For years now, I’ve kept a lot of useful information–the sort of stuff I used to jot down on a Post-it note and lose–in software fit for the purpose. Lots of people have a Word document or a spreadsheet somewhere, but specialized software does a better job of storing, organizing and–most importantly–finding such things. It’s perplexing that there isn’t even a good name for this category of software. The are, essentially, digital notebooks. But note-taking itself isn’t really the point (or, at least, the entire point). They’re fine for note taking and plans of all sorts. But they’re especially useful for those little bits of information that you need to be able to find later but that don’t seem to fit anywhere else. They are easily searchable repositories for all matter of data you might need in the future, and that you’ll lose otherwise. They are like a well organized attic or file drawer, but one that’s easily searchable.
I had been using Quiver, a relatively unknown application from a one-person development team called Happen Apps for years now. But it gave me a scare a few days ago on my 2020 M1 MacBook Pro, which is running macOS Big Sur, 11.4. Many notes were blank, and I wasn’t sure why. Their titles still existed, but the contents of the notes were blank. After the initial shock of it, I had the presence of mind to check the same entires using Quiver installed on my 2017 MacBook Air, which is running the older macOS Catalina, 10.15.7. The notes were still there. I was relieved, but I also realized it was time to move on. Quiver hasn’t been updated in a long while. And the developer isn’t responsive. If this disappearing note thing is a real issue, there’s no telling how long it will take for him to fix it.
So I searched for alternatives and found Joplin, which I’d seen and even tried out once in the past. It was the app I recommended to my Windows friends (yes, I have a few) as Quiver is a Mac-only app. I decided that Joplin was the closest thing to Quiver in terms of features and even had some advantages over it, like a truly functional mobile app. That left me with the problem of moving data from the old system to the new one. But that, too, was resoled fairly quickly and didn’t take a tremendous amount of work.
All my Quiver notes were in Markdown format, and I continue to use that format in Joplin. I got into using Markdown for my notes before I adopted Quiver, when I was using nvALT (another Mac-only app, no longer in development) . Markdown is a great language for anyone who has ever done web design, web development, or any sort of programming. The original idea behind Markdown was to create a markup language which was writer friendly and human readable which could be exported to HTML for use on blogs. But it’s grown to be something generally useful for a lot of applications, especial note taking, and it can be exported to many formats, including PDF. Markdown shows up often as a formatting option in a variety of software, including blogging apps, Content Management Systems (CMS) and Learning Management Systems (LMS).
So, what’s good about Joplin? Lots of things.
As you can see from the screenshots above, the interface is very similar to Quiver, so it was an easy jump for me. But, even if you’re coming to it from some other platform–or just getting your feet wet in apps of this sort–the interface is easy to navigate and gives you multiple ways to organize things. As you can see from the pane on the left, I like to organize my life by folders within folders. I have top-level categories for Home, Freelance, Haas (my full-time job) and Upward Bound (my part-time job). [As of 12/20/2021, I have a new full-time job.] I mostly navigate things this way, but, for things that cut across folders, I take advantage of the tagging feature, which is near the bottom of that left-hand navigation menu. I have a tag called “starred” that I use for things I consider super-important, as it lets me pull all of them into view with a single click. How you arrange is up to you. you can put everything in one folder and use tags to navigate, you can use folders and ignore tags entirely, or you can blend the two, as I do.
Joplin is open source software, and the project itself is quite active. Checking the Joplin project on GitHub, I can see there was a desktop release six hours ago. For me, having moved my notes archives to what is now their third home, picking an active open source solution means it’s not as likely to go dormant, as nvALT did and Quiver apparently has.
The biggest improvement is that Joplin is cross platform. While I’m not likely to abandon macOS for Windows, it’s nice to know I could and to be able to recommend this software to Windows people. But, for me, the real cross-platform value is that there’s a fully-functional iOS version of Joplin. Quiver had a read-only app. nvALT didn’t have a mobile option at all.
I could go on, but I won’t
If you need a trusted system for storing all manner of notes and data, Joplin is your friend. If you use Dropbox OneDrive, or WebDAV, you can easily sync your data to the cloud. If don’t use any of those, Joplin has its own cloud service, Joplin Cloud, which is one of the ways they make money on the free apps.