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A nonconformist note taking application
July 7, 2010 6:37 PM   Subscribe

Meet the Mac note taking app Notational Velocity: An attempt to loosen the mental blockages to recording information and to scrape away the tartar of convention that handicaps its retrieval.

Merlin Mann likes it. It can be easily synced to other Macs and iPhones in a few different ways. It is open source (BSD flavor), and the code is available on github. Steve from Panic made a version with Markdown preview.
posted by The Devil Tesla (53 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

OK, I'll try it, but my first note is going to be "how is babby formed."
posted by danb at 6:46 PM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yes. I love this program, so much so that it's one of my startup items. In my life it's nearly eliminated that crushing sense of loss that accompanies the remembrance of having had a good idea without remembering what the idea was.

The last step I need to take to do away with that feeling forever is to waterproof my computer so I can bring it in the shower with me.
posted by invitapriore at 6:53 PM on July 7, 2010 [7 favorites]

I'm so gonna try to use the phrase "tartar of convention" when talking to people today.
posted by zardoz at 6:54 PM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

I know it's open source, but one screen shot? Just one? Throw me a bone here.
posted by GuyZero at 6:57 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

So.... it's kind of like OneNote?
posted by Artw at 7:01 PM on July 7, 2010

Notes. As in written ideas. Not notes for music. Brain not good anymore.

Took me reading the description of the app several times to get where the utility of a musical transcription tool that doesn't have buttons would be.
posted by reklus at 7:01 PM on July 7, 2010

I know it's open source, but one screen shot?

You really only need one, 99% of the time you will be only using one window.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 7:02 PM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Well, I live with dropbox and working on more than one platform. Does this system work with any PC variant so notes can be synchronized on winxp/windows 7 and mac? I am looking for a platform independent tool that I can synchronize and work offline. This looks fine for part of my problem but not all.
posted by jadepearl at 7:19 PM on July 7, 2010

It syncs with SimpleNote on the iPhone. It's awesome.
posted by chunking express at 7:21 PM on July 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

A similar app for windows users is the nifty new Resoph Notes which also syncs with SimpleNotes on the iOS.
posted by JDHarper at 7:24 PM on July 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

From the front page of the website:

Complete External Access
Synchronize natively with Simplenote, or via files with WriteRoom for iPhone and Dropbox.
posted by oddman at 7:26 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Notational Velocity + SimpleNote are the best couple in my software household. They get along so well and they always keep in touch with each other.
posted by Doug Stewart at 7:28 PM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

So this is Stickies? I kid! I kid!

I'm a sucker for text editors (not saying this is one).

And since I did command N out of the gate I obviously needed to read.

Is there an export?
posted by cjorgensen at 7:31 PM on July 7, 2010

Discovering that NV and SimpleNote sync together was a small foretaste of the Singularity.
posted by felix betachat at 7:32 PM on July 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

Whoa, this is surprisingly simple, yet extremely good. I like this program! Thank you!
posted by Greg Nog at 7:38 PM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have neither so I'm a little confused. Can someone explain why you'd need this in addition to SimpleNote? Or instead of WriteRoom + DropBox?
posted by sharkfu at 7:42 PM on July 7, 2010

Note that Merlin reviewed this in 2004. He's reviewed a lot of other stuff since then, too.

I can't see using this over something more full featured, like DevonThink (which I make heavy use of.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:44 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love this program. It's awesome. But this is the whole FPP?
posted by special-k at 7:50 PM on July 7, 2010

I love this program. It's awesome. But this is the whole FPP?

Yeah! It introduced me to something new, and markedly improves my quality of life! That's more than I can say for a lot of the news-related FPPs that get tossed up. I dig this!
posted by Greg Nog at 7:52 PM on July 7, 2010 [9 favorites]

This is an FPP? This program has been available for years and has been mentioned umpteen times on the green.
posted by dobbs at 7:57 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have neither so I'm a little confused. Can someone explain why you'd need this in addition to SimpleNote? Or instead of WriteRoom + DropBox?

Because your note will be synchronized instantly on every single device that you own. So if I type a note and close the window, the same note will instantly be on my ipod, iphone, ipad and work computer. And wherever else I want it to be. It cannot happen without some backend service.

PS: I don't own an iphone or ipad.
posted by special-k at 7:59 PM on July 7, 2010

Oops sorry. Didn't read your question carefully. It's just a nicer front end to simplenote. That's all.
posted by special-k at 8:02 PM on July 7, 2010

I can imagine a note-taking, outlining, drafting, planning environment I like better than Org-mode for emacs, but I can't imagine that it exists. Yet.
posted by wobh at 8:40 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a more or less exclusive Linux user, my equivalent of Notational Velocity is Tomboy synchronised to Ubuntu One. Works pretty well. But I'm interested in any Linux port of this.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:45 PM on July 7, 2010

Ah, thanks for pc client variant. Will tinker with my all this.
posted by jadepearl at 8:47 PM on July 7, 2010

wobh: I'd love to hear your approach to org-mode, which seems almost worth learning emacs for.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:50 PM on July 7, 2010

I prefer Evernote, although this is a great deal more lightweight, and the interface isn't as clunky. The nice thing about Evernote is the variety of clients (windows, mac, android, web site), and the extra features. The main problem with it, besides the clunkier interface, is that evernote is a service, not a piece of software. Granted if you sync with dropbox, same thing.

The nice thing about software these days is that nearly everything comes with it's own API, so sooner or later they'll talk to each other.
posted by zabuni at 9:02 PM on July 7, 2010

For others who are curious about Emacs org-mode, I found this LinuxJournal article informative. Org-mode's official webpage may also be of interest. (I have such an old version of Emacs that I'm still getting it installed at the moment. If you have Emacs 22 or later it should be preinstalled though.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:07 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

How is this better than Evernote? (not snarking) cause I love me some Evernote.
posted by furtive at 9:18 PM on July 7, 2010

I use Evernote too but this is much faster for text-only notes.
posted by special-k at 9:24 PM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

People still take notes nowadays??
posted by monospace at 9:32 PM on July 7, 2010

I've been using Gtasks to interface between my laptop and and Android and like it, quite a bit. You have to use it as an app through Igoogle on your computer, but on the Android OS it's a standalone app that I can put notes into, quotes, ideas, links I want to check for later as well as to do items. I go back and forth between updating on the laptop or the phone. And syncing is simple and effective.

Sometimes I think I want a Mac. But then the feeling goes away.
posted by Skygazer at 9:33 PM on July 7, 2010

So.... it's kind of like OneNote?

No, it's open source and works on non-Windows platforms.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:39 PM on July 7, 2010

What's wrong with notepad?

Also notes on iOS 4.0 syncs with gmail via IMAP.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:39 PM on July 7, 2010

I've been using Notational Velocity + Simplenote for a little while now... the more I use it, the more I use it. Seriously, I use it as an idea scratch pad, I paste articles to it for mobile reading or later reference, something a co-worker might say that I might want to remember for some reason, addresses I only need temporarily, reference for a project I'm working on, code snippets, I can tag everything, I can be as haphazard or as organized as I want with it... there's no learning curve whatsoever... it's perfect for me.

But Markdown really is icing on the cake.
posted by bxyldy at 10:07 PM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

After seeing what a "pro" Org-Mode user was doing with it (we were sitting around a table in his backyard, started talking about GTD, and he was like "DUDE. FOLLOW ME. CHECK THIS SHIT OUT." - and he fired up his setup to demonstrate), anything else just looks so ... ungainly.

I'm a hardcore vi/vim guy, but I forced myself to use Emacs as my only editor for a month in order to be familiar enough with it to use Org-Mode. Now I just have to move ten years of plain ascii text in my "notes" file into Org and well, organize them.
posted by mrbill at 10:08 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just dropped a weird, loopy epiphany into this thing, and I don't think I'm going to remember it tomorrow. So I'm just putting this post in my recent activity. . . .
posted by grobstein at 10:22 PM on July 7, 2010

" on non-Windows platforms."

Really? It looks to me as though it's Mac OSX only at this point. I'd love to try a Linux port if there is one.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:33 PM on July 7, 2010

No, it's open source and works on non-Windows platforms.

Which though not strictly true as on the site it says OS X Universal (we'd all be happy if you'd point us to the other platforms other than Windows it runs on) it does use a similar idea or dynamic, so yes, like OneNote, but there are differences, just like you could say a computer running Ubuntu is like a computer running Windows or OS X in that you can do things like send email, even read email, listen to songs, even compose songs, etc. but there are differences, but there are similarities, the similarities make them like each other, the differences make them unlike each other.
posted by juiceCake at 11:02 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

leotrotsky: I only started learning emacs and lisp last July (after Eric Naggum died, look into that mefi thread to see what caught my curiosity). I discovered org-mode not long after and decided it was too big for me, too many features, too baroque and weird. However, in December I desperately needed to start keeping track of things at work. I'm terrible at organizing and follow-through. (I suppose I'm still terrible at organizing but I feel I've improved on follow-through.) I thought I would try org-mode.

I don't have an approach to org-mode. I don't have a top-down system. I don't even have a bottom-up system. But the ineffably awesome thing about org-mode is I don't need a system. My favorite feature of org-mode is how easy it is to move stuff around. Some of this comes from Emacs' wacky and wonderful kill-and-yank system of cut-n-paste now that I'm more used to it. Some of it is Org-mode's structure editing features which you will quickly learn about, if you take it on.

Everyday I log on and and open up my file and it's a huge ugly mess, only bearable because most all of it is hidden. I unfold the headings I need and begin to read and shuffle things around, usually under the Projects heading. I do tasks, I add more tasks, I research and write notes, keep urls and links. Some activities depend on others, I move them under the heading for the thing that needs to get done first. As each thing finishes I promote the sub tree. Sometimes I delete the finished heading, sometimes I move it to an archive heading, sometimes I turn it into documentation about what I've done. At the end of the day my file is still a huge ugly mess. But I never thought I would be so happy to come to work in that kind of mess. It's almost like a core-dump of my brain. My org files aren't useful for what they are, they're useful for what they can become while I'm working on them.

How does this help me? Well some parts are more organized and stable than the main Projects heading. I've got a bunch of documentation for how to do various processes. The title headlines are radio links such that every time I type something like "TODO create new user for finance department" the "create new user part" becomes a link to where I can follow to step-by-step directions for regular tasks and solving recurring problems. I'm working out a tagging system to organize these. I've another heading for contacts which is becoming quite the little database of people, organizations and places. Again radio links such that every time I type a name it becomes a link to information about it. This has the effect that while I'm wallowing in the muck of my Projects tree I almost always have the most useful info I need waiting for me right there like an instant wiki of what's happening now. If I don't have it, I'll just type it in right there and move it later (I've been making little fill-in templates to make this even easier).

Tables are really neat, but I use them very little. I find I need interlinked lists. I understand there's this remember-mode but when I have a phone call or something, I just start typing in my notes right wherever I am. Even though everything, everywhere, is always in the way, somehow I always find what i want, more-or-less when and where I need it, otherwise I can be easily search for it and move it when I find it. I understand there's an agenda mode and I intend to learn more about this someday. I understand there are many other features but I haven't got time for them right now.

But you shouldn't use org-mode like I do. I'm lazy and disorganized and swamped. I only started using it in January, so I don't really know what I'm doing, but I don't know how I would get anything done without it. I need org-mode where-ever I go and I and get frustrated if it's not handy. If you get into it, my advice is this: condition yourself to always, always use two hands for any key-chords. Assuming you have two hands and are using a standard qwerty keyboard, you will most often use the letters on the left hand side, so make your right hand familiar with Ctrl, Alt, and Shift on the right hand side. Also this: Emacs is over thirty years old, made by very smart people who mostly knew what they were doing and blazed a lot of trails when they didn't. It's very strange but you should trust it. But also this: they made pretty much everything about Emacs adjustable; if you don't customize it, you aren't really using it.

Sorry for rambling. Good luck!
posted by wobh at 12:37 AM on July 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

For a truly cross-platform note-taking application, I love KeepNote. Windows, Mac and Linux, stores notes as HTML and XML within a directory hierarchy, backs up with one click.
posted by nja at 12:45 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd love to try a Linux port if there is one

There's no Linux port that I know of, but Notational Velocity works best if you have it store notes as individual text files in a Dropbox folder, which means you can use whatever text editor you like on the Linux side and all your new notes and edits will show up in NV on the Mac side.

There is a Windows clone, though: Notes.
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 1:46 AM on July 8, 2010

NV is great for when I'm on the phone and need to take a quick message. Especially while job-hunting. It sits right there in my applications tray launcher thingy, starts very quickly, and allows me to very quickly jump into a new note. So there's none of that "hang on, let me get a pen... wait wait could you repeat that?" After I'm off the phone, I clean it up (usually changing the title from the name of the person to the name of the company, for example).

I just got emacs installed on my work computer (by way of cygwin), so I am very interested in this org mode. It seems like one of those things I'll just never have the time to learn how to use. Hopefully, I can make some time.
posted by Eideteker at 7:40 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, look, it's already loaded in this version of emacs.

posted by Eideteker at 7:47 AM on July 8, 2010

For me, the difference between Notational Velocity/SimpleNote/ResophNotes and Evernote is time: SimpleNote is a buffer, a piece of scratch paper. I most recently used it to write down an address while I was on the phone with someone. Evernote is for long-term storage; I use it to keep track of stuff like recipes, bits of information I'll want to hang onto forever.
posted by JDHarper at 8:36 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Discovering that Notational Velocity and Simplenote sync with each other immeasurably improved my life.

I use NV for everything: saving confirmation numbers for orders and reservations, ideas and links for blog posts, quotations and gift ideas, poetry and fiction and story ideas. And now I can synch through the iphone (and the ipad? Really?! That's awesome).

Huge NV fan here.
posted by misha at 9:30 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

org mode has consumed my entire morning

...My god, it's full of stars...
posted by Eideteker at 11:19 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Really digging this. Thanks!
posted by threetoed at 12:47 PM on July 8, 2010

Evernote's a dog: nasty interface and sucky export options.

Notational Velocity's a little gem, and the sync to SimpleNote makes it near-perfect. (SimpleNote was inspired by NV, so this completes the circle).

Org mode is lovely, but it has emacs around it which means I can't put it on my iPhone or iPad and that means it won't be there when I need it.

Instead, TaskPaper gets me almost everything I need from Org mode, and is always with me, just like the best camera. (The only drawback is the not-quite-there syncing. That should go away when the new dropbox-enable version is released.)
posted by bonaldi at 4:20 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Any computing device that can't run Emacs is useless.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:22 AM on July 9, 2010

Any computing device that can't run Emacs is useless.

Welcome to Android!
posted by GuyZero at 10:08 AM on July 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks, GuyZero. Android, FTW!
posted by Crabby Appleton at 3:47 PM on July 9, 2010

Very late to the party here. But I had to say that SimpleNote has note changed my life more than any other singe computer application other than the Internet itself. In conjunction with the iPhone app (supplemented by the iPad app and the ResophNote desktop client for Windows), it has literally outsourced my short-term memory.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:11 AM on July 18, 2010

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