Look, I tried using Notion for three months. And yeah, it's pretty. It's hardcore note taking, info management, and project management software. It's got functionality for days and its reputation as a "power user" note taking app is well deserved.
And yet, sometimes, I felt like I was taking notes in SQL. Hell, I'm almost positive that, with Notion, you can take notes in SQL. It wasn't too much for me more than it was too much of what I don't need. So I casted around looking for a replacement.
My normal information capturing app is Apple Notes. By which I mean I'll drop almost anything I want to remember into Apple Notes first. It's a bucket -- a big, beautiful bucket that syncs to my MacBook and iPad and I love it. But Apple Notes is for information gathering, not information management.
If you're wondering that that means, think of it this way. If I were doing this on paper, I'd carry around one of those little spiral notebooks, like you buy in packs at a dollar store or something. You know, one of these guys:
That kind of notepad is great for jotting down a phone number, a quick thought, an idea, the title of a book you just heard about, the lyrics from a song so you can look it up later. But that kind of notepad is absolutely horrible for taking notes on that phone call, writing down facts about that thought and bringing it into focus, fleshing out that idea, taking notes about that book, or expanding on that song with the artist's discography. For that kind of thing, you need a notebook like this:
You need more pages, and larger pages, because you need the freedom they offer. If you were to use the little notebook for information management, you're going to need stacks of them because you'll fill them up quickly, and in quantity. It's the whole "right tool for the job" kind of thing.
Carry that over to the digital world --Apple Notes is a powerful note taking system, and you absolutely can use it for knowledge and information management. You can.
Because I won't.
Apple Notes won't work for me in that capacity for the same reason the little notepad wouldn't, there's not enough freedom. Sure, most of the time I jot down a number, a URL, throw a picture in there, a link to an article, and that kind of thing. That's not unique to my situation. What is unique to my situation is, sometimes, I write a book. Or I make a podcast. Or I write some code and create some software. Or I'll work on a music project. One or two thoughts can turn into any one of those projects and sometimes they apply to multiple projects and then I need branching notes and information duplication and this needs to go there, but it also goes there, and what's this, does it mean anything, oh that's part of this thing and the tale goes on. That's where a more robust note taking app saves me.
In the past I've used Evernote, OneNote, wikidPad, SimpleNote, and, of course, Notion. Evernote continually irked me with things it couldn't do. OneNote didn't fit my mental workflow and I often felt like I needed to con it into doing the things I wanted. wikidPad was okay, but it's more wiki than pad. SimpleNote was a tire fire. And Notion was like eating all of the desert tray before dinner, it's great fun until you get sick of it.
I wanted something simpler than Notion, that wasn't as maddening as Evernote and OneNote, that didn't have a wiki structure like wikidPad, and anything is better than SimpleNote. A little looking around and I find an app called Joplin.
Joplin works on Windows, macOS, and Linux and there's an iPad and iPhone app. It's absolutely gorgeous in its simplicity but fantastic in its functionality. You can have multiple notebooks, build trees of notes and branches of thoughts, handle to do lists, and it handles Markdown.
Also, it's free and it's open source. Hell. Yes.
The only hangup I had is the open source part. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I go hardcore on open source any time I can. I would rather have an open source product that handles 90% of what I want and forces me to figure out the other 10% on my own than pay a lot of money for a proprietary piece of software I can only use in one place on one computer. But there's something you need to ask about any open source project: "Are they still working on this?"
While some apps are feature complete and don't need a lot of handling, a note taking app isn't. At least, any note taking and information management app that I need won't be. But Joplin looks good, their GitHub repo is very active, and yeah... this looks like a good fit. I'm downloading this and rolling with it for a while.
Beloved, I feel like I came home. Joplin may not work for you as well as it does for me, but wow, it sure works well for me. I'll likely write more about it later but, just to quickly go back to that question of "Are they still working on this?" This morning, I sat down at my MacBook to do a couple of things and Joplin was still open from yesterday. But sitting in the middle of the app is this big freakin' window, and it says:
An update is available, do you want to download it now?
That's not what got me, though. No, what made me bounce in my chair was the fact that this was a tiny point update from Joplin v1.0.197 to v1.0.199. Usually an update of that magnitude means they found something small, like a typo on a button somewhere in the app, and they fixed it. Oh, and they fixed that one thing that crashed the app on Steve's computer. Other than that, it's the same programme.
Meanwhile over here with Joplin, a point release meant they added so many new things and improved so many others, they couldn't fit it all in the window. So click the button for the Full Release Notes.
I may have squeed, just a little.
Looking for a note taking app that's good at information management and isn't a pain in the ass to use? Take Joplin out for a spin. It's everything open source should be.