Your Notes, Your Thoughts, Your Data, Your Device

An empty notebook sits among bread and coffee.

I take a lot of notes.

No you don't understand, I take a lot of notes. I'm working on a new book and, right there, that means I take far more notes than the average person. Because when you're writing a book, note taking is kind of your job. But it goes beyond and around that.

I document processes for myself and others. I want to remember to check out that website later. Cool book! Let me make sure I don't forget it. That was an interesting quote, let me write that down. So that's the title of this song, let me make a note real quick. $250? I think I can find it cheaper online. Damn, that was a good recipe. Let me put that in a note and file it away to make it again sometime. What's the name of that paranormal TV show? Got it.

My note taking approach is two fold, but it's simple.

  1. I use Apple Notes as a bucket. Anything I need to write down right now goes into an Apple Note.
  2. For structured note taking and information management, I use Joplin

Apple Notes is a quick way to capture information and Joplin is a fantastic way to manage it. Sometimes an Apple Note winds up in Joplin, especially if it relates to a project I'm working on or something I'm tracking. Often, the Apple Note gets deleted because I add the song to a playlist, visit that website and bookmark it, add that quote to Joplin, or do whatever else I need to do. Task complete, note delete.

Because it's helpful to keep your notes tidy.

But there is an important aspect to my process that I wanted to call attention to, and that's the fact that, while my notes are synced and updated online, they are always available locally.

I've tried multiple apps to facilitate note taking, especially because I require organisation and findability. If I can't search my notes, that's a problem. I'm a guy who'll put his keys down, walk away for ten minutes, and then have no idea where the damn keys went. Needless to say, search is a killer feature, but not as much as local availability.

Note taking apps are experiencing a bit of a renaissance here recently as they're highlighting nouveaux styles, methods, and procedures to make note taking easy, useful, and dare I say... fun? The two big stars right now on the lips of podcasters, YouTubers, and productivity websites are Notion and Roam Research. And I won't lie, both of them look and feel pretty damn amazing.

But they both suffer from the same glaring flaw: Your notes live in Notion and Roam Research. They do not live on your device. That means if you're disconnected for any reason, your notes are a distant memory in a far away place.

Notion's website currently (as of August 3, 2020) reads:

If you need to access certain pages when you go offline, open the pages you want while you're still online and keep them open. This will allow Notion to cache the pages for offline editing. We'll sync all changes you make across your devices when you go back online.

We know there's a ways to go on this 😅Improvements to offline support are in progress!

There's "a ways to go on this"? Look, I'm not a developer, but I do write a bit of code from time to time. Let me tell you something, saving something locally is trivial. It takes work to sync it to the cloud. But the trap lies right there in front of you. If you think you might be offline, you better know that's a thing that could happen, and plan ahead so you can open up all the notes you want to work on. Because if you don't open a note, well, improvements are coming.


Meanwhile, Roam is even more egregious than that as Offline Only will be a new feature, coming... at some point? But even though it doesn't even exist yet, you can get in on the first look at, you know, saving files locally, for the low introductory price of US$500.00.

I'm not making that up. Here's a screenshot from their website (as of August 3, 2020):

A screenshot from Roam's website, offering offline mode as a new feature you'll get access to for $500.00
Are you fucking kidding me?

A wise person once said something like "Never buy something today based on the promise of features tomorrow." Roam's description of this customer as a "Believer" is apt, because your $500 purchase is based upon faith. Faith in a new company and faith in a new product that may, or may not, realise its goals.

Meanwhile, over here, I'm using Apple Notes, an app standard to all Apple devices. A note I take on my phone will appear on my Macs and iPad and vice versa. But even though that note goes up to the cloud, it comes down to the devices. Once synced, the data lives on my computers. Joplin is available for everything and it syncs with almost any service you care to use. But like Apple Notes, once Joplin syncs the changes, the data is sitting on whatever device I'm using.

While you pay for Apple Notes through the purchase of an Apple product, Joplin is free and open source. Though it's not as pretty as Notion or as wiki-like as Roam, it handles everything I need, and would probably suit the average heavy note taker too. Maybe you could send some money their way too, but it doesn't have to be $500. 

A screenshot of my Joplin notes. There's quite a bit of stuff in here.
Obviously, I've got a lot of projects to track; like the proper way to watch comic book movies.


Straight talk: if you buy a service where your notes are online only or default to online only, you're paying to screw yourself. If you don't have access to your notes whenever and wherever you need them, then those notes aren't yours. They belong to someone else.

Why would you pay for that?