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Tired of note-taking apps (akkshaya.blog)
478 points by akkshu92 on July 19, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 464 comments

Personally I find Apple Notes the most convenient for quick jotting down of ideas etc. It’s not the most advanced in terms of features but it loads instantly, is quick to use and is available on all of my devices. Have tried numerous alternatives but they’ve never stuck e.g. they’re slow to start up or are fussy to use or don’t work well on one platform.

For deeper sketching out of ideas, diagrams etc I really like Concepts on iPad with the Apple Pencil. It has an infinite canvas and is all vector based, which is great for never worrying about whether there’s room to fit your idea on the page or whatever. Previously I used Notability and it was good and a bit more traditionally note based, but I miss the infinite canvas. The text recognition and handwriting features in Apple Notes on iOS 14 are pretty cool though, will be nice to see what third party apps do with them.

I like Apple Notes and would use it if it did not have the following limitations:

- You cannot link between notes like a wiki (like Evernotes evernote://$note-guid)

- You cannot export all your notes in a standardised format.

- You cannot store notebooks in specific offline only encrypted disk images for privacy.

- Cannot change background (must use paper emulation)

Workarounds / alternatives for the limitations:

1. You can link between Notes. On a note, click collaborate icon, click add people, in share options tap icon for Copy Link, and then dismiss the To: dialog with the “Copy Link” text top right. Paste that link in another note. Now they’re cross-linked like a wiki. Instead of doing all this, create/use a shortcut.

2. Use Exporter: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/exporter/id1099120373?mt=12

3. Protect any given note with a key. The note data is encrypted, and stored encrypted anywhere it is stored.

4. Surely changing the background is an optional feature, not a limitation? There are a ton of features Notes doesn’t have, but not having them may not be in the “limitation” category.

// FWIW, I mostly use Ulysses.

People like you who drop valuable links like #2 are the reason I keep clicking around in Hacker News :)

1. You can link to a note but it just seems like a second class feature - you need to share the note with yourself. Id like the ability to have off line only notebooks with links.

2. Thanks.

3. Per note encryption is useful, but it would be nicer to have the entire notebook stored off line on an encrypted disk. E.g. If I share my computer with people its easy to see what sets of files/notes are "open" by looking at Finders mounted disks list. If the data does not get transferred over the network it adds another layer of security - I do not have to rely on Apples implementation.

4. It is a limitation to me as reading/writing is the primary feature and its a personal preference to have a solid background. Same category as font size adjustment. Minor inconvenience.

1. I really hope we see a future feature that addresses this.


4. In the latest MacOS/iOS betas this has been updated to a solid background!


Fantastic, thank you for #1. Earlier today I was bemoaning the lack of wiki-like linking in Notes. Glad to learn there’s at least this workaround.

Paper background is gone in iOS 14.

> You cannot export all your notes in a standardised format.


When I tried to export my notes I realized how hard to impossible it was to get them out. An absolute no-go for me. So I gave up on accumulating notes in this otherwise beautiful and practical app.

Exporting your Apple Notes to Markdown-style at ease:


Yeah, being able to get my data back out is a hard requirement for me too. It's one of the things that put me off of OneNote.

A few years ago I wrote a few python scripts to export the Notes.app database to html and bear formats. I haven't really maintained them (although I still run it in a cronjob for backups), but I put them up on github in case it was useful to someone.


You can export to plain text by saving notes to the files app.

Does this work if you have 1000 notes?

I would argue that in a number of ways Apple Notes is one of the most advanced in terms of features.

Yes, it doesn’t bombard you with its functionality and at first glance is a simple place to jot notes (perhaps its greatest strength). But dig into the feature list, and perhaps help me find a similar application that:

1) can combine tables, rich text formatting, and in-line sketches 2) can store any file type in-line 3) can encrypt protect notes 4) can bulk share Notes + live edit 5) has a built-in complex document scanner

I know there are some alternatives that cover most of these but I think Apple Notes is king precisely because of these many layers of functionality.

Big minus: Only works on Apple platforms :(

I use macOS and iOS all the time but I also use Windows, Android and Linux. So sadly most of Apple's services don't work for me. Even though I know they're really good. I really wish they'd expand their horizons a bit. Microsoft stuff works on pretty much everything so why not theirs?

I had no idea it was that good though, because of the above reason I never really used it.

You could still access it from web. The interface isnt bad, but it’s web, so no native UI.

The web version has an incredibly obnoxious bug when it comes to using Enter.

On Firefox on Ubuntu 18.04 hitting Enter once will not go to the next line. Hit Enter again and it will go down two lines.

Works fine in Chromium but there's no reason I shouldn't be able to use Firefox, especially when Apple pretends to champion privacy...

This drives me crazy too.

Sounds like it's a stone throw away from being packaged by someone as an Electron app :)


I used this to create an Electron app for my entire iCloud account. It's the only way I can stand to use it from my Linux machines due to the aforementioned Firefox bug. I don't mind using Chromium as an Electron app for this purpose though. Combined with Alltray I got a nice little Apple logo in my system tray that I leave open.

Totally agree.

I get the markdown thing but it just seems to add a layer of complexity to a market crowded with productivity porn.

I have been using Notability with great success for the last year. Having a fixed page like canvas doesn't strike me as a problem as I can move my diagrams around and scale them if I run out of space (huge advantage compared to drawing on paper).

Before Notability I was using mostly markdown files in git. However, using handwriting instead of typing has improved my cognition and creativity significantly. When I'm faced with a challenging task, I start doodling in Notability and keep being surprised at the creative solutions that emerge as I'm writing and sketching. There seems to be a richer thought process to be happending when I use my hands for thinking (rather than pressing keys on a keyboard).

Some additional spontaneous thoughts:

- Searchability of my handwritten notes is great, even after I export my notes to PDF.

- Exporting to PDF stores my notes in a long lasting standard format, preserving the character of my handwriting and diagrams.

- Being able to move/scale diagrams as I develop them has allowed me to start sketching more easily without any idea of where the diagram will go (e.g., ERD).

- Synching: I have Notability running on my desktop Mac, iPad, and iPhone. iPad Pro 12.9" is my primary device, together with Apple Pencil. Mac is for copying in screenshots from web pages, or large amounts of text. And I use it on iPhone on the go to capture ideas, access shopping lists, etc.

- Some document structure is useful: I have monthly work notes, yearly personal notes, "Inbox" on the go, and long running project notes that I keep adding to and tweak.

I have to agree with this. I was on Notion for a while, and I've tried every other app out there, but found I was wasting too much time thinking about the structure and features instead of the content.

I've gone back back to Apple's Notes and other native apps (Mail, Calendar). Yes, these apps are not perfect. Undoubtedly there are things other apps do better. But they fade into the background, they're simple and unassuming. They integrate into the OS well, are private, and will be around as long as Apple.

Apple Notes are not end to end encrypted. Thanks to programs like PRISM, US military intelligence has realtime access to the plaintext contents of much of the information you store in iCloud (including notes and photos), without a court order.

That, for me, makes it a nonstarter.

You must have some very interesting notes. I think for most of us, the US government wouldn't be particularly interested in our musings, but what do you suggest?

It's amazing that people can witness POTUS 44→45 and still make "well I have nothing to hide" arguments :/

Regardless of any political situation, it's a rather stark lack of imagination when one can not realize that there are people who are doing things entirely legal and reasonable that absolutely require privacy from the state for their own safety and success, such as labor leaders, political organizers, civil rights leaders, reporters researching state corruption, war crimes, or human rights abuses by the state itself, et c.

Yes, but let's not conflate this specific use case with every day usage.

I'm a gigantic privacy advocate and probably senselessly cautious about tons of technologies, but that's the result of a conscious choice. Set and forget encryption, or programs that advertise they can skip the first step, are dangerous in my opinion/experience. It can give the wrong impression about security and lead to dangerous decisions/actions or lack thereof.

The concept behind thoughtless encryption is noble, but for all encryption models/schemes I know of, it has to be a concentrated and intentional decision else you end up with:

- Lost data due to key mismanagement (not a bad thing, but extremely inconvenient)

- Incomplete or ineffective encryption

- Vehicles for intentional deception that allow bad actors to get you to share sensitive/personal data under the impression that it's protected

and much much more.

Steve Yegge said it best when he said that Security and Usability are constantly at odds, and from my perspective, this is a good thing to some degree. With so many FUD apps that promise security, for the time being is a very convenient litmus test for laypersons to know "how much should I trust this app?"

I know that it's popular on HN to shit on Telegram, but in my current country of residence, Telegram is the most popular messenger program...for normal non-secretive messaging. It is extremely well known not to trust TG for secret conversations, illegal purchases or any other illegal activities, and so on. Not even on the basis of the security model of secret chats, but the discoverability of them. Basically the thought is "If you could find it without being a member of some ring of trust, so can the police". It's one reason why the conversations that frequently happen on HN about Telegram feel so misguided to me -- those who have conversations that may put themselves at risk __aren't using the app for such conversations__. They're not using any such apps, and either doing disposable communications (burner phones, pen and paper convos, etc), or they're arranging meetings in other ways.

Encryption/security has been commoditized by app and platform creators and packaged into a marketing tool. I wouldn't trust Telegram or Signal any more than I'd trust WhatsApp, Messenger, Messages, or whatever Google's monthly name for their chat app is to have such conversations in most countries.

To wrap it back to the GP's comment, I get the complaint about Apple Notes not being E2E encrypted -- but, if you've got sensitive data that needs to be recorded, why are you cloud-syncing it in the first place with a company that has frequently been investigated/prodded by the US Government, and even more frequently probed/violated by data exfiltration companies that work directly with the aforementioned government?

It's amazing that people can witness POTUS 44→45 and still make "well I have nothing to hide" arguments :/

Unless you have a really short memory, I think you mean POTUS 39→45.

And while by a lot of measures POTUS 45 has been a disaster, POTUS 44 did far more damage to privacy than 45 has (yet).

I'm not talking about any specifics of either administration, only about having them back-to-back with polar-opposite reactions from most people. I hope that would make anyone on any side think twice before handing "their guy" some fun new weapon, but I probably hope for too much.

Can you elaborate on this please?

It's not that complex. Our personal privacies have deteriorated with either party in power for decades. Both Dems and GOP have voted to extend the Patriot Act and similar acts. Most of the NSA/PRISM drama happened under Obama (PRISM in 2007 with Bush, to be fair) and I'm not sure anything changed by 2016.

So singling out Trump isn't really relevant or even useful.

A Story In Two Headlines:

"NSA offering 'billions' for Skype eavesdrop solution" (2009) — https://www.theregister.com/2009/02/12/nsa_offers_billions_f...

"Microsoft Buys Skype for $8.5 Billion. Why, Exactly?" (2011) — https://www.wired.com/2011/05/microsoft-buys-skype-2/

They're not saying they have nothing to hide, they're saying they're not joting down quick notes of anything they have to hide.

I would agree that self-censorship is one of the most insidious effects of surveillance if that's what you mean :)

Carelessly making personal stuff available to interested parties was never a good idea in human history. You don't know who will see it in 10, 20, 50 years from now and what repercussions it might bring. So, hide your stuff by default and not based on your trust in the current administration or lack thereof.

I have to agree...

I'm very conscious of this now when I'm talking on the phone. Not that I really have anything to hide, but I'm always wondering how something would be perceived by someone who is listening in.

It's not a nice feeling at all. This is one of the reasons I hate mass-surveillance so much. Just that feeling that everything I do or say is on the record.

Sadly, I find myself thinking similar paranoiac thoughts simply talking in person at home. We have a number of devices with microphones, and when friends visit, they bring their own devices with who knows what kind of untrustworthy apps (looking at you, Facebook!).

Sure, we're normal citizens with "nothing to hide" - but I've become wary of any possible channel of data collection, regardless of whether the end consumers are private parties or state agencies.

It's dystopian, that I'm having to consciously censor my speech in case anyone is listening. Same with HN - I doubt my comments are of any value to outsiders, but it's possible that someone will associate my real-life identity with this online account, and dig through (i.e., put the data through some extractive process) to assign various values, for unknown consumers - probably advertisers, but maybe even some "good citizen index".

Thankfully I live in the EU (oops, another data point leaked), where there's at least some level of privacy protected by law.

It's not self-censorship, it's just choosing the appropriate level of security for the note.

Sometimes I send a postcard where anybody that handles the card can read the message. If I want a little more privacy, I'll send the note in an envelope.

I'm afraid this came across as an unfortunate and disingenuous response to someone's comment about privacy. A feeble variation of "I have nothing to hide" I'd say.

For the last part: Standard Notes, Joplin, jrnl, FS Notes (possibly), nvAlt (not actively developed) etc.

My notes do not have to be interesting for me to desire, or deserve, personal privacy.

Nobody's particularly interested in you taking a shit or jerking off, either, but I'll bet you close the door when you do.

The important question here is: What do they know? Who decides what they do with that? Who decides who decides?

There just need to be snippets that can be taken out of context for you to be crucified by a mob. That's happening every week or so.

Are you saying that the connection to Apple servers that hold the backups are not encrypted? That can't be... I'm almost certain they use TLS.

No, I'm saying that the notes are not encrypted from endpoint to endpoint. They are encrypted with TLS keys known to Apple in transit, and they are encrypted with storage keys known to Apple at rest in your iCloud account.

This means that Apple has the ability to decrypt them at all times without your knowledge or involvement, and can and does so via the PRISM program for US military intelligence to access the plaintext data, the same as they do for the CCP in iCloud users in China.

End to end encryption is not the same thing as transit encryption.

For the record: PRISM is not "sniffing" or any other type of bulk surveillance program that would be thwarted by TLS. It's an API/app-driven program, run by and within large tech companies, that permits the US military intelligence organizations to pull the decrypted contents of the account of anyone on the service, directly from the storage systems of those tech companies. The majority of the data that the IC processes is the result of PRISM. I encourage you to read Bart Gellman's book Dark Mirror for more information and specifics.

Okay, that makes more sense.

When I'm backing up to an Apple server, I think of the two ends in the end-to-end encryption scheme as my computer and Apple's computer.

No, the ends are the device from which the backup is being taken, and the device to which the backup is restored: the start and the endpoints of the entire journey of the data.

When done properly, the places the data sits/transits in-between have no ability to read or decrypt the information; it's indistinguishable from random data to those intermediate storage/relay services or nodes, because they never have access to the keys to decrypt it.

Fair enough, but this applies to essentially any service that you can access on the web (you can use Notes on iCloud.com)

Governing's harder

Yes, same here. I found out, that oftentimes I just need to vent something in a slightly structured way without any distraction. Apple Notes opens in an instant in an expected way, syncs and works across devices.

It is not so much a great workflow I need, it is simply frictionless noting down immediately.

After that I can go to further elaborate on the idea with a mightier tool. In my case it is GoodNotes.

After lots of attempts and frustration (Which features should I use now to get this idea out?) I now use only Apple Notes and GoodNotes.

Other than a combination of fiddling inside ~/Library and some more SQLite circus there's really no way to make Apple Notes notes portable (across platforms) and even such circuitous hacks might break in any update or upgrade. That's a big enough no for me.

This is one of those instances when the perceived Apple's walled garden convenience just falls flat. I personally prefer FSNotes (it has a long way to go but it's FOSS) and Bear. I am moving from Simplenote.

Escaping a walled garden into a subscription based text editor seems like a pot/kettle scenario.

I think you mean a frying pan/fire scenario

FSNotes isn't subscription based. I am not yet paying or Bear and I don't think I'd go for it either.

there's really no way to make Apple Notes notes portable (across platforms)

Apple Notes works fine on any platform that supports a modern web browser at icloud.com.

Concepts is great! It's the best cross between note-taking and drafting, with all sorts of interesting rulers and sketching guides. You can even export as DXF to laser cut vector graphics straight from a sketch or drawing.

Good for drawing but not the best for taking notes/journals. You can export your drawings as PDFs to Notability or GoodNotes tho.

I agree with this and notes is what I use - apple notes with cloud sync, especially on the phone. Every now and then, I move it all out of notes into standalone text files in a directory tree in Dropbox.


Because several times now I've lost notes due to Apple's cloud "sync." On a few occasions, the note turned up in the trash (with no action on my part) or simply disappeared.

Putting aside the spontaneous deletes, one thing that seems to more frequently push things into the trash is editing the same note on more than once device - the handling of this on the icloud backend appears to be "hell, just delete it."

edit: I should note that this spontaneous delete thing was more common a year ago, but then again, I've dramatically reduced the number of notes I maintain, now down to like 30 or so as opposed to the hundred+ I used to keep.

I too have occasionally lost Apple notes due to what I've imagined must be cloud sync issues.

Whatever the cause, sometimes notes disappear and that is unforgivable.

If I cannot trust that something I store in a note won't ever disappear, unless I explicitly delete it, then I cannot trust the system period, and thus cannot use it.

I can't tell you how many times or how often it's happened. I think I must be on the third or fourth re-creation of my "Restaurants" list in the last couple of years, and that's just the one that comes to mind easiest.

Really disappointing that they couldn't get that right.

This delete issue happened to me as recently as 2 months back and I lost a year-long running note.

Edits also sometimes result in a bunch of duplicated notes.

> loads instantly

This is a key feature for note-taking apps — quick to load wherever you are — and is one reason why I also gravitate toward Apple Notes for jotting down ideas. I can then reorganize into documents or spreadsheets as needed when I’m back at a desk.

Is there a way to use it on a different platform?

I like to use Linux systems and even though Microsoft sells Windows, OneNote allows me to use it in a browser.

Apple still seems to favor their walled garden so that you have to live with all their downsides in order to enjoy the good parts.

Yes, you can use it on iCloud.com

Thanks, I didn't know iCloud includes applications.

It's actually saving using imap. So you can configure it to use non iCloud and then use eg. 'imap notes' on Android.

The rub is that non iCloud is text only, so you lose functionality.

I agree - choosing a tool that makes jotting stuff down most convenient is key.

I believe that there hasn't been enough innovation in the jot-down phase of notes. Most people use Apple Notes, Google Keep, or raw text files. They're convenient for jot-down. But painful when it comes to organizing.

Notes are easier to organize when they're modular. You can add modularity, without losing convenience or speed, by writing notes like you're messaging yourself.

Fast jot-down + easy to organize in small steps = more likely to stick with it.

(I'm one of the creators of the modular, messaging-like notes tool bytebase.io)

i liked apple notes on my ipad pro until i got bit badly by the upgrade to ios 13, where all the previous pencil drawings were flattened, and features like zoom and ruler (constant-interval across zoom levels) were removed.

i used notes for personal design drawings/sketches, and it was great for that purpose until the upgrade.

The best thing about Apple notes is that I can dictate while I am hiking. The problem is that it seems to require >2 bars of service, which is a rarity when I actually need it.

Apple dictation works offline - at least with the latest models. https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208343

I've heard you can use local voice recognition by long-pressing the dictation button.

That's one of the most ridiculous hidden UX'es I've heard of in a long while. It always surprises me when people think of Apple as somehow "user-friendly".

Did you actually check? Just tried on my phone and it’s not there. But if I turn on airplane mode is still works so May be there’s no need for a setting at all.

I think you misunderstand. They are saying that even if it is there, it's a demented example.

How on earth is "if you have internet connectivity, short press the dictation button, but if you want to do only local dictation, long press it" even remotely intuitive, or logical?

Also, the 1st party support and integration is something that makes me go back. For example, being able to create a new note directly from the control center on iOS. And paired with faceID it’s seamless even when doing it from a locked screen.

Although it sucks that other developers do not get to offer their shortcuts.

How do you backup Apple Notes? The PDF export loses fidelity. I really like AN for the integrated camera, esp the document scanner. Is there another application that allows for writing as well as annotating media, video, photos and sound?

I loved apple notes, and have used it for years. I left (for joplin) because there was no easy way to do an export/backup without scripts or workarounds.

I don't use the document scanner tho :(

You can save your notes as emails when you connect your gmail account.

It's a sqlite database so you could pull it from there: https://www.swiftforensics.com/2018/02/reading-notes-databas...

I haven't tried it with Notes but with Apple's Podcast app it's a nice sqlite DB you can query.

I remember I used some notes-cli tool to export notes from Notes.app into txt or markdown files

Maybe it was this https://github.com/xwmx/notes-app-cli

I've been playing around with [0] recently, which has been a good way to learn about how apple notes are structured on the back end as well

[0]: https://github.com/threeplanetssoftware/apple_cloud_notes_pa...

There's an app called "Exporter". http://falcon.star-lord.me/exporter/.

I've used it and it works. Software developer also makes Another note taking app Falcon http://falcon.star-lord.me/#features

NOTE: Exporter works well, but it does NOT decrypt locked notes, nor does it handle anything outside of text (e.g, tables or images).

Not something I had thought about actually. I’d always assumed iCloud was “good enough” for my use, though some interesting points raised below which would definitely be important for more important notes. Most of mine are quite throwaway to be honest.

It’s on iCloud.

Is iCloud a backup or a coordination mechanism? If someone steals an iDevice and starts nuking notes or deleting videos, are they not gone?

It's a tradeoff of convenience vs. security. If someone steals my iPhone they would first have to get into it. Assuming they can do that, I'd have much bigger problems than my notes being tampered with.

Additionally, iOS devices can be locked remotely.

All deleted notes go to a "recently deleted" folder in which they will stay for 30 days. Although they could be permanently deleted from there and then it is really gone...

Does it integrate with Siri?

i like using siri to add to apple notes, while ideas come to me or something during walks etc. works well with airpods pro.

truer words never spoken. but what does this have to say about technology in general?

I'm constantly annoyed that there are no decent stylus apps on Android. The only one with an infinite canvas has more annoyances and issues than I can count (beginning with how scheduled backups can only be pointed at cloud storage, and manual local backups can only be made to a proprietary format) and I just absolutely hate it.

I use Squid on Android. I learned to adjust the options to suit me well. I use my stylus for writing or drawing and use my fingers to lasso objects to move them or resize them. My stylus has an eraser function when I use the back end of the stylus.


I also use Squid. It's the app I'm talking about it. It effectively holds your data hostage and if there were any other alternative, I'd use it. The UI is also quite bad and the functionality just isn't there compared to the best iOS stylus notetaking apps.

My theory about handwritten note-taking is that the bandwidth difference between thinking (fast) and writing (slow) is somehow extremely beneficial to the process of generating creative and evocative output. There have been so many journaling sessions which I started with the absolute conviction that I had nothing new to say, and after 4 pages of extremely creative and detailed ideas, surprising even to me, I had no choice but to exclaim, "Now where did that even come from?!". Maybe the hypnotic act of twirling the pen on paper slowly puts the mind into that sub-conscious creative state similar to what happens when one is about to fall asleep? It is honestly magical. I now use OneNote every day (because I can search through a large volume of notes easily), and I quite miss the dramatic revelations of pen on paper journaling. My notes were about programming and trading. For those who write fiction, I bet slow, old, typewriters are similarly more beneficial than the latest ergonomic keyboard and Word 365!

I think you could even generalize that a bit, and say that limits tend to foster creativity.

My best software designs happen when I'm taking notes on paper, and I think it's largely what you say - I can't write as fast as I can think, which more or less forces me to think more carefully.

The founder of You Need a Budget makes a similar argument about budgeting and not spending on credit - the financial limits encourage you to manage your entire lifestyle more creatively.

It's often observed that small, scrappy, hungry companies tend to come up with more creative solutions than large, well-capitalized corporations, and even observed that formerly small and creative startups seem to lose that spark as the money rolls in.

There's that section in The Odyssey with the island of the lotus-eaters.

Speaking of poetry, I suspect that many poets would say that their creativity is enhanced by working within the limits imposed by a poetic form.

Wonderful reply. Thanks!

Ted Chiang's "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Fiction" is one of the best treatments I've read on this topic.


The secret here is about the input: a key stroke on the keyboard is always the same movement, more or less, while letters are each a different symbol/drawing. There's very little creativity to pressing keys on a keyboard, while handwritten text is unique to each person, in time.

Every keystroke isn’t the same if that’s how deep you’re going to get into it. You never use the exact amount of force, or fall from exactly the same angle when typing either.

It has nothing to do with that. There’s nothing inherently creative about writing. But it adds value in that it forces you to spend more time on a single thought while writing, which is not the case while typing. On a computer, you write your notes so much quicker that by the time you’re done, you barely put any thought into it.

I have so notes I don’t even remember creating, but that never happens with handwritten ones.

> You never use the exact amount of force, or fall from exactly the same angle when typing either.

None of that metadata is recorded, or could ever be revisited. But when I write with a pen, I can see the differences and sometimes it clearly relates back to the emotional experience.

Hack idea: a keyboard that records this data (speed of typing? force of key presses, maybe approximated by keyboard vibrations?) paired with an app that tweaks font settings accordingly.

Definitely way more effort than it's worth, but it might be a cool dumb thing to build.

that's why I said "more or less". force and angle ain't really comparable to the freedom that exists in handwriting. this is why there is calligraphy as an art-form, and no equivalent for keyboards.

about time to type, there's nothing stopping you from typing slower at all. also, if you choose to do it, it won't stop the forgetting-effect you mentioned.

not to mention how much harder it is to learn how to draw letters and words vs typing in a keyboard..

That’s my issue with the Microsoft surface stylus work- and a lesser extent Apple.

They don’t compare to written, and a decent amount is the pen tip friction.

Wacom comes close.

However the apps themselves ?

I’d like to use one note more, but PDFs don’t become copy-able text. Searchable but not copyable.

Writing on a surface device is ugh. And I had really high hopes that they would push on the tech.

Procreate -iOS- has the best redo and undo features and gestures - which may as well be a lost art since no one else seems to be copying them and saving us manhours of annoyance.

They make screen films to recreate this friction on the iPad Pro. A lot of my artists friends use them:


Haven't used paperlike, but I use a much cheaper matte protector from TechArmor for drawing / taking notes on my iPad Pro and it's great. Would definitely recommend getting something like it. Bare screen's always felt too 'slippery' for me.

I also use Paperlike. The version 2 of their film is really nice. It feels so much better drawing on that than the smooth glass surface. And I have no issues watching video through the film at all — it’s still bright and clear.

Thanks ! I’ll look into it.

Now if only the surface writing experience were comparable - I like one note 2016 more than the one on the iPad.

God cmon MSFT, make this stuff just work.

During one of the surface launch events, a presenter said her entire life was on one note.

I can see that happen. But I can only see it, I can’t believe it will happen until the input modalities feel much better.

Another endorsement for paperlike. The latest version is even better. And it’s much smoother and you don’t lose as much sharpness of the screen

I always get bubbles under my screen protectors. And I don't use Apple. Not for me, I guess.

I have found that the Remarkable tablet is no worse than paper and sometimes better.

I almost feel the opposite. I've had tons of ideas and when I started writing them out they flowed out of my mind faster than I could write. But I don't have the best retention either. So I would have tons and tons of ideas and by the time I got it to paper I could remember maybe 3 things and couldn't recall the rest.

I write fiction, and I write everything in longhand for this exact reason. It can be difficult start some days but once I do it’s easier to get into that “edge of sleep” state you describe, where the creative juices start flowing more freely. My handwriting is awful, but being able to quickly scribble out ideas and add margin notes is very useful. Writing longhand allows much better harmony between my brain and the page. There are no distractions on paper either!

One downside is that I have to then type all my writing up, but I use this time as an opportunity to do a first editing pass.

Have you tried using OneNote's handwriting recognition feature? I am curious if that experience would allow for the regaining of the pen-to-paper "magic".

Edit: typo

I have, and it doesn't work. The recognition is good enough for a demo, in the store you will be really impressed how well it works. However, when really taking notes on the go you use your own abbreviations it doesn't know, use slang or scientific/technical language. Thats where it breaks down and degrades into the usual "I hate you, autocorrect" spiel.

Also, OneNote does it's recognition and replaces your handwritten text by printed text of a different size. This makes all kinds of diagrams, side-by-side-text, tables, etc impossible.

I have gone back to a paper notebook.

You don't have to replace your handwritten text. It's searchable even as ink. Can't say I've ever used the ink to text feature.

I used it way back (5+ years ago), and it was too cumbersome to train the recognition engine to recognize my writing properly...Maybe it has improved since then? Maybe the iPad ecosystem does this better Not sure, to be honest.

The writing experience was not ideal, either. I'd scroll the page by mistake, etc;

Similar experience here. Digital notetaking on non-touch devices fundamentally doesn't work, because non-textual expression requires too much work, digital notetaking with a stylus is better, but still doesn't work for the reasons you outlined.

Writing with a fountain pen on good paper is like meditation to me; you wouldn't want to contaminate meditation with computers, like they contaminated everything else...

iPad with a 360 keyboard shell (Amazon) and a (genuine) ApplePencil in a magnetic sleeve (Amazon) is fine. Apple makes a variety of sizes and weights and they can be heavily customized. I recommend Notability tho GoodNotes is great too. As far as meditation, just don’t use the PiP or background audio capability (or have them display your favorite zen experience).

Any tips on how to get good paper?

Oxford Optik Paper (90 g/m²) is very good, but clearly a premium option (2.5 EUR per 50 page A4 pad). I use Midori MD journals, not sure if they even sell writing pads, which are excellent as well.

At university I mostly used cheap Brunnen paper for note-taking, not nearly as good as the Oxford, and you'd only want to write on it single-sided, but very cheap (a ten pack of 50 page pads costs the same as a single Oxford pad) and much better than some of the other cheap paper which basically seems to be photocopier paper glued together, which is awful to write on.

There are probably paper review forums or blogs or something like that that might help you find nice paper locally.

I always buy blank pads and usually use my own ruling backing paper, which has black and somewhat thicker lines than what comes with writing pads, which makes them easier to see in not-that-great lighting conditions.

I searched far and wide for a good note taking app a few years ago, only to find that the best solution for me was right in front of me the entire time.

  git init fall2020
Git lets me keep track of everything, and I have free hosting at multiple different websites, or my own server if I want to. It's simple and customizable, and depending on what type of notes, I have different scripts to automate new notes and searching.

Next semester, I'm going to run the above command and then make a directory for each course I'm taking. In there, there will be a series of markdown documents numbered 'nn.md' with a header at the top of the file with the date and the subject. After that, it's just plain markdown. I alternate between VS Code and Vim, but both get the same job done. When I'm done, I just 'git add . && git commit' and move about my day.

Since I currently use GitHub private repos for hosting, if I'm walking to class, I can view the rendered Markdown right on my phone. This is nice for getting a quick recap about what the last class covered.

I also use a Git repo for my journal, but with different ways of formatting entries. The entire thing is very extensible, but not as friendly as some other note taking apps if you don't like plain Markdown. Writing a web interface for this setup wouldn't require much work, and it's something that's on my list of things to do.

I've found that its hard to beat plaintext markdown notes with git. been taking notes like this for the past ten years and now have 20k+ markdown notes. just launched a markdown note taking plugin built on top of vscode to help with this sort of workflow: https://dendron.so

Even though it's restrictive, I find most of my notes of a creative nature are all done and markdown and git. Another commenter was saying how their best work was on pencil and paper, and I agree, I'm very creative in that medium as well. The only thing that comes close on the computer is markdown.

I do use OneNote at work, but it's a classic example of where the tool molds the use case. Typically I will use OneNote to track a problem, or gather notes and links from other sources. It's a great way to put together a dossier on a problem so to speak, but I don't really use my creative juices in OneNote.

I like this approach and used something similar for a while myself. For me the main drawback was syncing between devices. I had to remember to commit and push on one device and then pull on another. Maybe not a big deal for lecture notes, but a little fussy for just adding a book to a "to read" list.

Also in time I found I never really used any version control features. Backing up to a remote was the only thing I needed.

I feel like this is half a solution to me. I use Git too, but it does nothing about how notes are structured or linked, for which I lean on sublime, Obsidian and Zettelkasten.

I recently started with Obsidian which I sync up via DropBox using a text editor on my machine or Markor on Android (still haven't selected an iOS equivalent.. tips welcome). I see Zettelkasten mentioned in tandem with Obsidian frequently but I can't figure out what it does? Is it just timestamping for notes?

Zettelkasten in digital form has been largely bastardized for some reason that I haven't quite figured out. The original ZK doesn't have timestamps and timestamps are such a terrible, uninformative, non-contextual way to codify notes. ZK originally uses a hierarchical and sequential numbering system that immediately tells you when it was created in relation to other notes and tells you its hierarchical relationship to neighboring notes (note 1a2 is a child of 1a; 1b is a sibling of 1a; and if 1 is an overarching theme, 1a, 1b, and 1a2 are each sub-ideas under that theme).

I've resorted to using the original numbering system manually, but I'm still waiting for a tool that understands them and knows how to work with them (or maybe I'll get fed up after a while and make my own).

I augment this slightly by using Typora. It's nice for writing inline and fenced math blocks (with LaTeX), which is pretty invaluable for my maths subjects, I've found.

It's nice since it renders the markdown while you write it, which I kinda need when writing LaTeX.

It's an offline tool, but I'm pretty much always near my laptop, so that's not much of a big deal for me. Tbh, having it offline was kinda a bonus for me.

No Vim support though, which is a bit frustrating.

I use git as well to track my notes, I just haven't found a good editor yet which is equally as important. Sublime Text or any code editor works fine enough for Markdown, but I really miss the ability to have hyperlinks in my notes. Markdown links are just extremely ugly to look at and overly verbose.

Some good choices are Typora, Mark Text, and Zettlr. I’m actually in the process of creating my own, inspired of each of these.

This is also the conclusion I came to after years of trying different things

I've tried many different systems, and the one I settled on is a single simple doc. It's the only method I've used for over a year.

You can do google doc or office doc, but the key for me was having one doc that I just keep prepending to.

Each day i'll add the date yyyy-mm-dd (dow) in bold and then list my work for the day... I use hyperlinks to dedicated docs or online guides for more involved projects (quick ctrl-k), and add a little check mark when it's done.

By adding days in the future, I am able to schedule work or set reminders, and with ctrl-f I can search the doc for anything I've done previously as it also acts as a journal.

I often used to get lost in the minutia of catagorization, and having list sorting help me determine priority, but I've come to realize that I already know what needs to be done, and roughly in which order. ... my bottleneck was always focus. Excessive task structure can be a procrastination in itself.

Going back to paper as op suggests seems like a step back.

It's not perfect, but it works. I do still wish I could add some sort of hierarchy to line items and also be able to zoom out to see the bigger picture, but for now that just sits in another dedicated doc that I schedule myself to look at now and again.

Hitting 18 months now on this system. Have never felt so organized.

An outliner app like WorkFlowy (YC S10) or TaskPaper is nice for adding nesting and the ability to zoom in and out.

You can also directly link to any node, at least in WorkFlowy.

My approach is similar to yours except it's one hierarchical entry per day.




I'm sad there's still no good offline and native clone of Workflowy/Dynalist after all these years. I've tried many other outliner-like note-taking software, but I haven't found anything that is more comfortable to use than the outliner system in Workflowy/Dynalist. To paraphrase a quote I've heard online, "it fits my brain like a glove."

Dynalist has an offline app (which syncs with the server when online). See https://dynalist.io/download . It's the same interface as on the web (so not 'native'), though.

Basically this is why folks use org-mode, but it won't satisfy you if you're used to syncing.

ActionOutline was my go-to native outliner on Windows.


I’ve landed on the same approach, in WorkFlowy. I’ll tag lines #todo for tasks, or a project-specific hashtag, so it’s really easy to see everything I’ve written about a subject. Only two months in but it’s great and very low-friction. Using RocketBook to merge in handwritten notes I make in the mornings and evenings sometimes.

+1 for TaskPaper.

Markdown for notes and Taskpaper for tasks, projects and outlines. It is a format and a Mac app, that is extremely well made. Super fast keyboard navigation, customizable styles and scriptable in JavaScript. Love it.

I have been using a single text file for past 5 years. Ability to do vim regex search is a big plus. Lately I have been thinking of adding a search engine on top of mac's notes.sqlite db.

I've written a bit about combining a todo list with notetaking in a single text file:


Last time I posted it on Hacker News, quite a few people told me they adopted this workflow.

I've ended up in the same place, but I use a text file. After years of trying to use time tracking systems, TODO systems, and journaling systems, I could never get past their data-entry-inefficiency compared to just opening a text file in vim and typing.

I do need a better way to view and report my data though, so what I've done is write a read-only reporting GUI that can parse my text file, give me daily/weekly/per-task/per-client reporting on my time tracking, per-day views of any journal entries, and a TODO list. It can even export the current week's entries in a format that pastes into my invoice spreadsheet template.

This is all managed in a per-year text file, 2020.txt, that's easy to back up and could be version controlled if I needed to do that.

This is a lot like what I've been using for over 5 years now. Key points for me are:

* Plain text only, no graphics, formatting, outlining, tagging, categories, etc. These are all distractions to actually getting your point down and don't really add any value, don't get sucked into them.

* Ability to do simple text search and go to specific date. Big lifesaver for any problem that looks like "So exactly what did I do on this one specific day 3 months ago?"

Paper is nice for avoiding distracting formatting details. But losing out on free text search is too much of a drag.

I appreciate this suggestion.

It can act a journal, as you mentioned but...it's a linear overview of the things churning in your mind. And something great can come out of it but regardless, it helps you in more than one way.

I appreciate the insights and methods you use. I sometimes over-complicate solutions when all that's needed is a catch-all drawer.

I do this to create a papertrail of thought and action for work but it's a vey narrow use case. What about notes for creative thought, mind mapping etc?

Funnily enough, I don’t think there is a really good one. There’s lots that almost do it but not quite. - Evernote: no note linking - Bear: lovely but no web or android version - OneNote: appalling in the way only MS can be - SimpleNotes: too simple - Zoho: too ...urgh - Keep: too Googley - Apple notes: too Appley - Standard Notes: too buggy

I’m clearly a fussy sod. But really, just a nice, oss, local files, ability to encrypt, x-platform apps: surely not too much to ask....?

What I really don't understand about OneNote is the default to a white-board-like free form placement mode for text blocks. If you move it a little, accidentally, it's not aligned the same as the other notes.

This really put me off when I first started using it, and at a client site, it's really the only option. Otherwise, the organization system is something I've come to like/live-with, but still -- why the boxes that can be moved around? Is there a "turn off free-form placement" mode that I haven't found?

That stupid placement thing is the "feature" I hate the most about onenote. Sometimes that is a benefit and the kind of note you'd want to make. But this seems like an easy fix of having two note types and being able to pick a global option of which way to default, and giving a drop-down option of what kind of note you wish to create if you wanted a one-off different than the default . Having it always be up to the user to place text frame objects is annoying when most of the time generic text notes is what you want.

I personally don't care for the skeuomorphic organization of notebooks, tabs, and pages. But maybe that's just me :)

Yes and if you type one backspace too many it will delete the whole box and place it at an off-centre location when you click to make a new one.

There's a workaround though: Click on the title and then press enter and it'll create one again in the right spot :)

But yeah OneNote is bloated, slow, has the typical MS UI boneheadedness... But it's what I have to work with at work :'(

As much as I hate onenote, the ease of just hitting [super]+N to start a quick note is the lowest friction way to go from 'i need to write' to 'i am writing'. I've tried a few of the competitors but I guess I found my killer feature.

exact reason why I moved from Onenote to Typora (for Mac) and Notability (for Ipad)

I see you didn't mention Markdown. My solution for the last couple of years to this problem is to have all my notes organized into folder and .md files. A couple of advantages: - I can move around different IDEs/apps since there are a lot of different solutions for every platform there. - Same goes for search and links between folders. Rely on git for version control of the files themselves. - It gives you the flexibility of using plugins to turn into PDF or host as a gitbook private site for example.

Knowledge base organization gets discussed frequently on HN. I understand your frustration though, I've always longed to see a one fit for all platforms though. Onenote sure shows a lot of potential but is probably limited by the fact that MS wants to keep it as close to their office suite as possible.

Making a commit and pushing every time I edit a note would drive me nuts. I've gotten used to notes auto-saving and syncing. Additionally, reading md on android would require a specialized app anyway.

Same, I've settled with a multi-OS IDE for taking notes. The main issue is trying to get shortcut keys for Markdown such as toggling a list. I haven't found a good extension either on JetBrains or VSCode ... maybe the only way is to personally write the extension haha

Have you tried [Joplin](https://joplinapp.org/)?

It's FOSS, works on local files, has encryption and supports note linking.

It also has apps for several platforms.

> works on local files

This is only sort of true. You can import/export markdown(or text) files, but the source of truth is in a sqlite database. When you sync with webdav or another folder, that's also markdown - but it's not recommended to edit those files directly.

Other than that, Joplin is great. It's my main note taking app outside of spacemacs/org-mode.

I have, and something about it didn’t gel, but I’m gunna have to go install it again to remind myself - or maybe discover it’s the holy grail :-)

Would you mind elaborating on why Standard Notes is too buggy? Only thing that comes to mind is the use of React Native and Electron (suboptimal performance / UX) but I've never had any issues myself.

I'd like to hear of alternatives that apply the same e2e encryption model.

I also am on Standard Notes and haven't noticed it being buggy. But I'm presently a free user and never switch editors.

It was after buggy experiences on Simplenote that I had to jump ship. I don't know if I just had too many notes, or what, but it became slow, updated in weird ways that lost things or copied the same line multiple times, jumped to the top when I tried to scroll down, etc. Just all manner of strange behaviors.

My main issue has been the editor(s). The model of having multiple choices of editor should be great but I’ve found it flaky when switching, particularly switching to mobile. Sometimes my whole note seems to disappear, but is ok if I flip back to simple editor, sometimes mobile shows html preview rather than plaintext.

I have the same frustration. The real split seems to be on local files / encryption. I ran into a couple that had encryption stapled on as an afterthought and handle the encryption/decryption in storage, which misses the point. Some use keepass for secure notes, also a clunky hack. The closest I found was Tiddlywiki, which can encrypt local files (but only if it's a single html file). I don't like Tiddlywiki, but that's what I'm using.

> nice, oss, local files, ability to encrypt, x-platform apps

Every single box is checked by Trilium (https://github.com/zadam/trilium), plus you can self host a server if you want to sync between as many clients as you want, and you can password protect only specific notes if you want to. Only "disadvantage" is that the client is electron; if you can live with that, I think you should check it out. (I'm not affiliated, but I've been using Trilium for a while.)

Maybe I'm just not so picky, but I love OneNote. I just wish OneCalendar worked cross platform. But otherwise I find cloud sync between my different devices to be seemless and fast enough that I can use a tablet to draw while screensharing the same notepad on desktop. It accepts images exactly as I want (screenshots mostly) also.

The only problem is that sharing is a pain.

> Evernote: no note linking

What about this:


Yeh, it does that, but when you’re in context writing a note, you don’t really want to jump out, trawl through all your other notes, find the link, go back to original note and apply... Really, you want a context menu, or the double square bracket notation to bring up a list, or similar. See. Said I was fussy :-)

double square bracket notation : this is exactly how Passfindr https://passfindr.com implements linking to other notes. Passfindr has a powerful search and searching can be inlined in notes like [[search term including tags, regexp, etc.]].

at the risk of doing some self promotion, I've had the same problem and ended up creating my own tool. https://dendron.so, is a new note taking tool (launched a week ago) that lets you take local-first markdown notes and supports links like roam. it's open source and built on top of vscode.

That looks pretty interesting - thanks, will give it a go!

Happy inkdrop (inkdrop.com) user for over a year now ! Has e2e, local backups, and many features including through plugins

This is why I’ve come full circle and just use a small notepad now. I still don’t type writing by hand, though.

Taking notes is a process. If you're tired of the apps, then you haven't put enough thought into the process. The available apps are fine.

Picking a tool to solve a problem is the opposite approach to how you solve the problem. You instead need to define the problem and then find the tool which is the best fit. If you're frustrated with the tool, then you might need to put more thought into the problem.

Premature optimization also plays a role. Everyone should start with a notepad and a pencil and move up to something more advanced once they outgrow the most basic method of note taking. It's a bit like buying a top of line DSLR when you're just starting to get into photography.

The other side of that equation though, is if you started photography with something too cheap to the point of say one of those point and shoots that don't even have manual settings you've also just hamstrung yourself in a slightly different way.

Having to carry some paper and writing tools around would make note-taking significantly more annoying for me than just being able to use my phone/laptop.

I did that for years, and I found it wonderful as I love ink on paper... but one day I took a look at my several boxes full of journals and decided: nope, Notes will have to do.

I still write and draw on paper but not for journal purposes.

I think his suggestion still works in digital form, just switch pen and paper with whatever your built in notepad is and go from there.

I ran into a lot of issues with note apps over the years. Tried many, but none really stuck. Until I realized that software based note/planning tools just don't work for me. W

An app is hidden away on my phone, and I need to actively open it to use it. But my bullet journal is always in my bag. It serves as a physical reminder. And it oddly gives me way more flexibility in how I structure it.

Being a software developer myself, the irony isn't lost me.

I think people try to do too much with note apps and then they fail. What people normally try to accomplish with a note app should actually be like 4 - 5 different apps which handle different elements of what you're trying to accomplish with notes.

Or at least, it would be 4 - 5 completely different processes and a given note app isn't best for all of them.

I use...

App for capture and inbox (this is an actual note taking app but I don't use it for writing)

App for writing notes (my own writing

App for display and management of networked notes

App for arranging (networked notes), outlining and building to the draft stage of writing

These are all part of a typical note cycle which many people use one app for. I put these notes through a cycle in the order that I wrote them. Typically I would start out with capturing information, then creating my own notes from that information and then eventually using that information for my own writing. I'm not a writer, but writing helps me think through things I want to understand better.

I could constrain myself to a physical journal. I could constrain myself to anything. It would drive me nuts though. I would end up attacking the journal with scissors and then pasting pieces of paper to the walls. Then arranging pieces and pasting notes on top of each other as my ideas change.

What do you mean with networked notes? Maybe point me to what you use as well. I'm looking for a note taking tool that allows me to link pages together easily. Similarly to a wiki, but for notes.

As far as the physical (bullet) journal goes. It works great for me as I use it to structure my daily tasks. It allows me the freedom of structuring using visuals without being constrained by GUI tools. It's quick and doesn't get in my way too much. Which is what I need for it to stick for my habit.

Also, many people like Journals and plain text because these methods don't lend themselves to blaming the tool. They force you to think about the problem rather than the tool.

Plain text doesn't fix note-taking any more than it can fix to-do lists. Again, there's no tool to blame.

Plain text certainly fixes it, because notes are text and the best tool to handle text is my favorite text editor.

The best note app I found is a journal app. I’ve been using Day One for more than a year now, and it’s holding Evernote’s promise of remembering everything.

I do use Apple Notes too beside Day One for temp notes (email drafting, edit texts, links to check & trash, etc), but it’s on my journals where my knowledge-notes reside.

What people like from real notebooks is that you don’t have to think about organization, you just start a note in the next blank page. With Day One that’s what I got (even by email), and then, once I need to search for something in my personal log, I can organize stuff with tags or backlinking notes.

The “On this day” function also helps, as you can prune old ideas or notes that were a dead-end.

Personally, I’m sold.

I am also an avid DayOne user. It is great. My process is to have three journals in DayOne Todo, Done and Workouts. Every time I have an idea I write it down in the Todo journal. Once a week I do a GTD on that notebook. Any actionable tasks if it follows the two minute rule I do immediately or if it a longer task I move to the context specific locations in Notion, GitHub, Gmail Tasks, the CRM, org-mode, etc. so I can get them done when I am doing my context specific tasks (project management, coding, email, sales, knowledge base, etc.) then I then move the entry to the Done Journal.

Yes, it is a lot of processing things twice but I think it has some benefits. Most things aren’t actionable so it is just great for refreshing my memory. It forces me to write everything I think of down so I don’t forget anything and DayOne is great for that. I have nearly 10,000 entries. I don’t worry about note size. Some are “send contract to Ashley” others are longer thought out ideas. I’ve been using this system for the last few years and it has worked well.

One size fits all note apps never worked for me and I figured the reason for that is that a lot of what we do are context specific. We want the notes / todos for a particular type of task to live where we do the task when we are doing the task.

What i like about real notebooks is the 'flicking through'search function.

Totally agree. Having to think about how I need to organise my thoughts as the same time as coming up with the thoughts themselves always seems like a burden!

Very much agree with this. The idea of separating the "dump" phase from the "organize" or "refine" phase has been an inspiration for what we're building at Bytebase: https://medium.com/@bytebase/an-iterative-approach-to-notes-....

I believe I shared this once before. After twenty years of trying every possible note taking app from Word 95 to Notion, this is now the entirety of my note taking app:


  read text
  _date=$(date +'%Y-%m-%d')
  echo -e "\n$_date: $text" >> ~/Dropbox/notes/stream.txt

So you only take notes while on your actual computer. You never take notes besides when you are on your computer.

I usually use a paper notebook when I'm away from my computer. But if I really want to take a digital note, I can do so. Notice that the text file is synced to Dropbox. I can open it using the Dropbox mobile app, scroll to the bottom and add a manual entry. But obviously, it's not as fast as a command line entry.

I’ve set-up an iPhone’s Shortcuts workflow which basically replicates the shell script above. Works very well. Reading on mobile is a bit painful, but doable, and I mostly do it at a computer anyway.

This can also work on mobile if you SSH into a cloud VM for example.

I gave up with the commercial and open source offerings and instead just wrote my own solution.

All notes are markdown, stored in a SQLite DB with full text search. It has a simple frontend and you can drag/drop images onto the editor and it will upload them.

To facilitate quick note taking I wrote a FUSE driver for it and have bound CMD+N to open a command line scratchpad window (I use i3wm) where I can write and edit notes using conventional *nix tooling.

It's not perfect, nor slick, but it works for me.

> To facilitate quick note taking I wrote a FUSE driver for it

I didn't understand this part. Why can't you just write the file and then either manually/automatically trigger an import of the text into the SQLiteDB?

The note taking service is on one of my raspberry pi's and exposes a HTTP API which the fuse driver interacts with.

Could have used NFS or something to achieve what you've suggested, but this is the path I went down and seems to work ok for my needs.

The fuse FS (which, fuse not at all difficult to use, there are many implementations of SQLite-backed fs) implements the trigger that automatically imports it.

Hey Daniel, I'm really interested in the solution you made because I've been thinking of a similar architecture.

What's the best way to contact you? I can't find your email on your website or Github.

Just another opinion on the balanced note taking method:

I think org-mode solves almost all offline note-taking requirements

* org-roam makes it super-easy to link notes

* emacs as an editor is as usable as any other editor

* Rich media is possible and easy to do in org-mode. Attach a snapshot, embed a video file

* Code with documentation is a feature not available in most other note taking methods/apps. It's possible to run code snippets and add comments, documentation about them in the same space

* Latex support is advanced. Inline equations work seamlessly

* Search support is advanced


* One of the main drawbacks is that all your notes end up offline. This was a deal-breaker for me. ox-hugo helps in publishing your notes to a (private) static site where it can be searched, viewed but not edited on the fly

* Publishing through ox-hugo is separate from maintaining a backup/sync of your notes in /org/ format. You'll have to do this separately through Dropbox/GDrive/etc

* A backup of your org notes is not usable until you set up your emacs environment and download all your notes

if org-mode would support Ctrl+V pasting a random image or file into it, and if it could have rudimentary inking support, it sounds just about perfect to me.

Sadly, the combo of (rich optional) text, easy paste in pictures, inking, file embedding, easy linking, open file formats / all in a sqlite file you can sync / stick on a flash drive, that runs on Windows/Android/Linux/maaaaybe web is just not there yet that I can see.

If you want to insert an image in an org file, drag-and-drop usually works, although the default UX isn't good (e.g. images show in its native size until you set a "#+ATTR_ORG: :width 600px" header above the image).

Here's an easy way to add images https://github.com/abo-abo/org-download

The biggest issue I have with note taking is not the medium or app, it’s the fact that I would often write something and never look at the note again. This essentially made the act of note writing, at least for me, futile since I rarely remember my notes as I’m writing them.

The best solution for this, I’ve found, is to still take notes on the bigger picture but then to add the smaller details, definitions, concepts to Anki [1], which literally forces me to review those smaller details again and again until they “stick”. Doing so then makes me want to revisit the notes to get the full picture. As a result, my memorization of all kinds of things has greatly improved, which makes future research and documentation all the more better. It’s a very good positive reinforcing learning method and I recommend it to anyone who may have similar issues.

[1] https://apps.ankiweb.net/

For me, if I have some more long-running projects or ideas I might return to and e.g. give a presentation about them at some point, I find using https://orgpad.com an alternative. It tries to be a general tool that helps you connect the dots in a graph and that helps structuring information more like your brain does instead of forcing the linear approach of lists or longer texts. It doesn't force a scheme or anything like that on you and it can quite easily be turned into presentations e.g. like this conference talk on Graph isomorphism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gu8P7UwHhAA Btw. Orgpad is also a project, that is completely written in Clojure/ ClojureScript. (Full disclosure I have consulted and still consult the developers on orgpad.com infrastructure.)

I the end, if you have the wrong tool or the wrong method for anything you are going to have a bad time even if the tool or method is useful in a different setting. An analogy: You can hardly unscrew something using a hammer unless you want to have more problems then before.

Orgpad looks really good.

I always find this kind of mindmap stuff to go beyond my screen size too quickly though.. I'd love to have something like this in VR so I can walk around and write stuff everywhere, move things etc, just like I have my walls covered in stuff like those stalkers in horror movies :D

VR would be great for this I think. I might even make an app like that.

VR would be great. As it gets more adopted, we will certainly play with this technology. Currently, we use 43 inch displays as a replacement in our office.

For me the biggest point of writing is to remember and then safely forget about stuff.

Me too!!!

I find since I moved from Tomboy to OneNote that my memory is significantly worse.

Tomboy didn't support pics so I was more tuned in to meetings as I was actively processing info in order to note it down in my own words.

Now in Outlook I often tune out when I feel something is less relevant, and I lazily take screenshots "in case I need to look at it later". Then, when something comes up that is more relevant to me I'm tuned out and need to catch up. I also remember information much less long because it never really entered my brain at all.

So yeah it definitely helps for that purpose, at least for me.

...write something and never look at it again...

I recently started working with a new client. 7 years ago and many companies past, the now-CEO asked me to set up a system for her and I took ample, random meeting notes. I still have those notes as plain text in a folder, organized by year.

When the new client asked for a design proposal and said they're getting resistance from the C-suite, I could pull up those notes and make some seemingly omniscient recommendations quite quickly.

I tried too many of the note taking services, but really, a plain text note with a YYYY-MM-DD title and stored in a backed up directory is near-perfect and ultra-portable.

Same; some exceptions are when I write things down to turn into a presentation or blog post, or if it's like notes / actions from a meeting.

That said, for me writing things down does help me organize my thought process.

Another thing that I do think is beneficial but directly work-related is writing ADR's (https://github.com/joelparkerhenderson/architecture_decision... basically technical documentation, one file per decision (architectural, language, library, etc); I can start those as a stream-of-consciousness ramble, then add some research / alternatives, and finally do some formatting and commit it into my project's repository.

From there it'll take on a life of its own, I'll reconsider things down the line (most recently, replacing Reach with React Router because the former is end-of-life and in retrospect had some quirks I ran into). My hope is that when more people join my project or take over, they'll be able to read it and understand where things have come from, and then add their own ideas to it.

Of course, they'll likely opt to just ignore it entirely because tl;dr show me the code.

Samuel Suresh's YouTube video titled "How I Take Notes with My iPad Pro in Lectures" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0ql-yeY9u0) makes some pretty good points for taking handwritten notes on a device.

Akkshaya Varkhedi says in the article a couple downsides to handwriting notes on paper are:

1. Can't add screenshots, images, links, etc. 2. can't easily search for content.

Using something like Goodnotes addresses both of those items. You can take screenshots, add images, and links, and even use the devices camera to capture images (like the whiteboard/chalkboard during lecture). And (depending on how good your handwriting is), there is a search feature which searches the words you've written—and those words can be converted to type if you want to add them to a document without needing to re-type it.

Buying a tablet and stylus (like iPad and the Apple Pencil) to solve the two points paper notes does not solve seems a bit overkill—but in todays world, if you're a student going into University and need to purchase a device, those tablets are looking mighty attractive versus a standard laptop.

Ohio State University gives all incoming freshman an iPad and Apple Pencil [1]. I can say with confidence it works amazingly well for taking notes in a classroom setting and for doing homework. Copy-paste comes in handy for things like large math problems of course.

However, I don't like using it for work/personal projects. Still trying to figure out why.

[1] https://digitalflagship.osu.edu/students/technology

In the early days of blogging, I used to write anything and everything. People read them. If I find a better way to move a sprite on a timeline, I write about it. If I find a way to hack an animation sync with a kicker layered audio, I write about it. People will read about it, discuss on forums, and sites such as Adobe would link to it.

Then, I became smarter. Before writing, I'd then research, ponder, and then find a solution someone did. Awesome, there it goes.

I do still write notes -- Handwritten, erstwhile in Evernote, Apple Notes, etc. Then I wanted to simplify it, in the hope that the notes will likely stay on even after I'm no more. Recently, I chose to stay with plain text, markdown is the next-step up, and then perhaps plain HTML.

Markdown - I write it as plain as possible. It is easily readable as Plain Text, if needed. HTML - I'm pretty confident that HTML as its saner, plain form will remain and live through time.

So, now, I have started collecting, writing pieces of notes in a set of Plain Text Collections - akin to your Org-Mode but much much simpler. In order to publish it[1], I threw in Jekyll for now but I'm not married to that and I'm keeping it such that if I just change a tool the next time, I can do it without much jugglery.

Of course, I still use quite a few Note-Apps but most of them are the tools to my needs. I've stopped looking at Note-Apps that ingest and keeps it there. For instance, I can write in iA Writer and the file stays where it has. I can then continue writing it with SublimeText + Markdown. I will try to write more, be naive all over again. I don't want to know who reads it, how things are -- but just things that interest me.

1. https://oinam.fyi

I think the note taking market is due for a takeover by one of the epaper writers, like the remarkable, the Sony epaper or the onyx boox. I feel very similar to the author, at the same time I've been using my Sony epaper for reading papers and taking meeting notes which is much more convenient than using a computer. If one of these companies would come up with a good note taking app, preferably with some way of making easy cross-reference and maybe ocr for search I'd move all my notes over to handwriting again.

I agree. It seems the epaper market is missing a niche. The 'cheap remarkable'.

1. e-ink screen of more than 5", less than 18"

2. sd card (aside from the Likebook Mars, this is just about impossible to get in most eReaders, let alone one for less than $500!) and an open format (ODF-based linked files, json / svg in sqlite etc)

3. syncthing access (android or native Go binary)

4. headphone jack / built-in microphone

5. stylus (wacom or whatever, can take or leave pressure sensitivity just not-battery powered plz)

6. low latency, even if ugly artifacts drawing of the lines

I guess if someone wanted to buy it it would exist and could be purchased, but I ended up settling on the likebook mars since it did all of the above except the stylus and low latency drawing.

Remarkable has apparently pushed the low latency way down and good for them, but they IIRC off the top of my head do not support syncthing or sd cards, and they are far, far too much for the average joes of the world to purchase. $300 USD is expensive, and it barely gets you halfway to the ~700 USD (IIRC) they go for. Clearly a high-end product.

You literally can get SSH access to the linux running on a remarkable, I doubt syncthing is impossible. And since the v2 is announced, you can buy v1 right now for $299 new.

What do epaper-writers offer featurewise that normal tables with stylus-pens are missing?

I feel mostly the same as the author of this blog post. I have been through so many note taking apps and nothing has yet completely replaced just having a pen and a notepad with me at all times. But, I have gotten close. For me, I am very word-heavy, I don't need to draw (and if I do, I want a whiteboard, not a notepad).

Just this month I started doing notes on my computer again after being introduced to an app here on HN in another thread that seems to have hit the high points for me. More than anything, it seems to work for me because it just gets out of my way. Try Standard Notes if you haven't yet. I like writing in Markdown, so I use it as I would a text editor, but rather than needing to search at the command line and maintain a git repo, it has tagging and search built-in as well as encrypted cloud syncing, but otherwise just stays out of my way. It works really well.

I'm in the same boat with standard notes, been using it for a few years now. Recently after a bout of RSI I've been trying to do more note taking and sketching on pen and paper to alleviate the typing between coding and other tasks.

I used both.

If I'm learning I will write notes with a pencil and paper (pencil over pen every time). This means I have to think more about what I'm writing and for me is more flexible. I use an A4 squared pad with an index at the front, each page is split similar to the Cornell note taking system which is good for summarising and adding tags for quickly finding information. My notes are scribbled and messy. I will then transcribe these onto a computer using text files and folders for structure. You can't beat text files. As a front end for this I use Zim Desktop Wiki. Cross platform, portable, and easy to use with a simple markup syntax. It offers many excellent features, including a journal, tasks, diagrams, spell checking, interlinking, back links, searching, tags, images, tables, version control, and many others. Drop the notes into Dropbox and you have syncing.

If the worse comes and Zim disappears it's all just text files and folders. Pandoc can convert Zim to markdown or whatever you like.

For other quick notes I use a reporters jotter. I will transcribe them onto the computer if they are important. But generally these notes are throw away.

vouching for zim too

The way Zim organises the notes really makes sense to me. I know you could do what Zim does manually and use built in Linux tools to accomplish most if not all its features but it's nice to have it all in one package.

My concern is usability and not being locked into proprietary formats, also I use NextCloud for syncing. So, no single app does the trick, but this is working well for me here days:

For had written notes, sketches, Daily journal & learning (graph paper with straight lines and snapping) - Write by Stylus Labs, works on iPad, Android, Window, etc. Files in svg/svgz. App opens nearly instant.

Joplin for Tasks, Notes, recipes, web clippings. Markdown with proprietary indexed folders, but easy import/export. Local storage on my phone, so instant access to my information with search.

QOwnnotes for long form, journal, blog entries. Markdown in regular file structure. For iPad I use Writemator.

Nothing has been as frictionless as nvALT[1].

Plain text, full text search, and point it at iCloud/Dropbox/Drive and now you have your notes fully synced.

I’ve spent far more time than I care to admit trying out new note applications...

[1]: https://brettterpstra.com/projects/nvalt/

I hope they'll release nvUltra soon: https://nvultra.com

I use this as well, have all my stuff in a git repo and sync it to my iOS device so I can edit it with apps like iA Writer or 1Writer easily.

Definite have been looking forward to nvultra for a while now.

I thought about putting it in git, wasn’t sure if even having to commit/push would be too cumbersome for me.

I sync my notes with iCloud and have nvALT look at the folder there - then I setup a shortcut on iOS that appends to a “daily” file - can even use Siri too. Everything stays in sync and I don’t need to think about it. At least for now

Yeah. It solves the "I forgot I already have a note on this" problem too, by making search and creation the same UI.

For windows I like resophnotes, the autosave is amazing and outputting plain text means I can share with my co-workers easily


Hotkey popup, it's free, you own your data, and just enough of a feature set to be useful without a learning curve.

I've tried a lot of note taking apps over the last 8 years. Over the past few months I've become less fussed about the tools and more focused on the process: I now have a file for each week (I call it a journal or weekly notes), with a heading for each day of the week, and a sub-heading for each meeting/conversation/thing I'm thinking about. At the each week, as part of my weekly review (GTD), I review the weekly notes file. I scan my notes for each meeting/etc. and consider whether I need to do anything with them: I often have to create a task; sometimes I want to hang on to something so I move it into an evergreen note [1] on the topic (at the moment, I have one for work, and one for personal, but I expect I'll split these out as they accumulate). But for most things in my weekly notes, no action is necessary and I'll probably never look at them again (unless I need to refer back to something someone said later, which is easy to find if I wrote it).

So far it's working pretty well for me. I think the key is the regular review/processing.

I think I could implement this in just about any tool, so long as there's an easy way to quickly add an entry with a timestamp to the current weekly note file. I happen to use org-mode in emacs for this with org-journal (using doom emacs, only switched a couple months ago) but other tools would work just as well I bet.

[1]: https://notes.andymatuschak.org/z4SDCZQeRo4xFEQ8H4qrSqd68ucp...

> I've become less fussed about the tools and more focused on the process

This has been my conclusion after years of trying different tools or even trying to make my own. Once I started focusing on the process I realized that not only I don't need a lot of features from a tool, I'm actually better off without any complex features.

I just use markdown, vim, and git. This specific choice of tools for me is only guided by one thing: I don't want to waste any brain cycles on figuring out / deciding how my note taking tools should behave. For someone else this could've been a Word doc and a folder structure. When you do that, then taking notes becomes as trivial as writing with pen and paper, except for the ability to edit and grep which is really all you need.

Bonus: it's ridicuously easy to work with markdown (and friends) with pandoc. I routinely convert all my markdown notes to html and use < 100 loc of ad-hoc JS to give it a decent browsing UI.

Emacs org-mode (Desktop) + syncthing + Orgzly (mobile)

And I have pretty much everything to take a note when I want to + it's plain text so I don't even need the apps to write, very convenient if for one reason or another I don't have access to one of my devices.

Note-taking is best served by a system, not by a single app.

I used to struggle with note taking apps until I started to use org-mode on termux. Human interface relies on emacs, syncing and versioning relies on git, agenda and TODOs rely on org. Never needed any other note taking app.

As a bonus, emacs color themes look really nice on a crisp OLED screen.

I assume you a real keyboard for this?

I do use a foldable keyboard when I need to write more.

But for random note capture the onscreen keyboard works well. Termux can be configured to display C M shift. It might sound cumbersome but you quickly develop a muscle memory for it. Add to that the richness of emacs+org commands and it becomes faster than, say, Evernote.

I’ve tried nearly every major app/service and always end up on Standard Notes. It strikes the perfect balance for me between privacy, ease of use, and functionality.

Prior to settling on SN I was a big fan of Simplenote and nvALT, but the lack of even basic MFA for Simplenote drove me away.

Evernote, OneNote, etc just seem to be way too much for what I need. And Apple Notes, while it has gotten a lot better, does not make it easy to get your data back out.

After this thread became a discussion of competing, sometimes extreme approaches, I want to add one alternative. Markdown files, organized in folder hierarchy and synchronized by the service of choice are fine for me - for notes and knowledge collection. Recently I started to add the superpower of tags and links to other files by using Apps like Obsidian[1] and Zettlr[2] which are very similar. The great advantage is, that you just show these apps the par of your notes folder and are not maintaining notes in an app-specific environment. The syntax for tags and links is simple and will not disturb massively even if opening the files in a text editor.

This approach merges the simplicity of plain text, the power of tags and links and keep this independent of the of synchronization, backup or future development of these apps or anything in this stack of tools.

[1] https://obsidian.md/ [2] https://www.zettlr.com/

Obsidian's licensing makes it immediate non-starter for me and I would imagine the same for most people who would want to use it for work, side projects, or anything they hope to make money off of.

What is the problem you see? I am interested why i should be cautious. It seems like offline app that uses .md files. And the authors seem legit bootstrappers with quality projects behind them.

The free license and the one-time purchase license do not allow for commercial use. You would need to purchase their Enterprise license to use this commercially. Is it expensive? Not really, $50 a user per year isn't necessarily expensive when considering price alone but when compared with other alternatives in the space I'd rather not deal with a yearly license. I used Obsidian Beta up until they released their licensing.

if you are looking for an open source version of obsidian/zettlr, I would check out https://dendron.so (disclaimer, I'm the author). supports all the same features and built on top of vscode. use it to manage my personal knowledge base of 20k md files

Zettlr is Open Source (FOSS) - https://github.com/Zettlr/Zettlr

I really liked Andy Matuschak's article “Better note-taking” misses the point; what matters is “better thinking” - https://notes.andymatuschak.org/z7kEFe6NfUSgtaDuUjST1oczKKzQ...

Over the years, I have also moved from one app to another when it comes to note-taking. Frankly, I was using them more as a place to put things that I might want to refer to later than using them to think about the problems that I was trying to solve.

Personally, I find that there are times when I need more of a free flowing format like paper or an iPad, but most of the time, text suffices. For the last six months or so, I have been using Roam Research and related apps(Obsidian) and they do really help me evolve a structure around my thoughts without having to have one when I am starting out.

Quick rant triggered by this... We have our

- Cloud document systems (Google docs, Dropbox paper, Notion)....

- Project management systems (Trello, Asana, Monday)

- Todo/task/notes management (Keep, Todoist, Evernote)

- Customer Ticketing systems (Zendesk, helpscout, freshdesk)

- Bug/issue tracking systems (Pivotal, Jira, Github)

- Crms (Salesforce, Hubspot, Streak)

- And then theres even specialized customer facing and internal facing KnowledgeBase products (getguru, readme.io..)

Can you see the insanity? So many apps that are just different ways of abstracting and sorting knowledge, relationships, time and next steps.

A lot of progress has been made in enabling developers to integrate customer (event) data accross apps over the past 5 years (segment, mparticle with their data layers). But what about a standard data layer for the folder / project/tickets / tasks / notes hierarchies that exists in all these apps. So our information and knowledge isnt so siloed?

You can full-send into Notion (or any one of these systems) for a "jack of all trades, master of none." Obviously, not as good as a single-purpose system, but there really needs to be a space for unified data.

+ you don't own the data with Notion; only a matter of time before they force you into a subscription like Evernote did.

I think that part of the reason there's so many options is because there's no best approach and managing information is hard.

Personally I use Apple Notes or org mode. Whenever I see an alternative, I refuse because it's not like my notes will all magically migrate to Notion/Roam/whatever. No, I'll just append on a name to the list of notetaking apps I use. That's not worth it. Even for some fancy backlinking features that I'll definitely bikeshed to hell.

What it'd take for me to move to a new note taking app (not that I'm holding my breath for a new one) is that it would have to be an information black hole. I wouldn't have to migrate notes because it would automatically suck up everything. Of course that's tricky and potentially privacy invading, so I'm not expecting a solution anytime soon.

Plain text, for me, after being burned multiple times.

Occasionally, I'll fire up Word to paste in screen shots, but for most everything, I now write it out in plain text in Notepad++.

I felt burned when Microsoft's abandoned the Outlook Journal, where I had collected years of notes—notes that were almost all plain text.

Microsoft came out with OneNote and I watch colleagues diligently recording their thoughts there, but not me. Plain text, from here out. I may eventually print them and put them in a binder, so I can have "papers" that survive me.

The git solution intrigues me, but I would use my words and little else if I recorded notes there.

My note taking app or choice is Squid/Papyrus. Works best with a stylus.

It is essentially virtual paper, it replaces a notebook, no more, no less.

But the thing it has that I've seen nowhere else is that it is vector based, with an unlimited size canevas and high zoom (10%-1000%).

It sounds so obvious as a feature. I mean, if you have a stylus, besides drawing, taking notes is the most obvious thing you can do with it. And what can a screen do and paper cannot? Scrolling and zooming. And because smartphones are powerful computers and we have good algorithms, there is no reason to limit canevas size artificially.

So I went in and looked at the most popular note taking apps, thinking: these are made by many-million dollar companies they must have that. And no. All I found was cloud-synchronized text files. None took advantage of the drawing capabilities of smartphones, or they did it in a half-assed way. The S-Note app (I have a Galaxy Note 4) is nice, but it is bitmap and with a limited canevas size, why? Can't Samsung do better?

Only one app did it right and that's Squid (previously Papyrus). And it is a little known one compared to the likes of Evernote. It isn't even mentioned in the article even though it is the closest thing to the "writing things down" solution it recommends, so I suspect the author doesn't know its existence. Otherwise I think he would have mentioned it, even if it is just to talk about how it doesn't fit his needs.

The title of this blog post strikes a chord although whilst I love writing with a fountain pen, transcribing my notes to computer later is a royal pain.

It's also irritating to have bunches of notes in Apple's Notes app, in Confluence, in Notion, in Google Docs and goodness knows where else.

The movement to cloud has driven a coach and horses through the whole reasoning behind the EU/US push to get Microsoft to be more open and not hold institutions to ransom with data locked within a proprietary vendor's platform:


Now we've gone full tilt towards a world of proprietary clouds where we don't even have custody of our own data and instead entrust it to a MongoDB cluster somewhere managed by the latest hot, new note taking startup.

Where are the regulators when you need them to ensure we can get our data in and out of these platforms?

As for me, I find vim or Sublime and Markdown synced via Dropbox work tolerably well. I keep toying with the idea of writing an open source Markdown syncing solution with open source clients for note taking...

That aside the proprietary nature of the cloud and especially how it pertains to note taking (and todo apps) is a real step backwards. The regulators who forced Microsoft to submit in the past would be gnashing their teeth at the situation we have today.

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