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.