Last night I ended up picking up a copy of Taskpaper to compare notes with Patrick and accidentally stumbled upon a very cool, very free syncing service called Simpletext.ws, run by Hogbay Software. Simpletext.ws is a lot like Dropbox, but for small text files. This means that you can use just one Google App Engine […]
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iPhone Textperiment: Simplenote vs Simpletext, WriteRoom, and Taskpaper


Last night I ended up picking up a copy of Taskpaper to compare notes with Patrick and accidentally stumbled upon a very cool, very free syncing service called Simpletext.ws, run by Hogbay Software.

Simpletext.ws is a lot like Dropbox, but for small text files. This means that you can use just one Google App Engine service to sync your notes and tasks if you use WriteRoom and Taskpaper.

I was so excited by this new discovery that I immediately threw all of my Simplenote/Notational Velocity files into Simpletext.ws and am now trying to use WriteRoom and Taskpaper out as replacements for Simplenote and Things. I won’t know whether I like or hate the differences until I’ve had a few days to work with this new setup, but I have already recorded some thoughts from Day One.

Warning: this is some pretty geeky stuff. You will need at least four eyes or a set of contact lenses to survive.

The previous setup:
Simplenote is a plain text cloud service with a serviceable web app, a great iPhone app, and a few different native clients for the Mac — with Notational Velocity (NV) being my favourite among them.
Things is a task management system comprised of equally gorgeous Mac and iPhone applications. All of my notes and thoughts were in the Simplenote iPhone app (which synced over-the-air with NV on my Mac), and the Things clients would sync up when I got home over my local wi-fi network.

What has stayed the same:

  • Online access – Simpletext is a Mac client that syncs your local “Simpletext” folder with the Simpletext.ws cloud service, so I still have full web access to all of my notes (and now tasks), although Simplenote has a much prettier interface.
  • Notational Velocity (Free Mac app) – WriteRoom syncs very nicely with Notational Velocity through Simpletext.ws. They work together so well, in fact, that all I had to do was tell NV to store my notes as individual text files instead of one giant proprietary library file (this is all in Preferences), and then move those files to my local Simpletext folder on my Mac. It took all of one minute to make the initial change, and then a couple more to convert all of the notes.
  • WriteRoom is a LOT like Simplenote on the iPhone – Here’s another factor that made this experiment very easy to setup: WriteRoom can look almost exactly like the Simplenote app on the iPhone when you skin it. Both apps are comprised of a basic list of text files and then an editing mode, and they both sync over-the-air to cloud services that communicate with NV on my Mac.
  • Easy conflict – In the rare instance that I make changes to the same note on both my iPhone and Notational Velocity and then try a sync, Simpletext seems to handle conflict resolution quite nicely. It simply applies both changes from both versions of the file in chronological order. I would never make huge, drastic changes on both my iPhone and my Mac at around the same time, anyway, so this isn’t much of an issue.

Addressing previous problems:

  • Timed sync vs manual sync – Here’s the thing about Simpletext: it doesn’t do timed syncs. Unlike Evernote and NV, you can’t set Simpletext to sync with the web service every x minutes to make sure that your computer copies are up to date. What Simpletext does do, however, is sync the entire folder right after a file in the Simpletext folder is changed. I’m not sure if this is done in a smart way (syncing only files that have been modified since the last sync) or en masse (re-syncing all files), but since my Simpletext folder is so small (under 1MB), it always happens quickly. This works extremely well with Notational Velocity, which saves changes to the file the moment you make them. I actually have a bit more to say on this, so let me start a second bullet point on this same topic.
  • Second bullet point on this same topic – The very minor problem I had with Notational Velocity and Simplenote (not Simpletext) was that it took up to a minute for NV to reflect any changes I had made on the mobile. There isn’t a “sync” button anywhere inside of NV so you can’t call for a manual sync. This works a little differently (if not better) when NV is paired up with Simpletext. All I have to do is press the sync button from the Mac’s status bar or simply make a minor change in any note, and all the changes I made in WriteRoom on my iPhone are immediately synced to NV, with the note actually changing right before my eyes. Time will tell whether I prefer this assisted manual sync to the automatic sync of Simplenote, but it seems workable so far.
  • Syncing with one service instead of two: I haven’t gotten around to writing the Taskpaper review yet, but I already like how I can sync changes over the air, even on 3G. Things currently only supports local wi-fi syncing. It’s also a bit cleaner keeping both my tasks in Taskpaper and notes in WriteRoom synced with the Mac through one service: Simpletext.
  • Cool orientation lock in WriteRoom: Unlike Simplenote for iPhone, WriteRoom keeps the orientation lock in a far more accessible location: you summon it by shaking the device. No more Shake to Undo, though.

New issues:

  • $10 barrier to entry: WriteRoom and Taskpaper cost $5 each on the App Store. I got a free copy of WriteRoom while it was on sale and I bought Taskpaper for $5. Simplenote, on the other hand, is free to use if you’re alright with the single in-app Fusion ad.
  • WriteRoom and file endings: One of the coolest thing about Simplenote was how uncluttered it felt, despite my long scrolling list of hundreds of notes. WriteRoom handles all the notes similarly, except it also shows the .txt file endings. I’m actually not sure why this is the case, since the iPhone can only edit plain text notes (Docs To Go and similar apps not withstanding). I wish there was a way to hide the file endings to make WR look a little cleaner.
  • Manual Sync: Simpletext’s syncing is going to take a while to get used to, especially when it comes to Taskpaper, but more of that in a later review. The main change here, however, is that my Mac no longer automatically “knows” when changes have been made on the iPhone side of things. Then again, that has been the case with Things: you have to load the iPhone client up to get it to sync with the Mac one, and a simple “Sync” on the status bar for Simpletext is much easier.
  • ToDo list is always up top: Unlike Dropbox, Simpletext only sees files at the top level of the folder, so if you want to try and create separate folders for notes and tasks, you can’t. This means that the single .taskpaper file I use for tasks shows up in WriteRoom on the iPhone and Notational Velocity on the Mac, and it even bumps itself up to the top of the notes list whenever I sync my tasks. A minor annoyance, but one worth noting.
  • All colons in the note title turned to dashes: As I mentioned in a previous post about different ways you can use Simplenote, I had tried using Simplenote as a make-shift journal as well as notepad. I titled journal notes as “Journal:”, but Simpletext has, for some reason, replaced all of those colons with dashes. Another minor adjustment in this shift to a new syncing service.

Casualties:
I have really only lost one thing in this experiment with Simpletext: the chronological order of my notes from Simplenote. This doesn’t really matter for most notes, but the “story” that I was beginning to build with my journal entries (no matter how boring it may have been) is now all out of order, since all the files were re-created when I turned everything in Notational Velocity into individual .txt files. Ah, well…

So those are all the thoughts I’ve got on the subject for now. I get way too excited about this stuff, although I’m not quite as hardcore as some of the people on Lifehacker who do everything in plain text. As for the commenters who have mentioned WriteRoom or Simpletext in some of my previous posts…yeah, you did tell me so. It just took me a while to get around to trying something new.

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