The Holy Grail of Journaling Apps

This may be a topic with a limited audience, because I am both a nerd and an avid journaler. It keeps me sane to write down my thoughts, but I’m particular about my data and how it’s managed. I suspect that most people are either one or the other. But that’s okay!

This is still a quest in progress. I have hopes for the future, but no perfect answer. One day perhaps. When it happens, I’ll write a post with lots of exclamation points and enthusiasm. Meanwhile, here’s what I think about it…

What I’m looking for:

Plain text and/or markdown. Nice, simple file format, not proprietary, not locked to any one piece of software, all that good stuff.

Secure Sync Call me paranoid, but I am not comfortable with my sensitive data on Dropbox or iCloud. Dropbox itself says that additional encryption is not a bad idea, and iPhones have been hacked, as Jennifer Lawrence will tell you. In general, given the for-profit nature of software companies, and how they are able and willing to use our data, I want a system that doesn’t have those possibilities. That means either local sync only (my preference) or at least very solid encryption, like SpiderOak and Tresorit (what I’m currently using).

Cross-platform Also complicating things is my fondness for various operating systems. I’m pan-OS. I don’t feel entirely attached to Windows or Mac, or Linux, although my current machine is a Macbook Air, that I dual-boot with Linux Mint. It’s nice. I might buy a Windows laptop next time though (pretty turned off by the new one-port Macbook). No promises. Also I use an iPhone 5c and have a Sero Pro 7 Android tablet. I like to take my tablet with a little keyboard out to the forest for contemplation time, and then sync it up when I get back to civilization. I would like to be able to access and write from any of these platforms.

Pretty I mean, this is always nice. Ambience makes a difference.

Open Source is always a plus. Obviously.


What is currently out there

Basically, the thing that I want is not technically difficult, but it does not currently exist.

Things I’ve considered are:

Day One
I love this program, but it syncs only through Dropbox or iCloud or their own service, and I don’t like the direction they have been taking it, with more fancy social options, location tags and so on. I know the data is readable, but the proprietary format and xml code in the text files, and random digit file naming structure makes it un-hackable. Meaning I can’t write text files on my Android or wharever and drop it in place easily. They do what they do well, but not quite what I want. Which makes me sad, because I do love this app and did use it for a long time.

DayJournal by Burn Software
This is a simple Linux app that is wonderful for a couple of reasons. The interface is minimalist, but I love the fact that it has a very simple, intuitive file structure, and it’s text file based. I can write a text file elsewhere, and drop it in the file structure and it works so long as I name it according to their convention. This is great. They do have a Windows version, but nothing for Mac, and I have been unable to get the Windows version going through Wine or anything like that. If I could get it going on Mac, it would totally become my go-to.

What I’m using right now:

A simple text file structure with my favorite text editor. I’m using a simple text file structure, with folders like this:


That way it’s easy to sort through. I use Ulysses most of the time, because it lays the folders out nicely, and there’s a search function built in. Atom text editor has similar features, if not as polished. Notebooks App is also good. I’m sure there are others that would work well enough.

For sync, I’m currently using Tresorit. On my Android tablet I can sync it, and edit or create new files using a text editor: Ted is my favorite, or Jotterpad or IA Writer, (although IA Writer is more trouble than it’s worth currently, because it requires an additional export step and rooting. The folks there told me they may add file system access in a future release, which would be nice).

On iPhone, it’s not functional because text editing is not built into the Tresorit app, and moving or managing files is almost impossible on iPhone unless you want to use the apps and iCloud the way they want you too. So I don’t really try anymore. But bless Notebooks App, because you can apparently do a local webdav sync between Mac and iPhone.

Honestly, any time someone makes a piece of software intended to keep you in control of your own data, I want to give them a high five. Thank you.

Also, backups are definitely key. I do occasional backups of my hard drive onto two different external hard drives, and use Spideroak for smaller document backup.

So there you are. If you know anyone who has made this for all of us, I’d love to know. Good luck, nerd rebel writers!