I might be a convert to "tags"

06/18/2011 17:45:48

I’ve been through my share of organizational and productivity kicks, but I’ve tried to start seeing those for what they are — a form of “structured procrastination”. And while entertaining, and perhaps even inspiring, that’s not always very productive.

I kind of lumped the concept of “tags” into that category. Interesting, perhaps useful, but not something that really fit into my overall workflow.

Until now…

Most of my academic life, from a computer/document perspective, consists of PDFs (journal articles), Simplenote documents (which end up in Notational Velocity, and now nvAlt), and my own writing/brainstorming (OPML/XMind mindmaps and MultiMarkdown text documents). Over the years, my workflow has evolved to using:

  • Papers — I use this to match a PDF with it’s bibliographic citation, and stick the PDF in a folder named after the Author, and to name the PDF based on the title. Papers is a pretty application, with a few neat tricks, but they’ve just never taken the time to really make it good. I keep trying new versions, and the iOS apps, and they keep disappointing…. But it’s great for citation matching your PDF.

  • DEVONThink Pro — A fantastic, if somewhat complex, program. It takes said folder collection of PDFs and allows me to instantly search, find related articles, and generally do loads of “structured procrastination”. And more recently, I’ve begun to use its tagging features, which sync with OpenMeta.

  • Simplenote — a web-service that allows easy synchronization of a collection of hundreds of plain text notes between my iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

  • nvAlt (previously I used the original Notational Velocity) — a terrific set of applications for synchronization of plain text notes from Simplenote with a folder on my Mac (which happens to be in my

Dropbox). nvAlt allows for tagging compatibility with OpenMeta, and soon will synchronize those tags with the tags used by Simplenote (working code seems to be on github, and should be in next release??) And for good measure, I also sync the folder of plain text notes inside DEVONThink so that they can also be searched and compared with my PDFs.

In the last few days, I have begun really experimenting with the ability to use the same sets of tags between these various apps by way of OpenMeta. And it might just make me a convert. When I tag something in DEVONThink, the relevant file’s OpenMeta is updated. If it’s a text document synchronized via nvAlt, then that OpenMeta is used to update the tags inside of Simplenote. Which means that the tags on my iPhone are updated. Automagically.

This means that I can more easily keep a single taxonomy of tags. I can run a single Spotlight search that will locate pertinent PDFs, as well as my notes and thoughts from Simplenote, as well as any other documents I have tagged for that project or concept. Because my ideas from Simplenote and my PDFs are all in DEVONThink, it’s unique ability to explore related articles makes it easy to find anything that might be relevant to the work I’m doing.

Now if I could just make myself finish writing some of the things I need to complete….

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I’m a big fan of MMD and it was really cool to hear about your workflow.

As an academic I also find Paper2 and DEVONThinkPro indispensable. However, I’m less convinced that tags are a good idea. I wrote two post on my blog about my file naming and organization strategy that I think you should definitely check out.



I’d love to know what you think.

Thanks, Seth

Interesting approach, but I tend to prefer cleaner filenames, since they are usually linked to the title for me (e.g. PDFs of journal articles, my simplenotes, posts to web site, etc. Tags aren’t perfect, and the potential for OpenMeta to stop working could be a problem. But in that case, my tags would still work within DEVONThink and nvAlt, so I would be ok.

But to each his own…

That automagical syncing of tags with Simplenote is just what I’ve been trying to figure out. So I assume it requires a premium Simplenote account to get the Dropbox syncing?

And do you know of any other iOS text editor apps like Simplenote that do Dropbox syncing and tagging and that don’t come with an annual fee?



I don’t know if it requires a premium account, but I don’t believe so.

The dropbox sync, however, is handled by nvAlt - not Simplenote itself. nvAlt syncs from simplenote to a folder on my drive. That folder happens to be in my Dropbox folder.

I don’t believe there are any iOS apps that work with OpenMeta - limitation of the OS. Would love to be wrong on that, however.