Moving Away From Evernote

Reading time ~3 minutes

Update: It turns out I have multiple accounts and was reviewing a secondary account I’d forgotten about and had barely used. Still, it’s a useful exercise to consider the worst case of data loss in a blackbox cloud system. Digging deeper into the topic of efficient and distributed notes, I found that Brett Terpstra has put an incredible amount of time and effort into evolving this space. Nothing yet feels fully baked, but tools such as Popclip (with awesome extensions), nvalt, Bullseye, and GistBox provide a lot of interesting avenues.

A few weeks ago, it seemed my Evernote account was unexpectedly truncated - it went from hundreds of notes to a mere handful. Turns out I was looking at the wrong account - D’oh! Without realizing the mistake, I was suddenly very motivated to find a transparent and robust system for keeping notes.

My personal notes are mostly excerpts from daily tech ramblings - passages and one-liners from projects, emails, chat transcripts, and the Web. I leverage notes to recall information sources, as fodder for blogging, to remember tricky tech solutions and problems, and to share information with friends and colleagues at opportune moments. All the regular stuff.

The (presumed) data loss provided motivation to investigate alternatives. I can’t yet say that my search is anywhere near complete, but following are some thoughts about Smallest Federated Wiki and IPython Notebook, along with musings around a simpler alternative.

Smallest Federated Wiki

Update: I recently listened to the Javascript Jabber episode on Federated Wiki (no longer ‘Smallest’). It’s worth a listen if you’re interested in distributed information systems.

Smallest Federated Wiki is an impressive distributed information system that has a lot of potential to revolutionize the Wiki-sphere. The major block for me with using this project is the investment to learn how to use it correctly. It has a dense UI and is as amorphous as they come. Up front, this reads as a deep investment of time to only possibly get my needs met.

IPython Notebook

IPython Notebook has so far been easy and fun to set up and use. It maps to my expectations pretty well and is very pluggable. IPython Notebook can provide a very similar functionality and experience to Evernote. It also has the capability to execute code, which is an awesome bonus. There are some lacking features with IPython that if addressed could make it even better for this use-case, but as I’m discovering with additional use, IPython is full of fun surprises.

IPython Notebook doesn’t have built-in functionality for creating local directories, comprehensive search, or note sharing. But it’s easy enough to add or make up for these missing features with plugins, in-notebook code execution, and straight bash.

One thing I really miss from Evernote is the ability to embed an HTML snapshot of a webpage in a note. IPython provides embedded iframes, but this doesn’t protect against a page going away.

There are implementations of IPython for Ruby and PHP, which adds further power to in-notebook computation.

For backups I set up an S3 bucket with sync’ing courtesy of AWS CLI ala:

aws --profile=profile-id s3 sync . s3://bucket-id --delete

Simpler Alternative

Getting back to basics, there are plenty of alternatives for assembling a simple notebook repository. The most straight-forward approach would be to write/paste locally in $editor and commit to $vcs repository. This is stable, can be backed up anywhere, and is version controlled. For sharing, specific notes can be piped to Github Gist:

gist -c -p < path/to/file

For increased compatibility and consistency across mediums (notebook, Gist, static website), it’s probably not a bad idea to compose notes in Markdown. There are a few tools for automating conversions to markdown, but it’ll take some investigation to identify whether the below options are any good:

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