usage question: annotation

Hi. I’m an academic in the humanities looking to DT to bring some order (and use) to my notes. As my work process in DT is nascent, I don’t think I “get” DT yet, though I’ve invested in it because I recognize its potential as an essential tool for the kind of work that I do.

In recent years I’ve been doing a lot of my work on electronic documents. I’ve found Acrobat indispensable for annotating pdfs as I would a paper document (say, a book). I can highlight, attach notes, annotate highlights, etc. The key thing for me here is to be able to ‘overlay’ the notes on top of text or images in .pdfs so that document content and comments on that content are integrated. I’ve also taken to printing webpages (papers, dissertations, etc.) to .pdf and annotating said webpages with Acrobat.

I’ve noticed that DT removes all the annotation from .pdf documents when importing them. This is unfortunate because in some (if not most) cases my notes are actually more important to search than the .pdf text itself.

The point of this post, though, is to ask how other DT users currently annotate documents such as .pdfs and webpages. It’d be fantastic if DT would allow for notes which overlay documents (and in my mind, would set DT far and beyond Acrobat or any note-taking software I’ve found), but absent that very ambitious goal, how do people annotate the stuff they collect? It’s clear people throw all kinds of things into their DT databases, but in my case (and undoubtedly in others’ cases as well) the sheer accumulation of “stuff” is a secondary priority. My first priority, to be able to analyze and comment on the content itself, has not yet found a home within DT.

As an aside, I realize that you can highlight things in an RTF document in DT, but the highlighting itself isn’t of much use other than as a visual aid. In other words, if I could get a summary of highlighted sections for a given RTF (or even better: a group–highlighting would work as an automatic outliner of sorts), that would make the highlighting more useful, as would being able to search only highlighted text for keywords or compile a group’s highlighted text into a new document. Notes accompanying the highlighting, however, are much more informative. I’d be happy with just a sticky-note tool which I could use for “marginalia” on DT documents.


I think you’ve hit the crux of the matter regarding the importance of metadata for information management. I would find exactly this kind of annotation feature of great use in DT. But I don’t think such a feature will come any time soon. Acrobat supports layers, and hence you can do many wonderful things (such as drop comments wherever you like on the page) which would be impossible in most other text-based applications.

Annotating documents sounds actually like a good idea and will probably come but not in the near future (and likely only for plain/rich texts initially - adding such a feature for PDF documents is a major effort).

However, version 1.9 will add the possibility to edit/view comments to (almost) all views of browser windows.

My approach to DT annotation has been pretty basic: I use the highlighter to mark useful quotations, and then just insert my own comments either inside [square brackets] or I bold-face them, using another color if the document has a lot of black bold-face already.

Sometimes I enter comments in the Information box, since DT will search those, but mostly I keep my thoughts on the same page with the author’s. This habit has come from years of commenting on student papers and dissertation drafts, which I prefer to read and mark online.

Omni Outliner has a 2-pane window: you enter text in the main window, and each line also has a Notes window, where you may write commentary. Something like this for DT documents would be very useful.

cgrunenberg: I’m glad DEVON sees the value in annotation and I’m hoping RTF comments make it into a release soon and that pdf annotation does, in fact, make it into a future release. Perhaps for starters, the ability to at least see Acrobat comments in a pdf–this would allow those of us who do annotate in Acrobat the ability to keep working in Acrobat and storing in DT.

Also, if I may make a suggestion–the ability to make wiki-links to individual places/objects/words inside a document (rather than just link to documents) would make both the wiki-link feature more robust and allow for those of us who would like localized annotations to link certain locations or items in a document to specific notes in, say, a notes document. Even better–make highlights a selectable object to which other objects can be linked (and which can link to other objects).

I hope I am articulating myself clearly.

Perhaps you could clarify what you mean when you mention

Are these comments similar to the ones I mention above or are you speaking of the comments that are visible in the get info window for documents?

I don’t expect the DT will be able to see Acrobat comments in the near future, if ever. But here are a couple of kludges:

[1] Acrobat’s Tool menu has a Summarize Comments option. This produces a new PDF document containing the comments and the page number on which each appears. This file, containing your annotations, could be imported into DT in parallel with the original PDF document. This might be of some use to you, as your annotations would then be searchable in DT. The synchronization feature in future releases of DT would allow DT to “keep up” with continuing editing/addition of annotations in a document.

[2] Import your PDF files into DT as text or RTF, then use Wiki-style links for annotations. I expect to see DT continue to improve for such uses.

On your last point, I believe Christian was referring to the Comments field in the item’s Info panel.

Technical and implementation issues aside, I’ve long wanted that sort of capability while web browsing when regular bookmarks aren’t granular enough for marking and later finding specific items of interest on particular pages.  That would be essentially be satisfied if it were possible to mark/highlight/link/annotate/index text and other items on captured pages in DT.  I’ve thought it might be an overambitious request so I’m glad you made it. :slight_smile:

Having only used Adobe/Acrobat Reader I wasn’t aware that Acrobat supported layering (thanks, alkan), but being an Adobe product it makes sense; is that how the fill-in PDF forms are implemented?  Sounds pretty cool, and I can see how that could become generalized across more apps in the future.

Thanks for the interesting discussion of a “deeper” topic than the typical monotony of a few rumor forums I’ve previously wasted too much time on. :slight_smile:

Well, it’s difficult (and sometimes impossible) to add all the suggested feature requests as DEVONthink basically stores only the original files (text, RTF, HTML etc.) in its database adding some meta data. And as those files are based upon standardized formats, it’s tricky to add new things.

One could of course handle this but that would either break the idea that im- and export should be reversable (using a proprietary file format internally too) or would be a major effort to add this to all different file types.

Therefore this will be initially probably only added to rich texts. What’s coming afterwards is not yet clear.

P.S: Rumor forums are quite boring lately indeed :slight_smile: