Is there such a thing as project aggregation software?
February 23, 2012 1:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm not looking for project management, nor time tracking, nor (necessarily) to do lists, but more of a way of assembling all the different project components and work in progress in one interface. Is there such a thing?

In work and in home life, I'm doing many projects, each of which several and distinct ongoing streams of production - the data from the field workers, the software I wrote to analyse it, the actual analysis and results, the paper we're writing up, some supporting documentation and papers ... Frustratingly, all of these things use different tools (the word processor, the code editor, the stats package, the bibliography manager - some of which are finicky about where files live) or are worked on in different contexts, so they end up scattered across the computer. Chaos ensues.

My ideal would be to see and manage all these things under one interface, even if the individual steps are done with other tools, an overview from which you can find and switch to other other components easily. Here's the early reports, and here's the extracted data with I analysed with this code in line with the MOU ... There are todo lists with attached items but they're fairly limited. (Try to attach many files or a folder.) I've been using Eclipse, which has projects that can point to files elsewhere on disk, but it's fairly code-centric and lumbering.

It seems to me this must be an idea that has been thought of before but my Google-foo has failed me. Has anyone encountered such software?
posted by outlier to Work & Money (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
There's a piece of software for Macs called The Midnight Inbox which bills itself as 'an inbox for life' and promises this kind of cross-system management.

For digital containers that could be bent towards project work, there's heavy hitters like DevonTHINK and slightly lighter things like Yojimbo. The search term for this kind of software is 'personal information manager'.

Your other option is to go web-based with something like Basecamp, though in my experience systems like that only work if you consistently and deliberately push all of your information and document storage to them - otherwise people will continue to email things and discuss over email and your work will actually become more fragmented.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:01 AM on February 23, 2012

I was going to suggest DevonThink or 37signals's stuff as well.
posted by empath at 6:41 AM on February 23, 2012

There's a mind-mapping tool that links to files and data around your computer called TheBrain - I personally couldn't get on with it sufficiently well to implement it but it looked promising, if a little clunky.

Good luck, I think we're all looking for something like this!
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 8:04 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

As HappyDave mentioned, DevonThink is perfect for being the "container" for all the data, documents, PDF's, files, emails, webpages, and pretty much every bit of info that you need to collect. It's advantages are: 1) searching is incredibly powerful and doesn't require the user tagging of every single doc (although you can if you want); and, 2) it does not transform or affect the original form of your data in any manner. If it's a .txt document and your favorite editor is WriteRoom, it will still open in WriteRoom; same for any other file type. Also, the higher end ($$) version (DevonThink Pro Office) has incredible scanning/OCR capabilities.

I've used DT for several years with a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner. Everything get scanned, OCR'd and then dumped into DT with the push of one button on the scanner. It's incredibly easy to find and retrieve info later. Plus, DevonTechnologies has a really active, helpful, sophisticated userbase (they cater to academic, writing, and research professions) and forum. It costs $, but it's worth it IMHO.

(They're working on a portable (iOS) app. It's out, but I'd give it a year or two to really develop).
posted by webhund at 8:58 AM on February 23, 2012

I actually used DevonThink for a while some years back and moved on. Forget the reasons but one of them was the proprietary file format they used, and that EverNote did most of what I wanted and synced across the web. Still, it sounds like it's gained a few tricks. Do I understand that you "put" things inside DevonThink, but those files are preserved. (Evernote used to say that their pro version could store any sort of file, but it seems that you can _attach_ any sort of file, which seems different to me.)

Will go and loko at the Brain and see how it works.

Good luck, I think we're all looking for something like this!

Writing my own is a thought that's occured to me multiple times.
posted by outlier at 9:11 AM on February 23, 2012

This sounds a lot like what's called an "information dashboard", too— something which collects information from all the parts of a large project or process and puts them somewhere easy to take in at a glance. Usually a "dashboard" just gives you the overview, rather than being a way to get to each of the processes it monitors, but there's no reason it couldn't do that also.
posted by hattifattener at 11:37 AM on February 23, 2012

If you use Gmail, Google Apps has lots of good project management apps that are free or cheap, and web-based. However, what I always end up going back to a spreadsheet. I've used it on Excel and now I'm using Google Docs so I can access it on my phone. It's just a plain table:
(Priority: 1-3 so I can sort quickly
State: Active, Pending, Finished
Group: By work department
Project Name
Person in charge: who to chase
Deadline: Not all projects have firm deadlines
Check-in: So then I add a check-in date for a big review
Goals : To remind me, a couple of words max
Current Focus: Always the last column where I keep running notes)

I have two, one for work and one for personal projects. There are about a hundred items in each table. Everytime something major comes up, I make a quick note in the spreadsheets, and then I can scan them and see what's going on, and what's needed. I keep them open all the time.

This isn't a to-do list, as I use Things for that, or document storage - I've used a bunch of apps for that, and Evernote Pro seems to be working best currently. It's a birds-eye view of all the projects going on so I don't drop a ball.

Really, really try keeping it simple to start with. Chances are you won't need all the bells and whistles so much as something simple that you can easily update and will use.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:22 PM on February 23, 2012

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