile:


That’s extremely helpful information. I’m a nonfiction writer, working on a new book project, and have been striving to incorporate DTP into my research and note-taking workflow – which, truth be told, was hardly a flow to begin with. So I’m starting from scratch on all fronts, trying to create a system I’ll stick with. (Funny you should mention invasive species; my last book, “Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion,” was all about that. Boy could I have used DTP on that project.)

For me the biggest challenge isn’t finding stuff in DTP (tagging seem to be most useful to me as a way of distracting myself from doing actual work), it’s what to do with it once I’ve found it. Like taking notes; in the old days, I’d print a PDF, carry it around, highlight and write in the margin, maybe type up a summary and bury it in a computer folder somewhere. Taking notes was easy–but finding them again, keeping them alive, in mind, and linked to the original document (i.e., useful for the writing stage) was a challenge. So far with DTP it’s the other way around – or maybe I haven’t figured out how to highlight and annotate PDFs (do you use Skim for that? do those notes translate into DTP?) or how best to, say, write a summarizing note of a PDF paper and keep it linked so I can easily find it again. Maybe you’ve written about that aspect of your workflow elsewhere in these forums? I hate to trouble you to describe it all over again … and I’ve already steered this thread pretty far from it’s original topic …

You should try Scrivener, I think it is an awesome software to writers. I can be, with some care, be incorporated into a DTP workflow. Basically, you do the big research in DTP and DA, then you transfer the results of that research to your writing project in Scrivener. You can always go and return between Scriverner and DTP, but manually.

Thanks, radii0, Scrivener is actually a big part of my workflow, at least at the writing end. And I’ve been using OmniOutliner for outlining, as if I need another app in my life…

PDFs that have been imported into a database can be opened in Preview, annotated and saved. To see the changes in your DEVONthink database you may need to select the item and choose File > Synchronize.

Or you can select a PDF, use Data > Convert > to Rich Text, then highlight portions, add comments, etc.

Or you can create a rich text note with comments about a PDF (or any other file format in the database) and set up a link to the PDF (or other file type document) in the note’s text. I often do this. Although you can’t link back to a such a note from a PDF, Excel or HTML document, you can type the name of any referring note into the Comment field of the PDF. To jump to the note from there, select its title and press Command-/ (Lookup) to open a Search window with the title already entered.

Yet another thanks! Works like a charm, except the Convert > RTF option, which brings up a box that says “not converted.” I think I saw another thread elsewhere that talks about this, I’ll search for it …