After a decade of heavily using Evernote Premium, the nearly 35,000 carefully tagged and organized notes will not be easy to leave behind, but the company’s recent botched “upgrade” has forced my hand.
If there’s one lesson that should have been burned into my brain after a lifetime of computer dependency is that you must never, ever let yourself be dependent on any proprietary format. No matter how dominant a company or product may appear today, the unrelenting hurricane of tech industry innovation will blow away anything not locked down to the lowest common denominator standards possible. Aside from the ability to carve something into stone, ultimately the only future-proof standard is UTF-8 ASCII text saved under a unix-style pathname structure, using open source software that if necessary, you can always compile yourself.
Fortunately, I was smart enough at the beginning to adopt Evernote only after confirming that I could export everything into a safe, independently-readable format, so I’m not entirely locked in. Although writing my own XML translator would be a hassle, but not impossible, there are already there are many well-done open source conversion products out there. Bringing those 35K notes into a more future-proof format is a daunting problem, but not insurmountable.
My first step is to decide on my future-proof format. The following points are non-negotiable:
- All files must be plain text, human readable, and editable in any text editor.
- Easily synced and readable/editable on any platform, including my phone.
- “Get out of Dodge”: abandon immediately for any reason and seamlessly switch to something else.
Note that I don’t care so much about collaboration. Although I’m happy to make most of my notes public, my primary purpose is to keep track of stuff for myself. With plain text, a github-style pull request system is still possible.
Although the plain text is a firm requirement, it’s sometimes convenient to apply metadata to the file, especially when it comes to tagging. There are other reasons a YAML-style set of options might be nice: I don’t want to depend on the native file system to keep track of file creation dates, for example, or have the filename be the same as the title.
A few of my options are non-starters:
- Notion, although it gets high marks for usability and collaboration
- Roam, which I’ve been watching carefully, is still cloud-only and proprietary.
After further experimenting with Bear, Notable and others, I’ve narrowed my choices down to two:
|Joplin||Fast, native tagging (metadata),||Requires a SQLite store, though it can export at any time.|
|Obsidian||Plain text, uses my current file system||Requires its own editor for proper management of links, though any text editor is fine otherwise.
Neither option is entirely ideal, but in both cases I’m confident that there is enough active development that I can reasonably assume that most of my later concerns will be addressed in a reasonable timeframe.
Joplin for now
For the time being, I’ve standardized on Joplin, because it seems more mature, though Obsidian is fast catching up.
As always, “Get out of Dodge” applies. Joplin’s export feature means that I can save everything[^1]to markdown and immediately read it into Obsidian (and vice versa).
[^1:] Well, almost everything. Annoyingly, tags are not preserved, though I’m confident the metadata export feature is high on the list of soon-to-be-available features.