Abandoning Simplenote: Simple, But Difficult

It appears that Gabe over at MacDrifter was right (and to quote him, “this post is only going to be interesting to someone that lives in plain text“, so consider yourself warned). There comes a time when every edge case needs to leave Simplenote. If you’ve read this blog, you know I love the app, but I’m finding that my time to abandon it has come.

Why?

Good question… syncing has become a problem. I’m no longer 100% confident that something I write will stay there. I’m writing between three devices (two Macs using nvALT and an iPhone using Simplenote), occasionally four if you count my occasional iPad usage. You can’t force sync the app, so occasionally I accidentally overwrite data in one version (this is a particularly large issue in NYC where service is not always the best). Since there is no way to force sync on Simplenote for iOS and no way to confirm the latest sync times, I often don’t even realize the problem until it is too late.

The apps are also going crazy on me. When on 3G or WiFi, the iPad app crashes (disclaimer: I haven’t gone through the process of uninstalling and reinstalling and haven’t taken the time to reach out to Simplenote about this as I don’t really use it all that often). And the iPhone app is continually swallowing text. It’s usually only a little, but I’m not a fan of losing work. This seems especially bad when making the jump from having no service on the Subway to when I hit the street and the app begins fighting with AT&T’s crappy New York service.

I’ve reached a point when either the application or the sync service can no longer handle the volume of notes. Perhaps I’m testing both the capability of their sync server or their app with my 800 notes, but if they really want people to invest in this for extended periods of time, they have got to get their act together.

Why is leaving so hard?

The steps for leaving Simplenote are quite simple. All I had to do was copy the entire notes folder into Dropbox, turn off Simplenote sync in nvALT and point the storage field to the new folder in Dropbox. The thought of abandoning an app I’ve been using for nearly two years and am extremely comfortable with is far harder. While there are several impressive text editors for iOS , I love Simplenote for its simplicity. I use my iPhone to create words, not to format them, so the bells and whistles of several of Simplenote’s alternatives aren’t all that appealing. I need something that is as close as possible to the app I already know and love.

Over time and through tons of use, I’ve come to find that there are five additional features beyond stable synchronization that I depend on:

Fast and Global Search – When you open Simplenote, all you need to do is tap into the search field and start typing to narrow down your notes. TextExpander Support – This is pretty much a given at this point for any text editor. I primarily use TextExpander to name my files, but I’d be lost without it. An Informative Home Screen – Simplenote offers a note title, a two-line preview (with any tags in front of your text) and the date of the last modification for every note. These three points of data make it far easier to find the one I’m looking for. Quick Note Creation – All I need to do is hit the plus sign and I’m on my way. Unlike many apps, Simplenote automatically uses the first line of any note the title, making an additional title field unnecessary (more on this when we start talking potential replacements). Tagging and Sharing via Tags – While I’m not a massive user of tags, I use them to remind me if something is in the edit stage, working stage or posted stage. Simplenote’s sharing features also let me use a tag to send show notes for the Mikes on Mics podcast to my co-host, Mike Vardy.

While I wasn’t able to get everything I wanted, I’m finding Notesy to be the best alternative for me. It has great search capabilities, exactly the info I want on the home screen and quick note creation. The two challenges are tags, which will now live on nvALT, but not in Notesy (and tags in nvALT will no longer allow me to seamlessly share notes). There is also a minor unresolvable issue with TextExpander1. Both of these, while annoying, are livable.

Bonus disappointment: While not critical, Notesy also doesn’t have a URL Scheme which means I’ve now lost the ability to create notes directly from Instapaper. This integration is possible in the future, but does not seem to be on their short term roadmap.

I also tried WriteRoom, Elements and WriteUp for size and they all had their own unique strengths and weaknesses. There are three features that put Notesy over the top for me: blatantly obviously sync, the note preview and simplicity. While WriteRoom and Elements allow users to force sync, Notesy’s sync button and confirmation could not be more obvious. It could just be that I’m hurting from Simplenote, but this really appealed. The notes preview also provides all three points of note data (title, multi-line preview and date modified), something that none of the other apps offer. Every app had great features that are not included in Notesy, but it is exactly that kind of pared down experience and similarity to Simplenote that has me thinking that it will be the next best thing to my once-beloved note-taking application. Goodbye old friend, you will be missed…

And now that that’s solved, back to work.

Speaking of work, I am off to Las Vegas for a trade show until next Tuesday. In my absence, I begged several of my amazing friends including Yuvi Zalkow, Aaron Mahnke, Todd Chandler, Gini Dietrich and Mike Vardy to fill in while I’m gone. I can’t wait for you to read their posts!. If you’re really going to miss me and aren’t quite sure what to do with yourself, you can get your fill on today’s Mikes on Mics podcast. See you next week!

  1. For the two of you who care, unlike Simplenote, the field Notesy uses to capture the note title will not allow you to place the cursor anywhere but at the end of the note when using TextExpander snippets. This is not a bug in Notesy or TextExpander, it is an iOS issue. You will have this same problem in apps like WriteRoom, Elements, Write Up and more. []
  • http://twitter.com/trchandler Todd Chandler

    I just experienced my first Simplenote non-syncing issue last week. It gave me that same concerns. Knowing how you love Byword on the Mac, have you tried it on your iOS devices yet?

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      I haven’t jumped over to Byword on iOS just yet. I don’t really use iOS to format text and prefer a simple interface for making words. That’s why I’ve been so partial to Simplenote.

  • Agostinocirillo

    Have you tried Neboulous Note?

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      I tried it a while back when I first got started in plain text. Didn’t really love the way it synced. Is it worth another look?

  • PaulMi

    This may be something you’ve already done… Did you contact the developer of Simplenote with your concerns? Often times developers can be pretty responsive. It might be a way to have your cake and eat it too.

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      I did, and they’ve commented on this post, but I need to pull back until I hear better things about their sync. I love the app, but I can’t keep losing work. Believe me, I love simplenote as much as I love cake… now I want cake…

  • http://simplenoteapp.com/ Mike Johnston

    Hi Michael, this is Mike from Simperium, makers of Simplenote. One source of problems that we’ve identified is 3rd-party apps. They’re all still using our old sync API, which isn’t as robust. We’re starting to make a transition. This will take time though as we work with each developer.

    Simplenote should be able to handle 800 notes (we test with 1000+). We’d appreciate working with you to figure out your edge cases: support@simplenoteapp.com

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      Hey Mike,

      Thanks for following up. I sent an email last week with a bit more detail. I’m primarily using Simplenote on iOS which I’m assuming is on the current sync. I will tell you that the problem seems to be worse when moving from spaces with services to spaces without. Almost all of my issues happen coming in or out of the subway or when fighting with mid-town NYC bad service. I really hope you guys figure this out as it’s an amazing service. I truly miss using it.

    • Garrett

      Eight months after your comment, I’m still having issues with only 47 notes. Mostly duplication of text that I’ve added via the crashy Simplenote iPhone app, but I did discover that one note was entirely deleted! No need for support though, I’m going to try moving to Dropbox.

  • gyurisc

    Same here! I also lost notes when nvAlt synchronized with SimpleNote. Thanks to Dropbox I was able to get back my lost notes. 

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      I miss a lot of SN’s features, but Notesy is proving to be a solid replacement. The syncing is yet to fail and I’m looking :)

  • David Nittler

    While using SimpleNote on my 4S last month while grocery shopping, the note got scrambled after making an edit – strange characters and the lines of text were all jumbled. The next day I switched to Notesy, and haven’t had any glitches. 

    Just today, my brother typed a paragraph into SimpleNote, but only half was saved. I recommended to him to switch to Byword or Notesy.

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      Same here. Since moving to Notesy, I haven’t had a problem. Although I still miss many of Simplenotes features… it’s a shame…

  • Tormod Otter Johansson

    The lack of URL schemes in iOS note apps with Dropbox sync is killing me. I have found Simplenote as unreliable as others, but the create note feature in Instapaper is so, so great. Marco Arment have shown himself willing to add support for apps that get a URL scheme (as per his Twitter feed), but no one seems to be aiming at that target. It bugs me. Plaintext, Elements, any plain text sync app – save me!

  • Tormod Otter Johansson

    The lack of URL schemes in iOS note apps with Dropbox sync is killing me. I have found Simplenote as unreliable as others, but the create note feature in Instapaper is so, so great. Marco Arment have shown himself willing to add support for apps that get a URL scheme (as per his Twitter feed), but no one seems to be aiming at that target. It bugs me. Plaintext, Elements, any plain text sync app – save me!

  • Tormod Otter Johansson

    New info on note creation: The WriteUp app developer has implemented a URL scheme and is happy to integrate with Instapaper. Looks like Marco Arment is as well, according to this tweet: https://twitter.com/instapaper/status/215571724719235072

    I got this nice mail from developer Prasanna Gopalakrishnan:

    “Hi Tormod, I am very interested and this is possible. 

    The following will add an empty new note with an automatically generated title. 

    writeup://newText?text= Following will create a note given title and text. writeup://newText?name=title&text=text”

    • Robert Kok

      Thanks for posting the WriteUp URL scheme!

      Inspired by Federico Viticci and with Draft 2.5.3 iPhone and 1.5.3 iPad I can now use [date|format] tags using strftime format strings. This means I can include the datetimestamp in the file name when creating it, without having to use Textexpander.

      The following is a simple example using Drafts to create a file with datestamp in WriteUp:

      writeup://newText?name=[[date|%Y%m%d]]&text=[[draft]]

      strftime Cheat Sheet shows all the formatting options and can be found on http://phuconrails.blogspot.nl/2009/05/strftime-cheat-sheet.html

  • http://twitter.com/JoeCotellese Joe Cotellese

    The most recent SimpleNote issues finally forced me to make the switch. In a nutshell, all of my notes were duplicated 5 times within simplenote and there was no easy way to clean it up. Luckily had a backup with Dropbox.

    Now, I’m using PlainText on iOS and nvALT on Mac.

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      It’s really a shame, it’s a great app and was a solid service for a while. Shame they can’t fix this.

  • Troy

    I too have all these same issues. I LOVE Simplenote but their third-party API issues are killing me. I can’t trust that any data will be anywhere else. That’s partner management that has to be handled in the model that they have. So I too am about to jump off of it unfortunately so was interested in this review. How did you end up moving your 800+ notes? Thanks for the article

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      As long as your database is stored as individual notes, all you need to do is take all of those notes, copy them out of one folder and put them in a new one in Dropbox. From there, repoint nvALT to the new folder and find an iOS app that you like. Once you’re active, you can either archive or delete the original folder (but obviously make sure you’re set with the notes in the new location).

  • http://twitter.com/shimstu Shimshon Stu Siegel

    I finally gave up Simplenote last month. It was becoming a serious nightmare. It’s great that they reached out to you 6 months ago– sad sad sad that nothing has changed…

    At the moment, the simplest, cleanest system i’ve found on iOS is Drafts for dropping notes into Dropbox, and Plain Text for retrieving and editing notes. On iOS I am creating notes much more than anything else, so Drafts is a fantastic tool to just open the app, type a note, drop it and leave– no wait time, no syncing in the background while you’re trying to write…

    i like Plain Text because everything else, including Notesy, is too bulky. I just want NOTES. Nothing else– Plain Text is just that- Plain.

    thought i’d share!

    Stu