Request: Good Personal Document Management System Needed

UPDATE Oct. 12: I’ve found an interim solution, using built-in features of the Tiger Mac OS X…

I hate paper. I really, truly despise it. This wasn’t always so, but lately I’ve been waging war on clutter – and the worst of the clutter, I find, is always on paper. And I’m terrible about keeping paper files. It’s just not my strength.

I’ve started scanning everything I would normally file, so I can easily find the documents I need when I need them without having to thumb through paper files, usually ending in frustration.

But here’s the thing: I need a good personal document management system.

Can you help? Here’s what I’m looking for…

I want personal document management software that will allow me to:

  • File away scans or pdfs in an organized directory structure.
  • Tag each scan or pdf with searchable metadata and comments.
  • Archive everything off to a server or storage media easily.
  • Runs on Mac OSX
  • Intuitive, simple user interface
  • Basic set of features (no bloatware)
  • Reasonable cost ($200 or less), or free
  • Good documentation/tutorials
  • Good customer support

Open source would be fine too, if it’s not buggy.

Have you seen or used something like this? All recommendations are welcome.

And please don’t tell me to stop hating paper. Ain’t gonna happen. The only paper I like is books – and even then I’m picky.

9 thoughts on Request: Good Personal Document Management System Needed

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  1. Howdy! Why don’t you setup Joomla–a content management system–on your personal computer? This will enable you to link everything to a web directory on your computer, make it easily accessible later if you so chose…what do you think? You can find Joomla information online:

  2. Hmmmm, Joomla doesn’t seem to be quite the right tool. A content management system is not the same thing as a document management system. I’m not trying to publish thes documents, simply to archive them in a database for easy management and retrieval.

    Google desktop search only addresses part of the problem. These documents are scans — images of documents, not text files. So I can’t search their contents. Now if only I had an easy way to associate metadata and comments with any of these scans, then Google desktop search probably could search that information.

    So that said, is there a program that will easily allow me to associate metadata and comments with scans?

    – Amy Gahran
    Editor, Contentious

  3. Amy, are non-software-based approaches an option?

    I’m a former records manager and I’ve developed a fairly simple and rugged manual file management structure on my Mac using color-coded file icons, the Color Label function, and naming conventions. Being manual, it takes a little time to set up and maintain, but once it’s in place it never crashes. 😀

    I’m in the process of developing an online tutorial page. If this approach would be an option, feel free to drop me a line.

  4. Paul — non-software-based approaches are an option. However, the option you described left out a couple of features that are must-haves for me: the ability to attach metadata and comments to individual scans.

    Right now, I’m accomplishing a lot simply with file naming conventions, but as my library of scanned documents grows I need something more sophisticated.

    Ideally, I’d like to manage this all in one database. Each record would include a scanned document plus metadata and comments. I could hack such a database together manually using the Appleworks database tool, but frankly if a good tool already exists why reinvent the wheel?

    – Amy Gahran

  5. All through the 90’s I was CEO of a dot com that, among other things, helped small local governments with document management. In order to keep myself sensitive to some of the emerging issues I started scanning my own records way before I knew of anyone else attempting this on a personal basis. Like Amy, I hate having to store and manage filing cabinets and boxes full of paper. I tested all the small business options, and personal doc mgmt apps as they appeared, but I never could stick with one. They all were either inadequate or required more handling per piece than I was willing to invest, or were way to expensive for personal use. In the end I developed my own file naming convention and sorted files into folders as best I could.

    Things are finally changing for the better with the new (Google?) mantra, “search, don’t file.” I’m now using Google Desktop Search with a few plugins. The most important of these is ScanSoft’s OmniPage Search Indexer which applies OCR to all my pdf and tiff files, and adds the content to the GDS index. Gmail, OpenOffice and Gaim indexer plugins allow me to add those artifacts to my search as well. The GDS system is still missing a good tagging feature. But I’m willing to bet it’s just around the corner, along with better drill-down enhancements.

    My current advice is DON’T try to do traditional document management. DO establish a file naming system that ensures unique file names. I use the date in sortable format – e.g. 051031_Doc Title_$45600.tif – so that I can easily scan through folders by date. (The dollar amount without a decimal point is tagged on if the document is a financial record so that I can quickly tally up amounts on receipts at tax time without having to actually open the files.) This naming scheme will soon be superfluous, but since in the new era, file names are much less important, I expect I’ll be able to progress without having to migrate or redo my old records. Putting all one’s meta data into a propriatary database, on the other hand, as most of the commercial document management systems do, is a sure way to make a filing system go obsolete fairly quickly, in my experience.

  6. Hi Amy,

    Jan down in Denver. I have the bits for a Doc Management solution that might work for you. You will have your own secure information portal online containing all your documents and files.

    This is my own applicationâ?¦ 3 years in development. I can give you a beta account at no charge. Digital documents (PDF, html, doc, rtf, txt) can simply be zipped into a file, and emailed to the application servers… and they will be converted and indexed into the included search engine. You can also setup your own browse hierarchy with Categories and sub-categories.

    Your main benefits are ease of setting it up using only a web browser & internet connection. And you get secure off-line storage for all your documents and files. You can password protect the document portal, then log-in at any time from anywhere and view, print, or download the original file. You can also allow password access to others if you choose.
    Any type of scanning programming will convert your paper documents into digital documents. I recommend Scansoft PaperPort Pro or Omnipage for that.

    You can scan paper into 3 basic types of documents… Image files like Tiff or using OCR create Word docs, or PDF which are a combination of text and images.

    Any digital documents that include text that you upload to the server will allow you to do full text searches across all documents. If you upload documents that are only an image, there is not text to search. But, you can add a description and metadata to every document in your Portal… and that metadata is included in the Search function. Making it easy to locate exactly the document you want.

    If you or any of your readers would like to try this document management portal at no charge, write to me at Jmanzer@mailvillage.

    I might mention that for those who want to grant public access to the documents and files, that it easy to do. And you can grant access to certain individuals with their own passwords.

    Jan Manzer

  7. I have read your interim solution and associated comments. Have you looked into Extensis Portfolio? I have set up a photo archive in Portfolio for our communications office, and have been toying with archiving print and web projects, complete projects with all associated images, fonts etc. The best thing is you can pick through your directory structure (for better or worse!) from within the interface, in case you know exactly where those files you are looking for are. The basic version handles documents quite nicely, metadata is easy to add, keywording and searching works well (though if you are looking for Tiger-like search capability, you will be dissappointed. Nothing matches Tiger IMHO). Another contender is iView Media Pro. Though I have not personally used iView, it has been said that it is a bit more Mac-like in it’s user interface.

    Good luck,
    Chris Mancuso

  8. If you won’t need more than about 2 gigs of storage, consider gmail. It doesn’t currently index attached files, but I assume that will come in time. The advantage I see gmail giving you is that you can label or tag messages and include keywords and any other metadata in the body of the message. Using the search feature in gmail, it should be pretty easy to find what you’re looking for. I’m using gmail more or less in this way right now. I’ll do a journal article search from our library, then email myself articles (fulltext or pdf’s) along with detailed bibliographic info and abstract. This makes it really easy to find articles I need. Here’s some reading that might give you some more ideas: GTD With Gmail Whitepaper, Gmail as an “electronic filing system.” If you’d like to try it out and need an invite, let me know.