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Recommend an easy-to-use database to organize my research.
May 11, 2004 10:29 AM   Subscribe

I am a freelance journalist, and a document freak. But also I am very chaotic. I would like to use some sort of database to keep track of the articles, documents, web snippets, references, quotes, URLs, bibliography that I use in my work. But I have many questions and doubts [more].

Should I use a database that it is linked to the external documents (which I keep nonetheless), or should I go for a database that has all of these documents embedded? I work in a Windows / OSX environment (desktop PC and a G4 Powerbook), so this keeps me from going all the way to Access (which I hate) or Filemaker (which I don’t know very well). I’ve been thinking of keeping a MySQL database server, maybe powered with a modification of something like Everything, and accessing the data via web browser, but I fear that the thing wouldn’t escalate well. (Keep in mind that I am not a programmer, I can install Movable Type or GeekLog in my webserver, and tinker a little with php files changing little things here and there, although I have friends that can help me)

I don’t know if there are built-in solutions for what I need, or if you can point me to a database template (for Access or FileMaker) already built for journalist research. The fact is that I have tons of information and documents (some of them already stuffed in CD and DVD backups), but I have a hard time keeping track of everything, and very often it is very difficult for me to retrieve information that I know I have saved but I can’t tell where it is.
posted by samelborp to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
maybe look at source code management systems. cvs probably isn't a good idea (i like it, but it has a horrible interface). someone here recommended subversion, i think (yerfatma - did that work out?)

these things work best with text files, because they let you see each revision as a progressive change, but they can also work with binary files (ms word documents, for example, are binary files, even though they contain text - sorry if i'm saying the obvious).

hopefully there are more suitable systems targetted particularly at users like you, but i (a programmer) use cvs for managing source code, web docs, academic papers, books downloaded from the net etc. one neat feature is that i can download and work on documents when i want to any machine connected to the net (i work away from home and sometimes have to travel for work).
posted by andrew cooke at 10:35 AM on May 11, 2004

What you need is Tinderbox. It is a live-searchable information management system that can store information internally or easily link to outside URLs as well as local documents. The Mac version is currently available, and the Windows version is nearing beta. It also stores all data as XML, so you are never locked in.

Check it out.

(And no, I don't work for Eastgate.)
posted by gkostolny at 10:53 AM on May 11, 2004

If you can't afford Tinderbox, check out VoodooPad. There's a lite version and a $20 full version. Links to source docs, etc. and it's a desktop wiki. I like it a lot.

Qualitative research software would also fill this niche, I believe.
posted by mecran01 at 11:00 AM on May 11, 2004

Voodoopad is the best thing. I use it for research notes / writing stuff constantly. It's very intuitive to me.
posted by neustile at 11:09 AM on May 11, 2004

Are there any Windows or Linux applications that are of the same quality as VoodooPad or Tinderbox? I'm also looking for the something similar, but primarily work on an x86 machine, though in a multiple OS and multiple hardware environment. I'd prefer something that worked on all platforms so my habits don't have to change from machine to machine. Perhaps a website that offers this as a personalize service?
posted by sequential at 11:49 AM on May 11, 2004

Document Repositories at Freshmeat.

The Scout Portal Toolkit is excellent at what it does but may not do everything you need.

You could be hardcore and do some kind of super-sophisticated digital library/eprints setup ala DSpace or Fedora. GNU Eprints may be a bit less byzantine.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 12:35 PM on May 11, 2004

Along the wiki lines, I've found instiki extremely useful and easy to set up.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:00 PM on May 11, 2004

I just started using NoteTaker a few months ago and really like it. There's also a cousin of a program, called Notebook, by the unfortunately named Circus Ponies Software (Apparently these two programs sprung, like Abraham's sons, from the same original program on the NeXt platform).

What I like most about NoteTaker over NoteBook is that it lets you swipe text from a web page and it copies it maintaining much of the formatting AND it tags the entry with the URL, which is very handy if you ever need to go back. Both programs do a great job of indexing, something that becomes very important once you've got hundreds of clippings and notes.

Theres a free 30-day demo version of each, so you can try both and make up your own mind.
posted by baltimore at 5:36 PM on May 11, 2004

Wow, many thanks to all who contributed!
posted by samelborp at 12:39 AM on May 12, 2004

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