A Note On Note Apps

You shouldn’t rely on a SaaS-based note-taking application, in my view, and if you buy something, buy it outright. Here’s why.

By Ernie Smith

For a couple of years, I was a big Evernote user, because I thought the general idea behind it was pretty good. Having a centralized place for your thoughts to live is great!

But then I discovered Markdown and realized all I really needed was a folder and a couple of basic commands. For years, I’ve just written content in folders, capturing my thoughts down and then delivering them to their final source, whatever that ends up being.

And it’s hard not to feel validated for that approach, seeing what Evernote has become in the years since. Just this week, the service announced an aggressive limitation on free accounts, on top of high prices that make the app especially undesirable for its target audience, makes me think that it is not the kind of model upon which I want my content to sit. The idea of paying a company $15 a month or $129 per year just to gather my notes feels like a bad deal when basic text files are always ready to go nearby.

All the changes to Evernote reflect a company that has changed quite significantly behind the scenes—with its ownership changing earlier this year, many of its employees getting laid off, and its headquarters getting shifted to Europe. Long story short, it’s the story of an application that has lost its way under a new owner, which is not an uncommon one these days.

Perhaps it’s for this reason that I’ve found myself pretty uncomfortable with the idea of notes or articles being a centralized thing. I already feel like I’ve been stuck having to give a ton of money to Adobe, a company that operates much of the creative ecosystem I need to use, and I don’t want to give any more ground to a SaaS company to manage my writing. (Perhaps it’s why their Figma acquisition effort is suddenly in trouble.)

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I A Writer


But weirdly, I’m OK with giving money to a direct competitor to Evernote, iA Writer. (To be clear, this is not sponsored. I just like the tool.) The company charges $49, flat, for access to its writing app for the Mac, and to be straight with you, it is worth it to me, because it just works and makes me feel in control of what I create. It gets out of the way, lets you use your desired folders, and just works. It doesn’t hit me up with late-inning surprises.

And on top of that, the company thinks carefully about changes. This week, they announced plans to integrate AI into the tool, but not in the way that you’d expect. Essentially, they created a way to auto-detect ChatGPT answers and allow you to ensure that if you integrate them, you can tell where OpenAI ends and your words begin. It’s smart. It’s prudent. It avoids giving OpenAI an inroad into the app. And it allows you to integrate ChatGPT if you so choose.

And having tried other platforms like Linux, I know there is little like it, as hard as tools like Typora try. I recently took to writing Markdown in VS Code over that way, and while it works, I would rather just be writing in iA Writer. (Maybe if I drop a hard enough hint that they need a Linux version, they’ll take it!)

To offer a backdrop as why I make that unsolicited pitch for a good writing tool: Recently, I turned down an opportunity to work with a sponsor in the note-taking space because I didn’t use the tool and felt that pushing it would almost be like lying to my readers. It’s a popular tool, a name one. And it just didn’t feel right.

Perhaps it sounds a bit odd to put it this way, but I wrote them a note comparing my decision not to work with them with my having never seen the movie Star Wars. I mean, I know that lots of people love that tool, just like millions of people love Star Wars. But just because it’s popular doesn’t mean that I have to be into it, too.

But it’d be hollow for me to push something like that; I’d rather throw my support behind a tool like AnyType, which is free, fully encrypted, and open-source.

Long-term, I want to discourage the use of SaaS where I can, and lean on either buy-once software or self-hosted. If I do use SaaS, I want it to be cheap and value-additive, and in an area where the alternatives are limited. In the wrong hands, it can be a dangerous model—especially if those hands are Adobe-shaped.

Bring back more apps like iA Writer, which promise a good, consistent experience, don’t charge more than they need to, and just work. We’ll be happier with our technology that way.

Honest Links

This kid who hates the nerdy glasses emoji wants Apple to change it.

This AliExpress laptop that this YouTuber discovered is insane. It has a great screen, cheap housing, a detachable webcam, a laughably low-end processor, and the best keyboard you’ve ever seen in a laptop. Honestly, I want one. (BTW: You can tell they realized they accidentally made something good because the price jumped by more than $250 in the two days since I first saw it.)

I’m so happy Jezebel has a new owner.


Find this one an interesting read? Share it with a pal! And if you have a favorite writing tool, share it with me over on Mastodon.


Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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