Doo (for Mac) review

Pros

  • Innovative tag-based organisation
  • Neat interface, system-wide integration
  • Automatic OCR

Cons

  • Cannot designate folders to ignore
  • Some cloud services not supported
  • No iOS app as yet

Doo is a quietly revolutionary application – but not because of its purported ability to corral "every document of your life." Other document managers allow you to consolidate cloud-based services; in fact, Otixo – which is $48 (£32) annually – supports a far greater breadth of online repositories. Rather, doo stands out due to the manner in which it remaps – or perhaps I should say un-maps – constellations of documents and repositories. Where Otixo and its kin rely upon traditional folder hierarchies, doo shreds them. In promoting a searchable, taggable library, doo takes your Mac (or Windows 8 PC) where it was already headed: To an unbounded space where folders matter as little as the location of their contents.

Given that doo.net has existed for scarcely two years, I decided to test its most mature offering, doo for Apple OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, although doo also supports Microsoft Windows 8 and Google Android, with additional support slated for Windows 7, iPhone, and iPad. The software is free, and installation is effortless via the Mac App Store, and a simple prompt, familiar to those who have used Dropbox, guides you though the initial setup.

Setup

Folders play an incongruously integral role in the setup process.

You will be asked to designate a Home folder (I placed mine in my Home library), add folders you want to watch (I designated my Documents, Downloads, and Dropbox folders), and connect other document sources. Sources include Gmail, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, and of course Dropbox.

All of which is dandy, should "every document of your life" reside in these online repositories. However, for millions of customers who rely upon SugarSync, Box, Evernote, or – perhaps most egregious for a Mac OS X application – Apple’s iCloud, many documents fall outside doo's purview. Furthermore, for those repositories doo does support, that support is somewhat stingy. You cannot designate folders to ignore (such as shared Dropbox folders), and it also doesn’t allow you to peruse file versions (as with Google Docs). My hope is that future iterations of doo will address these limitations.

Forgoing folders

Once you have added document folders and connected document sources, doo quickly transforms into Apple Spotlight on steroids. In the first place, doo can integrate system-wide. You can shortcut key to conduct searches (Preferences/Hotkeys), add files using the drag and drop space (Preferences/Menu Bar), add doo to Spotlight (Preferences/Advanced), or even set the application to launch at login (Preferences/General).

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, doo looks like an Apple application. In fact, given where iOS is likely headed, doo may foretell things to come. The interface is inviting yet demure: A flat navy-grey colour scheme, in contrast to Apple's current skeuomorphism.

In selecting a less sumptuous interface, doo concentrates on what’s important: Your documents and their metadata (of which it makes excellent use). Everything in doo is searchable: Titles, authors, dates, full text, and, of course, tags. For many of my documents, doo accurately tagged companies, people, and places – all searchable. Doo will even automatically scan images for text, further expanding the ways in which you can peruse files.

The tectonic shift, however, is that doo foregoes folders. Instead, doo retrieves dynamic results based upon a set of criteria (tags). Any terms with which you search qualify as tags – locations, people, dates, names, document types – and you can save a set of criteria for quick access (think: iTunes Smart Playlists).

For example, over the years I have created a number of resumes, and I have no idea where I have saved the most recent. With doo, I located six versions created by me, after 2010, from New York, in Microsoft Word, including the word "CV." The search I conducted functions as a folder – it collects documents – but better, because it will collect future documents that meet the criteria. Doo, meanwhile, will identify duplicates (if I care to confront my messiness), preview files from searches, or simply open them in the software in which they were created (in this case, Microsoft Word).

Verdict

Many advanced users may already rely upon system-wide search as an alternative to complex folder hierarchy. For those users, doo augments the depth and scope of search. Yet a far greater number of users fall into a liminal space, conceptualising information as files and folders, yet relying upon cloud-based services that the test the boundaries of that conceptualisation.

Doo traverses those boundaries: Practically, it will collect most – not all – files in a fresh, elegant interface; conceptually, it will challenge users to move beyond static folders to a more dynamic tag-based organisational scheme. Doo may not work for everyone, but given that it's free, there's little reason not to try it.