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Get organized: a survey of digital junk drawer apps

A while ago I decided to bring some sanity to the way I do things and organize all my stuff. I'm working on a design thesis in my multimedia undergrad degree, I'm constantly doing research for my blogging work, and I have countless other projects and ideas that were growing in both size and disorganization in my Home folder. When I decided to finally start getting organized, I realized I might not be the only person in this position, and I figured I would turn my research and testing experiences into a post; a sort of survey of what some call 'digital junk drawer' applications.

What follows is a pro and con summary of four of the most popular junk drawer apps I looked at, but read this post with a few of my criteria in mind:
  • I like keyboard shortcuts. I like them a lot. Being able to highlight a chunk of text in a browser or a PDF I'm reading and hitting a couple of keys to send it to a junk drawer app is far more efficient and less workflow-intrusive than having to use a mouse to drag and drop it to some far corner of my display.
  • I decided not to touch apps that employ entirely different paradigms such as the wiki-like VoodooPad; I'm not denying the usefulness of these other ways of working, but adding that entirely new level to this survey would've meant putting this post on the back-burner for longer than I would like.
  • I'm using a MacBook Pro 2.0 Ghz with 1.5 GB RAM, and while I synced my notes library across these apps to gauge performance 'n all that jazz, my library is a mere 500 notes (URLs, PDFs, etc.) strong, so your mileage may vary.
With that said, check out my survey of some Mac OS X apps that could help you bring order to your digital chaos, and feel free to post your thoughts or mention apps that should've made this list, and why.

SOHO Notes (formerly StickyBrain) $39.99
Pros
  • Can handle any files (with option of aliases or truly importing into database)
  • extensive support for input methods - drag and drop DockNote, keyboard shortcuts for groups or even appending to individual notes, etc. (SOHO Notes doesn't even have to be running)
  • nested groups (folders)
  • multiple databases
  • sharing databases
  • seamless .Mac syncing
  • Searching - via menubar or a widget (SOHO notes doesn't need to be running)
  • audio recording notes
  • different and customizable note styles (true Stickies, 'float on top' option, background images, etc.)
  • blog integration (though I believe only Blogger-compatible)
  • iPod export
  • tabbed editing
Cons
  • Must install its own database server (Mac OS X Tiger includes an SQLite database server, which, for example, Yojimbo uses)
  • Doesn't quite feel as Mac OS X-like as the other apps. Needs installer
  • Group icons not customizable; must chose from pre-defined list
  • Fairly hefty system resource consumption
  • not AppleScript-able
DEVONthink (Standard: $39.95, Pro: $79.95)
Pros
  • Can handle many (but not all) file types
  • Can index logs from iChat and Yahoo Messenger (though I don't know about the new Yahoo Messenger beta that was just released)
  • Export to iPod notes
  • Can automatically 'classify' items, Pro version offers more powerful do-it-for-you type features
  • Multiple, customizable views
  • Automator Actions (Pro)
  • Download manager (Pro)
  • Dashboard widgets (Pro)
  • multiple databases (Pro)
  • AppleScript support (Pro)
Cons
  • Steeper understanding curve of apps surveyed
  • very un-Mac OS X-like
  • Group icons not customizable at all I stand corrected - sjk commented that group icons, in fact, are customizable, and it sounds like it's a very Finder/Get Info-like task to do so
Yojimbo - $39.99
Pros
  • refreshing KISS philosophy
  • very Mac OS X-like feel
  • Drop Dock option for easy importing into individual groups
  • Handy bookmarklets
  • To my knowledge, it's somewhat AppleScript-able
  • Group icons are completely customizable
  • Seamless .Mac syncing
  • One of the lowest resource loads of apps surveyed
Cons
  • KISS philosophy needlessly limits the app in frustrating (sometimes minor) ways
  • No nested groups
  • Export/sharing/emailing options aren't up to par
  • No tabbed editing  

Journler
- Donationware
Pros
  • Can handle any files (with option of aliases or truly importing into database), includes handy 'Resource view' for entries to help track down each relevant file (audio, ZIP, app, PDF, etc.)
  • best iLife integration, hands down - incorporates media browser, Address Book browser, one-click video/audio recording, send to iWeb, etc.
  • blog integration (via iWeb or various blog APIs)
  • Friendly diary/journal-oriented options
  • Handy calendar helps keep track of activity
  • Adds new import option in system-wide Services menu with keyboard shortcut
  • Very well-written, cross-referenced/linked Help file
  • Lowest system resources used
  • iPod export of individual notes or entire groups/library
  • nested groups
  • tabbed editing
  • favorites bar
Cons
  • Mentioned only because it's becoming a standard: No syncing options (.Mac, FTP, etc.)
  • UI could use a little help; strange use of serif fonts in a few places
  • Not many other complaints; I have to admit, I love this app
Conclusion
While I love the pure Mac OS X experience that Yojimbo offers, SOHO Notes and Journler tie in my book at the top of this list. From the perspective of browsing or doing research and using a junk drawer app to toss stuff into, SOHO Notes wins hands-down for offering such extensive options and keyboard shortcuts for importing information and virtually any kind of file. Journler has also won a place in my Dock for offering such a fantastic iLife-infused experience. While SOHO Notes has the industrial strength researching and collecting activities down pat, Journler has the iLife side of the fence covered equally as well.

In terms of performance, responsiveness, speed and searching, all four of these apps felt on par with each other, but as I mentioned earlier: I'm on a pretty fast machine with what is likely a comparatively small library of notes (these apps typically boast the ability to store and index tens of thousands of notes, so my 500 means I'm sitting in the kiddie pool on that front). In addition to searching inside themselves, I believe all of these apps (with the exception of DEVONthink, though I might be wrong) are also searchable from Spotlight.

Obviously, which app you use will be determined by your unique needs and interests, and this list is by no means comprehensive or complete. All of these apps offer more features than I highlighted here, and some of them could easily be deal makers and breakers for you. I simply wanted to inspire those of you who, like me, needed a little help and inspiration to - if I may borrow from BareBone's Yojimbo slogan - "master the onslaught".

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