Simplenote: Notetaking Everywhere

In my ongoing and probably fruitless quest to find software that will do its job across platforms and devices I have been looking at notetaking applications. In the course of my week I work on three different ‘full-size’ computers using three radically different operating systems and I use an iPod Touch for keeping on top of things while I’m on the move. Synchronised data is a serious problem.

About a month ago I discovered Simplenote, a notetaking app for the iPhone/iPod Touch which has one simple aim: to replace the built-in notes app on those devices. Like a lot of iPhone apps Simplenote syncs with a web-based service. But the clever thing about it is that it allows other applications to sync too. There are currently four desktop apps (Mac only I’m afraid) that sync with the Simplenote web app. Windows and Linux users should take heart from the Simplenote plugin for Google Chrome, a great replacement for the now more or less defunct Google Notebook (Update: Windows users might now also like to try Resoph Notes, or Notes, and there are continuing developments elsewhere too–thanks to David in the comments for the update). A full list of apps, plugins and extensions is here.

For me the best of the desktop apps on the Mac is Notational Velocity, a simple, lightning-fast open source notetaking tool that syncs with Simplenote almost instantly. Notational Velocity is focused on keyboard work rather than the mouse, it works in plain text or Rich Text Format, and it can encrypt notes. Unlike other similar applications it can be configured to save the notes as separate text files rather than locking them inside a database. This means your work stays yours and is easy to manage. It also opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities. If you change one of those files in another application–a wordprocessor for instance, or Writeroom–it appears in Notational Velocity and from there on your iPhone. You can even create new files outside of Notational Velocity and they will appear there when you next open it up; or put the Notational Velocity file folder in Dropbox to sync with other machines. That’s pretty slick, though it is unwise to have two instances of Notational running and pointing at the same folder at the same time.

Notational Velocity meets a lot of the needs I have in this kind of application: it is simple, fast, stores my data in an open, portable format and allows me to move it around to different devices seamlessly and straightforwardly. Add to that the ecosystem of apps growing up around Simplenote, and the interaction possible between them, and suddenly ‘cloud computing’ looks like much more than just keeping your documents on Google’s servers. In this version of the cloud, data is everywhere. We need more software like this.


8 Comments on “Simplenote: Notetaking Everywhere”

  1. Crojack says:

    Just remember that Dropbox is necessary only if you lack a Simplenote account. With Simplenote, your notes are already synchronized across machines whenever you open NV, so Dropbox is just going to mess things up royally if you try to use it. There’s no point.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks for the comment and sorry for the slow approval–overactive spam filter I’m afraid. I use Dropbox to make the text files available to non-Mac computers, Windows and Linux. Being able to edit those files on my campus office PC is invaluable. I am following the excellent advice in your link of only having one NV instance accessing the files in Dropbox.

    • Lee Grey says:

      Another reason to use Dropbox with simplenote is that the free simplenote account doesn’t provide a revision history (that’s a feature of the premium account). So if you delete a note, its really gone. However if you are using dropbox, you can get it back from your history.

  2. Rob says:

    Thanks for this. You’ve just convinced me to get an iPod Touch – and install Simplenote.

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  4. DAvid says:

    You should drop back to the SimpleNote website. There have been great strides in the development of clients for other platforms!