First Look: Simplenote
Somehow Simplenote became not-so-simple. Fine with me.
I have backed into trying out Simplenote as a work journal. By 'backed into' I mean that I have used Simplenote in the past to publish markdown files created in Typora to publish on the web, but didn’t consider it rich enough in features to actually use it as my work journal. Typora does not support publishing on the web, so I used Simplenote as a ‘companion’ app for that one feature. Now I am giving Simplenote a try to replace Typora.
I resisted using Simplenote for years, mostly for what it lacked. For example, when notes are designated to be formatted in markdown, Simplenote does not provide a WYSIWYG editing experience such as offered by Typora. Here’s the edit view of a file called ‘workings’:
But it supports a rendered view with a keystroke:
Simplenote supports a full implementation of markdown, including tables, and some interesting additions, such as file-linked tags (see ‘workings’ and ‘project’ at the footer). These tags can be used in search, as well.
So, while I was using Simplenote to just publish a file on the web, I visited the Simplenote blog where I discovered that Simplenote now supports internal links across files and manages backlinks, automatically. An internal link is created by typing a square bracket ('[') which leads to a search:
I selected that file (although I edited the text to just show ‘amplenotes’ and not the full filename). That link is an internal link, with the normal ‘http://’ replaced with ‘simplenote://’, which automatically creates a backlink in the target file, accessed through the information menu item:
That backlink is clickable.
Having seen that Simplenote implements real backlinks — as well as web publishing — I decided to explore and see if it could replace Typora in my workflow.
Since I am managing my tasks in markdown, I wanted at the least to be able to search for tasks as I have been doing with Typora. For example, I need to be able to search for all incomplete tasks, which start with ‘- [ ]’ in markdown. It works as an explicit search string (double-quoted “- [ ]”) in Simplenote:
Or I can search for specific tasks, in this case, all incomplete tasks with ‘workings’ — a project name — as the first word (this is a convention I use for exactly this reason):
Searching for completed tasks is simple, too: “- [x]”.
I also use text tags in my workings very liberally. This takes the form of ‘#workings’, this time not as a double-quoted string:
Note that in this case, clicking on the search term in a file entry centers on the term in the file, and highlights it. I wish Simplenote did that with search strings.
Here’s a list of other features and comments:
Tables — have to create manually, but otherwise more or less equivalent to Typora. However, links in tables are clickable: Missing in Typora.
Export — can export as ‘.txt’ text files, which is fine since I am staying with markdown.
Import — can import a variety of formats: text (‘.txt’ and ‘.md’) and Simplenote (JSON).
Images — can’t upload images to Simplenote: have to host somewhere else like Imgur, Tumblr, or Substack. With Typora, I moved images to a specific folder on my Mac, and that has caused some problems, so I don’t really mind having to upload. I think for private materials going forward, I will use Tumblr, and copy the link. Still considering how to upload all the existing images I have. Maybe in Imgur.
Backlinks — yes, discussed above.
Sharing — yes, you can share an edit link with others, but there is no mechanism for commenting, so some convention would have to be used, like this:
Which renders like this:
Or I could format a table for comments. Seems like an obvious area for improvement in Simplenotes.
Tags — both file-linked tags and text tags can be used.
Folders — no folders, per see, but tags provide the equivalent of smart folders (non-exclusive folders).
Transclusion — transclusion is being able to have a single item — like a table — appear in two or more places at the same time. No, this isn’t supported but Typora and most other workings tools don’t support it either.
I have only been using Simplenote as my workings tool for a few days, and I haven’t hit any big snags. However, I haven’t tried to deal with the hundreds of image files I have used in Typora. I’ll save that story for another post.