Notetaking app
February 3, 2018 1:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering swapping from Evernote to something else for long-term note taking but I can't seem to find the right solution.

I have enough solutions for to-do lists and other disposable scratchpad type requirements but I want to find a way to keep long-term notes (thoughts, notes from books, learnings from projects, etc) in a sustainable searchable system. I'd love not to be tied to an app. I had the thought of using .txt files but I couldn't think up a really simple usable system.

I wanted to try OneNote (I used to use it ages ago) but I'm having so many issues just getting it to work on my Mac that I already distrust it.

I need:
-Cross-platform functionality, especially Mac, iOS and Android. (so Bear doesn't work)
-Folders! not just tags (SimpleNote doesn't work)
-As simple and plain-text as possible
-Ideally free or one-time purchase, not subscription-based (but I'm willing to reconsider this)
posted by miaow to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe DropboxPaper?
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 3:42 AM on February 3, 2018

Have a look at

I think you'll have to pay the subscription for folders - I just use tags but have subscribed so I can access some of the different editors available. I use the app on my android phone and the web app mainly but the iOS app works well on my ipad.
posted by chr at 3:54 AM on February 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've been a (Windows) OneNote user since 2003 but am considering making a move too. I'm currently thinking of installing wiki software on hosting I already pay for.

Here are a couple of good overviews of what's currently out there:

- What is the best cross-platform note taking app?
- Comparison of notetaking software (Wikipedia)

I'm thinking of trying Freedcamp - I've used it to project manage some websites with a friend and was hugely impressed with the free version but I don't yet know if it'll scale up for multiple note taking.
posted by humph at 3:55 AM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Until I saw your note, I was coming in to recommend Bear. Oh well. The one app I've used to share notes cross platform has been Google Keep. It's not perfect, but it did work well - it does labels vs folders in that Google-way. I used it for a specific work project, so not ALL of my notes. I, too, have moved from Evernote recently - first to Apple Notes and now to Bear.
posted by jdl at 5:47 AM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

I use a text file stored on Dropbox.

I generally use Windows (but also Mac and Linux), so the first thing in my file is ".LOG" which tells Windows Notepad to go to the end of the file and add a date-time stamp, following which I enter new text; some other Windows text editors support ".LOG" .. I mostly use TextPad. On other OSes I just jump to the end and add the timestamp and data manually.

When the file gets big I start a fresh one, renaming the older file to include its end date. All the files are in a dedicated Dropbox subdirectory, so it's easy to search for things over years of data using grep or the OS's native search app. Include searchable "tag-words" in entries to ease finding them later.

It's not perfect but it's simple and portable.
posted by anadem at 10:11 AM on February 3, 2018

I was a long time Evernote user (maybe 8 years?) and switched to OneNote about 18 months ago. OneNote isn't a panacea; it has pros and cons. I'm coming into the thread not to convince you that OneNote is the solution, but rather to tell you about the pros and cons. I'm seeing a lot of other suggestions in the thread that *might* work if you don't have a lot of material in Evernote. In my case, i moved over about 1500 unique notes/100+ tags from Evernote to OneNote. I looked at a few other options; I didn't find any other solutions that were close for that much "stuff". Here is what worked for me, here is what didn't.

- The editing/layout in Evernote has always been flaky; with OneNote, editing just works.
- Cross platform: I run it on Windows 8, Mac OS, an iPhone, and one web version on a Chromebook
- A good webclipping plug-in for browsers
- A good utility for migrating Evernote to OneNote

- No native support for tagging. This one hurts the most. You can kind of hack something together by using hash tags and the search function
- (this may be a pro for you) the notebook systems feels like a file system. There are notebooks (think top level folders) and sections (think subfolders) and that is it. It doesn't let notes live in multiple places and without the tagging, you have to make some choices about how to organize things.
- Web browser version is heavy/clunky to use
- If you bring over a large number of notes from Evernote, expect to spend some time curating and reorganizing them. My 100 to 150 tags in Evernote morphed into 25 notebooks, each containing anywhere from a couple of sections (sub-folders) to as many as 20.

Good luck. I'm not without regrets and have thought about moving back to Evernote.
posted by kovacs at 10:36 AM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

OneNote is not for you if you want plain text, for sure.

I do this with Emacs and OrgMode, but OrgMode is so powerful that there are now ports of it or work-alikes that work in other editors, including iOS standout Editorial and MSFT's own Visual Studio Code.

It's a little nerdy, but incredibly powerful, and you'll never be beholden to a service or company to read your data EVER because it's all in pure text files.
posted by uberchet at 12:06 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

About a year ago I went from Evernote to Google Drive, and it was a tedious conversion but I have a number of things I like about my current setup (however I'm not sure about your iOS requirements, and in general YMMV):
  • My Google Drive folder structure is synced between the cloud and my desktop, plus browser access, so I can drag and drop PDFs, images or simple text files into the appropriate place on my Windows Explorer "Google Drive" hierarchy (of course they are not editable as such) and they show up everywhere.
  • The "Starred" category lets me keep everything I refer to on a daily basis easily at hand, plus on my phone & tablet I can make certain documents available for off-line access, and/or put links on the home screen.
  • Google Take-Out lets me make backups of all my Google data
  • Google Doc and Sheets are plenty powerful enough for my creative/research purposes (vis your request for thoughts, reviews, study notes) and of course I can't think of anything that stops you from just not using the formatting features (though I do because I like the ability to highlight/emphasize/cross-reference). So this is for my editable needs, vs. pure storage like saved/downloaded reference documents, scans from my Fujitsu Scansnap ix500, photos of products I buy (big help when I need to replace something that broke), map images, etc.
  • I find the search feature to be powerful enough. There is also an awkward way to store the same file in multiple folders. Plus you can do Web links in Docs, and between one Doc and another (I use that for "Dashboards", meaning one document that I can use to launch off to other sub-documents...I did that in Evernote also, but it's nice I can continue, though of course I had to change the Evernote links to Google Doc links, tedious).
Of course, Google is known for taking years to fix annoying "features", and they have been known to "sunset" applications, though I wonder if they would ever sunset Google Drive and Docs (I hope I didn't just jinx the planet by saying that).
posted by forthright at 3:54 PM on February 3, 2018

I’d stick with Evernote. Agenda looks interesting but Mac only at the moment.
posted by furtive at 6:10 PM on February 3, 2018

Seconding standard Notes. I’ve been using it for a year and it just works. I also like the emphasis on privacy and longevity.

The free version has everything you want except folders. You could try it to see if you like it enough to subscribe for the folders and other features.
posted by harriet vane at 7:16 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Check out Workflowy to see if it does what you're looking for.
posted by Leontine at 7:33 PM on February 3, 2018

Thanks miaow for posting this, you've sent me scurrying around the interwebs for a solution to this problem, and have spent a few hours taking a serious look at Tiddlywiki / Noteself.

Several years ago used Evernote but was very disappointed at the difference between OSX and Windows client versions / interface. OneNote had a similar problem. Currently use to save bookmarks and the random snippet of information.

Thanks all who mentioned Standard Notes, it looks like a winner. Just their statement on longevity convinces me it's worth a serious look.
posted by scooterdog at 4:33 AM on February 4, 2018

Response by poster: Thank you all, that was very helpful!! I've decided to stick with Evernote for now and not to waste time and energy swapping until something that is nearly perfect comes along.
posted by miaow at 9:29 PM on February 4, 2018

Take a look at Joplin. It's free and open source, cross platform (Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android). It has "notebooks" and "tags," and all the notes are stored in as text files (using MarkDown).
posted by JDHarper at 10:12 AM on September 14, 2018

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