Note Taking and Squirrelly Software

In the past year or so I have been growing discontent with my method of note taking. I started using Evernote during my postdoc years though admittedly with some reservation: putting all my notes in some new company’s propriety database that can only be accessed via dedicated software seemed problematic. Still, it helped me (and apparently many others) get better organized. And so my list of notes grew longer through the years, as did Evernote’s feature list. Recently though Evernote seems to have shifted its focus to business solutions: integrated group chat, collaborative note editing, etc. As a result, the software seems to have bloated, becoming more slow and more buggy. Moreover, many features you get for free from your OS, like offline note taking or searching in PDFs, are only available for premium costumers. So I started wondering: if I am interested simply in note taking, is Evernote the way to go? The last straw was when I was writing a post for this blog and Evernote managed to sync it out of existence, with no hope of recovery. Writing is painful enough without having my notes deleted, thank you very much.

So what went wrong with Evernote for me? besides the basic reservations about propriety database etc. it seems to have gone from a sharp tool for a specific task (note taking) to a dull one that does not excel at anything. Sounds familiar? Yes, it can be seen as another example of the squirrelly approach to Budo, interdisciplinary research or, in this case, software development. Not surprisingly, I was not the only one feeling discomfort. My grief with Evernote has been crystallized in Alex Payne’s excellent post where he calls Evernote and similar software an “Everything Bucket”. One of his rules for achieving computing bliss is to “not use software that does many things poorly” i.e. “Squirrelly Software”.

What did I end up doing to solve my quandary about note taking? I followed Adam’s Pash recommendation for SimpleNote combined with nvALT. I get fast and reliable note synching, in a format that is also searchable directly on my local disc, with matching apps on all OS and mobile platforms.You can easily hook nvALT to your favorite text editor (Emacs with markdown extension? VI?) or directly start notes in the synced directory with your editor of choice. So far I am a happy camper. Good luck with your note taking, and beware of squirrelly software!


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