Using DevonThink as Your Intranet Wiki

00 people workingHaving a knowledge base is important for any operation. You will need to have a repository where people in your organization can easily lookup information such as operating documents, external contacts, or even (maybe) shared passwords to various systems.  In large corporations, you’ll often see this knowledge base in the company’s intranet – either a wiki or even SharePoint. Nevertheless small operations also need a repository to share information.

Some people recommend Google Docs for the information repository of a small company. But personally I found Google Docs rather slow – just like any other web-based application.  Not to mention that it’s only usable online and also subject to getting killed off like the way they’re killing Reader. Sure if you need it’s full capabilities like commenting, versioning, and access controls, you’ll probably just have to tolerate using a web application. But we don’t need such capabilities yet and we put a lot of value on speed & ease of use.

So we found that using DevonThink fits our use cases quite well. It’s a searchable repository of documents that can be synchronized across computers easily over the Internet – across countries over 1000km away (Aireen is currently living in Jakarta due to her pregnancy while I’m staying back in Singapore). Most importantly we can still use the knowledge base even when there is no Internet connection – useful when we’re not at home or for those quick work during commutes. DevonThink’s recent sync capability is really the “killer feature” that made this happen. We use DropBox to handle the actual data transfers between our two computers – but I suppose you can achieve similar results using other cloud sync services.

The Setup

Without further ado, here’s how you can use DevonThink as your small company’s knowledge base.

What you’ll need:

  1. DevonThink – preferrably the Pro version.
  2. DropBox accounts. You’ll need one account for each person involved.

How to set it up:

  1. Create your knowledge base as a DevonThink database.
  2. Zip-up the knowledge base database and copy them to each computer that will use it.
  3. Create a shared folder in DropBox and share that folder with each other DropBox accounts that will sync the database.
  4. For each computer set-up DevonThink local sync store and use the DropBox‘s shared folder as the local sync store to sync those databases.
Why a local sync store and not have DevonThink directly connect to DropBox? One reason: speed. It feels much faster to have DevonThink sync to a local DropBox folder then let the DropBox app transport it to the cloud. You see, when DevonThink syncs a database, you couldn’t use it until sync is completed. If syncing is done directly to DropBox’s servers, you’ll need to wait a few minutes or so to be able to start using the app. Add this time to the amount of time the database gets synced during the day and it adds up quite a bit. But if DevonThink syncs to a local storage, you can use it immediately and just let DropBox do its thing in the background.
How to setup DevonThink syncing via DropBox local storage.
  1. Open the DevonThink database to sync.
  2. Open DevonThink’s preferences and go to the Sync tab
  3. In the rightmost column, click on the arrow just below “+” and select “Add New Local Sync Store”.
  4. Save the sync store to a DropBox sub-folder that you’ve already shared with the other DropBox user that you’re going to sync with.
  5. Click on Sync Now and wait until both DevonThink have done it’s sync and DropBox have uploaded the sync store completely.
  6. Go to the second computer and wait until DropBox have completely downloaded your new sync store.
  7. Open a copy of the same database you have set up sync earlier and repeat from Step 2.
While setting up the second computer, you should see DevonThink saying “The remote database seems to be a copy of the local database…” message. This is normal and that’s what you want to do. Just click OK to sync these databases.
 Devon Think Sync Duplicate Database
When you’re done you should see something like this in DevonThink’s sync preferences in both computers.
 DevonThink sync preferences
After you’ve set this up, you may want to make sure that the sync store is up-to-date before you can start using it on a daily basis:
  1. On the other computer click on Sync Now.
  2. Wait until DevonThink have done its thing and DropBox have copied all files into its servers.
  3. On the other computer also wait for DropBox to download everything.
  4. Then also click Sync Now on the other computer to bring the first database up-to-date.

The sync process will took a while for this initial stage. But when this is done and both copies of the database are already in sync with each others, any additional sync should be quite fast since only the changes are transferred through the network.

Furthermore you’ll probably just want to sync whenever the database is opened or closed and not hourly schedule. I’ve tried using the “sync hourly” option but then DevonThink bounces its icon whenever it completes syncing. It also opens a “sync in progress” window which can cause the desktop to switch between spaces when this window is shown. As both of these are distracting, I recommend against hourly syncing.

Summary

Plus points for using DevonThink as a knowledge base store:

  • It feels fast! Thanks to background DropBox-based syncing.
  • Integrates easily with other applications that you already use (e.g. you can drop an Excel file into DevonThink and it’ll gladly take it).
  • Faster than Google Docs or any other web app.
  • A lot cheaper than Evernote (you’ll definitely need the premium version to share notes or work offline).
Some drawbacks to this setup:
So that’s all for now. Happy syncing!

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