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I hoard information, and I am always looking for a better way to store it. As I teenager I used my Dad's install of AskSam and FolioViews to create hundreds of notes. I learned the hard way about proprietary formats; all that data is gone. Now I like to keep my notes in an archival friendly ASCII based format such as LaTeX, ODF, HTML, or MarkDown. MarkDown is my preferred format.

I used BasKet for a long time, but development appears to have stalled and I got tired of living with the many interface bugs. I briefly used Tomboy, but stopped when I got an Android phone because the Android client wasn't mature yet. Though the Android client appears usable now, I won't go back because getting my notes out of Tomboy's format (my plaintext notes were embedded inside of an odd HTML/XML flavor) was a huge pain.

I settled on Wikilin, an Android personal wiki that is paired with a Firefox add-on for cross-platform goodness. The application is beautiful in its simplicity: all the data is stored in plain text files, including the tags. Simple wiki markup is available for the occasional formatting. It is quick, responsive, and I can always use Vim when I want to do a lot of editing. I use Dropbox and Dropsync Pro to get my data to all of my devices. I exchanged a few emails with the author about collaborating with him on the application, but he didn't want to open source the code or turn it into a real business. It appears that development has stalled, but I haven't had time to continue development on my own so I haven't follow-up up with the author to see about access to the source. When the Firefox plugin recently started having problems, I decided it was time to migrate to something long term. Fortunately my commitment to an open data format made migration simple.

I have many friends who rave about Evernote, so I made the switch. I invested a lot of time in getting my various notes out of Tomboy and Wikilin and organized in Evernote. The python scripts in the Geeknote project were hugely valuable in the migration, and the API is pretty clean. I decided to use NixNote / NeverNote as my Linux client, and it worked reasonably well. I also found that the 4.6.1 Windows client worked great in Wine 1.4. But though Evernote is great at filing away PDFs and images, it is awful at plain-text notes. It can't do it; it uses some internal HTML-like markup that messes with my plain-text outline / Markdown style formatting. Since text notes is what I want, Evernote was a huge letdown. I initially tried to get used to the rich text formatting, but I don't want to deal with formatting decisions when I'm quickly jotting down something. I hunted for weeks to figure out how to access a plain-text mode for Evernote; it is possible to access the mark-up source, but it isn't possible to edit text without dealing with tags or formatting. I was intrigued by the Emacs mode for Evernote, but decided that I wasn't going to coerce Evernote into meeting such a fundamental need. Instead I gave up and emptied my account.

Exporting my content from Evernote was even worse than exporting from Tomboy. It does provide a batch export in XML or HTML, but the mark-up mangled my hundreds of nice plain-text notes.

This is my wish list:

  • Personal wiki
  • Plain-text storage on the filesystem (so I can synchronize with Dropbox which gives me version history)
  • Markdown formatting
  • Linux desktop client (bonus points for Vim)
  • Android client
  • Bonus points for open source

The Ema Personal Wiki and the Zim Wiki are close, but not exactly there. For now I'll just use the Dropbox text editor to access my notes on the go, and Vim when I'm at my desk. It works okay, but I miss being able to easily bookmark my most frequently used notes. It is also cumbersome to browse the notes because I want that directory to be chronological (most recently edited first), but the rest of my filesystem I want to be alphabetical.

I added scratching this itch as my top hobby-project, but for now I need to focus on real work instead of tooling. If you know of a tool that meets this need, or want to collaborate, please comment or send me an email.


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