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Show HN: Milanote – A notes app for creative work (milanote.com)
99 points by oliebol on Feb 7, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 75 comments

I've used Milanote in beta for the last few months - and I can attest, it's a great platform for creative thinking. Calling it a "notes app" falls short of how good it is.

Milanote has replaced my previous workflow — an entire wall of post-its, and roughly half a dozen moleskines - with pages of others tacked in between the sheets.

There's a few cool features too — my favourite being ‘view as document’. It takes series of interconnected ideas, and then serialises them into a linear narrative that can be viewed as a document. Perfect for presenting your idea to stakeholders.

I particularly like Milanote not only because it helps me to visualise my ideas, but I can ‘reflow’ and organise them in ways that helps me to make connections between ideas I never saw before. It helps me be a better creative thinker.

Is it a web app? It isn't obvious from their website and I can't find information. I also don't feel like signing up.

Yes: "Milanote runs in any modern web browser. Native apps for iOS and Android coming soon."

It's an odd decision in this age of "mobile first" and Electron-wrapped apps like Slack. Especially since it's not in beta and the only plan is a paid one.

Doesn't seem that strange to me. Given that the target audience seems to be creatives at desktops, webapp first seems to be a good approach.

Yes. It's a webapp.

Hm, no, simply cannot afford 144$/y for another cloud note system. Please, we need this: Note taking done right: Android, iOS, Desktop, Markdown & HTML & Pictures, easy flat file format (preferred markdown), Web clipper, archive notes, offline and do this all without wasting whitespace (no document editor like Evernote) and good sync and instant search results while you type. <- would spend a bigger double digit number $ on this, but no subscription. Closest I've found is Google Keep.

You might be interested by [Laverna](https://laverna.cc/). It's not as full-featured as Google keep but it does work offline and let you encrypt and sync your notes via dropbox, which I find to be more important than pure looks. The other alternative would be [Turtl](https://turtlapp.com/) but you need to host the server somewhere (although I imagine just hosting it localy would work as well).

Laverna looks not bad (beside the white space, if I want to edit a long markdown document I will use something else). Thanks, I will try it out. Turtle (which looks like a private Google Keep) I wanted to try out two days ago but could not register. Do you know if Turtle does some caching? Beeing dependent on Internet (connection) for notes is something which I want to avoid entirely (actually Google Keep is good at that thing, works offline).

Turtl would be great if not for the reliance on a server. I think they do some caching (their settings page has "erase local data") but since it relies on a login anyway it still requires an "always on" connection.

I agree completely on Laverna, but I think it's the closest to what you (and I) are looking for. I wish I wasn't so lazy/busy and got the motivation to fork it and implement the changes I want (I don't care for the double panel and the white space everywhere).

I just tried Laverna, and I want to love it because simple markdown+Dropbox sync+encryption is exactly what I want, but it's buggy as hell. I can't type a single sentence without it erasing a period, or jumping back to a state containing text I deleted...

You might like Standard Notes[1]. It's an open source project I and a few others are working on. Focuses on longevity, portability, and privacy. Has full offline support and end-to-end encryption, as well as support for 3rd party extensions like Dropbox sync.

[1] https://standardnotes.org

The closest to this I found is Org Mode in Emacs. Pros and cons:

  + it's free
  + it's a flat, text format, human-readable and editable even outside Org Mode
  + has one of the best table editors ever
  + off-line first, no cloud bullshit
  + can handle source code and images pretty well
  + awesome export options - including LaTeX, HTML and nicely formatted UTF-8 plaintext
  + infinite flexibility of Emacs

  - infinite flexibility of Emacs
  - not Markdown (for those who care)
  - you have to do sync yourself (I do with Dropbox)
  - limited support for mobile (Orgzly is OK and works w/ Dropbox sync, but very limited
    functionality compared to what Org Mode in Emacs provides)

Read that one before. I'm getting more and more used to the simple Emacs shortcuts on the Mac (because it's build in to some degree). But I don't know if I have enough time to learn it... used to Sublime and VSCode coding here ;)

Emacs + EVIL mode. Life changer for me. If you are not familiar with vi-keybindings, I highly suggest everyone to take the time and learn them. It's not as hard as it seems and will increase your productivity while editing text 100-fold.

Does Org-mode handle images? If not, that's an issue for a lot of creative work.

Good enough for documents. Not good enough for "creative work". Emacs can display images (but not really edit them - or at least I'm not aware of an appropriate elisp package ;)), and you can make Org Mode display the images you link to in-line. Including ones you generate from code snippets in your .org file, which makes the whole thing pretty useful for scientific computing :).

Ah, interesting - I might have to give it a try some time. Thanks!

Yes, org-mode can handle images.

And Android & iOS? How's the web clipper?

> 144$/y for another cloud note system

That's astonishingly expensive for what it is. Microsoft OneNote is free. Even office 365 "home premium" is only $100/y and comes with a load of storage.

If it's something I would use daily, that seems pretty cheap: less than 40 cents / day.

A company like Microsoft can afford to price its consumer software to maximize marketshare. Bootstrapped startups shouldn't bother to compete with the same approach.

Of course they should compete. They should provide better value. That doesn't necessarily mean it has to be less expensive though.

Freemium applications usually have nothing between the free tier and the professional tier. I'd pay for a lot more services if there was a personal or supporter tier. For something like this, I'd pay $25 / year. That means every time I launch it, I'd be paying between ten and twenty-five cents.

Basecamp is another service that's worth about that much to me, but they don't offer a personal or family tier.

I actually totally agree and we're looking at tweaking our pricing options for Milanote to reflect this idea :)

Customers at those sort of price points are often more trouble than they are worth.

It's actually a pretty competitive price. InvisionApp is $15/month at its cheapest which allows only 3 prototypes at a time.

Apps targeted at designers are usually pretty expensive. I already pay $79/month to have full access to Adobe cloud apps.

Adobe is a different story, sort of what the whole livelihood is built on.

I just sync a directory of markdown files (and subdirectories) with Dropbox, and use whatever editor is appropriate on whatever desktop/mobile OS.

Easy, simple, no botnet.

> with Dropbox

If you replace that with owncloud then maybe no botnet.

I actually do the same thing with a private Bit Bucket git repository. I have a shell script sync to my Note 3 and use MarkdownX on that device to edit and read.

What about Tiddlywiki[0] in a cloud drive, own server or USB stick?

You can customize it with lots of extensions to do this "creative" stuff, from drawings to mind-maps, etc.

[0] http://tiddlywiki.com/

Tiddlywiki is pretty good. I liked it the last time I was using it (some years ago). What I did not liked is the image handling on Tiddlywiki... it took too long or better to say it was a little to complicated when you do this often. TiddlyWiki is a good example of NOT wasting whitespace. I want to manage little tiny notes, not documents :)

Don't check all of those boxes, but the visual, hierarchical notes idea reminds me of what I'm trying to do with my iPad (soon to be universal) app Mindscope, just that my app is on a far simpler level since it's text only. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mindscope-mind-mapping-outli...

My setup is: directory with Markdown files on encfs mounted from ciphertext on a Dropbox, exposed via WebDAVS behind the password. I use Noteboks app[1] for iOS (it keeps notes offline, but can sync with WebDAV). On a desktop I use my own webapp similar to the Simplenote/nvALT (I probably could use nvALT or similar too).

[1] http://www.notebooksapp.com/

I'm curious... is this notebooksapp using a flat file structure always on the Mac (tried to figure out on their website) ? Bummer I don't use iOS. And it seems a text only note taking system does not work for me (otherwise I would also use nvalt, iawriter etc. already)

Notebooks app is an iOS app, so not sure what it uses internally, but it syncs with the directory tree of plain text, Markdown, or HTML files. It does support HTML and pictures, I do not use it, but it might be a good step towards your use case.


I'm also evaluating using VSCode (it's perfect markdown preview) and this plugin for easy image pasting https://marketplace.visualstudio.com/items?itemName=mushan.v... .

And I was also looking into using mkdocs for serving a bunch of Markdown files in a directory to a structured webpage including search (which works great it seems).

But I'm not 100% happy... does not eliminate all of my bucket list but is a pretty independent flat file format.

I am in the middle of developing this right now, but it already checks quite a few of your boxes: https://github.com/NickBusey/BulletNotes

> would spend a bigger double digit number $ on this, but no subscription

Curious how you think they'd be able to keep the servers running indefinitely at a one-time purchase price?

For realtime sync I can understand subscription models but I would be fine with Dropbox/Google Drive etc.

Xournal on (linux) or Onenote for android and ios should suffice as alternatives to ease your gripe

We made 5 or 6 major versions of a similar tool from 2011-now (https://spacedeck.com), in the end it failed to monetize in a significant way. We will probably open-source it soon to provide a continuity path for the (relatively small) core userbase.

Edit: You made some really good UX detail choices: - Grid that snaps on releasing items - Column object (smart!) - Omitting zoom is also probably a good idea (complicates a lot of stuff in the browser: fighting with native zoom, text rendering bugs in firefox etc) - In general being very resistant against feature creep is probably a good idea (in our case, users demanded tons and tons of stuff to be added)

Thanks! We're definitely trying to keep it pretty simple—Spacedeck looks cool too :)

Get rid of drag and drop and arrange the grid either LIFO or FIFO instead. Let users rearrange the notes after creation. This promotes getting a thought down without distraction while preserving arrangement for a reflection period. Make this awesome please.

Why do you think it has failed to monetize?

These kind of products are nice-to-have and easily substituted by free alternatives, except for very narrow specific niches that need some of the more advanced functionality (in our case, music teachers). For the general user, these tools are also too tedious/involved to be sticky in the long run. Computer tools with nonlinear/nontrivial interaction only work in the professional space were you _have_ to deal with the complex UI to get your job done because there is no simpler substitute. But this is not the case for creative moodboarding etc: you can use paper, whiteboards, random drawing software. My point is, tools like these tend to be too shallow for professionals who would maybe pay (but they would need more pro, expensive/impossible to build features), and too complicated for the casual user who wouldn't pay anyway. "Prosumer" tools like these do not solve a big enough problem/pain to be viable in a meaningful financial way IMHO.

Hm, food for thought. Thanks for the insights.

I still prefer my spiral notepads (portable) or notebooks (larger form) for ideas and whatnot. Cheap. No internet needed. No batteries. Instant tactile response. Can share (take pic, send pic).

Although, I think this deserves a bit of recognition:

>Milanote is used by creative professionals from these companies

...very clever way to put up some fancy logos that could almost be interpreted as endorsement but isn't really endorsement more like a factual statement without any sources attached, so just enjoy the logos and move on heh.

I've come to the conclusion that you need more than note-taking app/process, you actually need a good system of what to do with the notes.

Notes that become blogs posts, notes that are todos (need reminders, deadlines etc) and prompt an action, and notes that are supplemental to todos (a blog post content note can also be seen as supplemental to a "write a post on this" todo). Notes that are reference and need to be put somewhere it can be found (a blog/wiki?), etcetcetc.

Just for comparison, this costs the same per month as a one-time purchase of Quiver (a notes app for people that don't fit the late nineties definition of creative) which is amazing, 3x the cost of a base DigitalOcean vps, ~5x the cost of Evernote Plus per month, 7x the cost of 100gb of Google Drive storage, 1.5x the cost of a Webstorm sub, 3x the cost of Crashplan, and 1.5x the cost of a music subscription. On the other hand it is less than an Adobe product.

I've been in the Milanote beta and I really love it. I agree with the other commenters about the smart UI choices that I haven't seen elsewhere: column notes, unsorted list, no zoom, etc. Sometimes I need to arrange notes across a 2d space to group them and think about them correctly instead of having big sorted lists.

My knee-jerk to the pricing was that it's too much. On the other hand, as a brain-storming idea-gathering space maybe I don't need more than 100 notes at a time -- once I'm done brainstorming I export and delete, I dunno.

By way of comparison, I have 1600 notes in Evernote including PDFs, images, presentations I'm working on, web-clipped articles and their contents, encrypted notes... and they're $99/year. I don't think Milanote is positioning itself as the "everything box" that Evernote is. If they are I'd love to see a roadmap to help me evaluate.

Please add an API for programmatically accessing notes and boards. I don't need the layout information necessarily, but how great to tag a note #todo and have some agent somewhere pick it up and start tracking it, or sync an entire board out as part of a build process to make a larger publication.

Glad you like it so far!

In terms of a roadmap, we've got pretty big plans—here are some things (including an API/integrations) that people have requested: http://www.milanote.com/poll. But obviously there are lots of things we're planning to build which aren't on that list :)

I think the spacial/desk-space UI is pretty neat. It's not for me, but I can definitely see how it appeals to your target audience. Nice work!

Looks nice enough, but I won't ever again lock my notes data into a file format that is either private or too complex to in practice do much with outside of the app. I have lost too many 1000s of notes that way in the past. Exports are rarely useful -- losing metadata & structure, or not being cleanly importable into the next note system.

For now I use Quiver (http://happenapps.com/#quiver) which uses a documented json format simple enough for me to do anything I want with if/when I move on. It's mac-only, and development seems to have stalled, but I threw together a crude Android client for my own use.

I believe the reason it's stalled is because the single developer moved to Berlin and has been pretty busy with that for a while. But, he does still seem committed and occasionally updates on Twitter. Only mentioning because I was curious also.

Fair enough. I wasn't knocking him. Quiver is a terrific little app, but rather niche and I can't imagine it nets enough money to be easy to carve out time for. I had a brief email correspondence with the developer a year or so ago, as I was considering building a commercial Android note taker based on the same file format. He was very open & willing to help.

I would love to see your android app. I've heard good things about Quiver, but I'm a Linux user. Perhaps the Android app could push me to develop a data-compatible Linux clone.

Sorry, you never will! By 'crude' I really meant it; and not just the UI, but the code. I thrashed it out as a kind of spike and it won't ever be seen by anyone but me (and even I only look reluctantly).

Writing a proper Android version is currently tying for first place with a micro.blog (http://micro.blog) client for my next project.

Should you really be interested in a Linux version, Quiver's author has written up the json format: https://github.com/HappenApps/Quiver/wiki/Quiver-Data-Format. It seems simple and sane.

I also like the general notion of "Standard Notes" (https://standardnotes.org/), but can't see text-only notes becoming 'standard' in the 21st century.

Thank you. In fact the Quiver data storage seems very easy to work with.

The app looks nice, especially as shown on a large monitor on the homepage.

Minus one on the score for not having a privacy policy. Oh, yes, there is one that the user can find by going to the support pages, searching and then getting to a privacy policy document on another subdomain. I thought it was standard practice for service providers to have a privacy related link on every single page, but seems like this service is an exception.

Additionally, this seems to be targeted at companies and "creative professionals". There's nothing in it for personal use. Just a "free" 100 note limit plan, with the next immediate one for professional use at $12 a month, which is quite steep.

Not sure if this is the page you're talking about, but here's some basic info about privacy etc: http://help.milanote.com/frequently-asked-questions/how-safe...

We're also looking at some other pricing options at the moment to make it a bit friendlier for personal use ... stay tuned :)

Why would I use it over OneNote web app?

I love this. Fantastic app. I'm going to be using it for the design process on the next part of my VR game, by the looks of things.

Major complaint so far - it's a bit laggy on FF.

Yep our Firefox support is definitely not perfect, give it a try in Chrome—should be much smoother :)

Fantastic app! I was a bit reluctant to try it out because I prefer desktop apps, but I gave it a try and I love it. Instantly changed the way I work.

I like the app. I wanted to migrate some notes and start using it. Unfortunately it's way too expensive for me. I would not pay more than 20 euros per year for a notes app.

I prefer Scapple but this comes close. I'll be curious if they offer a desktop version.

My recent findings is that it's better to not take any notes at all. Instead of adding some item to your todo list, do it immediately and don't send it off like some nasty surprise to your future self. The smaller my notes.txt the less complications I have to worry about and I can go on living a happy and fulfilled life.

That may work for some people... but this looks more geared to creative types, where drafting and collecting ideas is the first step of a longer process that isn't easily accomplished in one sitting. Saving rough drafts and wireframes is quite common and necessary if you want well thought-out and executed pieces.

That's a magnificent way to work if your have projects that can be done in such a way.

On the other hand, I make visual art: Usually drawing and painting, but sometimes I head into sculpture. Ideas don't always come when I can actually do them - and sometimes I have to source materials and things to do an idea. Sometimes the idea isn't complete and I need to add to it before beginning, and sometimes I start yet stop part of the way through.

It simply isn't linear enough to do as you say.

I'm not really sure why it is stressful this way, though. I nearly always have something to work on that have various difficulty levels and it isn't a big deal if I don't get one or two done - some never get done at all. Of course, it depends on how many ideas you actually have. Good time management is a plus sometimes, which seems to take care of some of the stress.

I don't use my notes as a todo list. I use them to document work I've already done. If I make some major changes to a piece of software, I'll list every file and method I've worked on in a tree format with bullets about what I did in each one. The bullets can be pasted directly into an SVN commit message and they're searchable with notepad++'s search box. It's a lifesaver and massively reduces complications in my life. I don't have to go back and relearn the code to answer questions about it or make small changes. I also save code snippets. Likewise a lifesaver. It's 20,000 lines and counting and I won't delete any of them.

There are other uses for notes besides todo lists.

Currently I'm designing a large VR environment for a game. Without notes of what needs to go where and when, that would be going... less well.

Have you got a comparison matrix to OneNote or Evernote? That'd be handy.

Not in terms of features, but this article might give you some idea of what we're trying to do differently to Evernote: https://medium.com/milanote/why-using-evernote-is-making-you...

Can I drop Adobe Illustrator or Sketchup content and edit it in-place?

Unfortunately not—it's not really a design tool per-se, it's more of a visual workspace for combining images and text :)

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