New app: Ixnote (concept mapping, atomic notes)

I’ve been pretty good about not picking up new apps recently, but I recently discovered Ixnote (or “ixnote” perhaps— capitalisation rules for lowercase brands always give me pause…).

It’s billed as a PKM / note-taking / second brain app, and I know that billing will turn some people away. Also, I suspect many of the people who are still in the market for such things might find ixnote to be more minimal than they’d hope for. I can’t currently see myself using it for meeting notes, though I can see how that might work. Regardless: having played with it for a bit, I think it’s worth further investigation.

Personally, I think it’ll fit a particular gap in my own system as a useful complement. While I’m happy with my current set-up, I’ve been on the lookout for a way to visualise relationships between key concepts beyond traditional hierarchical mind-mapping (where each node can only have one parent) or the force-directed network graphs that have become so popular of late.

The app is based on a principle of atomic notes rather than long-form writing, and as far as the UI goes, it feels like the text field for entering/editing notes is deemphasised in favour of the display of relationships between notes. No markdown or other text formatting, no wikilinks, no images. Just text. Coming from the relative maximalism of other note-taking applications with custom keyboards, plugins and shortcuts for inserting formatted elements, it took me a second to appreciate that ixnote presents a very elegant and refined interface for building a repository of short, linked notes— to the extent that even the metadata you might usually capture within a note is probably best rendered as separate items (see the image below). Again, I think this makes ixnote really useful for relational concept mapping.

Tapping anywhere on the current note at the top lefthand corner of the interface opens that note for editing in a small text window.

Import from csv, export to csv, freemind (mind map) and markdown. It works with files (*.ixnote) synced via iCloud Drive. I’d love to see automatic hyperlink recognition and maybe some support for URL schemes to integrate it a little more tidily with other apps I currently use. All in all, I’m looking forward to seeing whether I can derive some meaningful use from it. It’s currently available to download for free, so I hope the developer garners enough attention to support future investment…

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Looks interesting, visually. I’m not sure I like the small editing window in the upper left. I’d like to be able to move it to the center since that is where my attention would be for meeting notes. I’ll probably wait to try this again until the interface is more flexible.

Really interesting idea. I’ve thought the idea of a second brain/Zettelkasten in mindmap form is the way I’d like to work. TheBrain always seemed a bit clunky (and expensive), and traditional mindmapping tools become unweildy once the map scales. ixnote forces succinct, atomic notetaking which for me is a good thing - I have created lots of extensive notes I’ll never read again. URL recognition would be great here, as you’ve said, as it would make references to other documents and websites simple. Perhaps file attachments too… it could be a really innovative filing system for research.

I’ll have a play with this. Thanks for sharing.

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I downloaded, and tried to try the app, but wasn’t able to get even the first two nodes working together.
So, from my side, the way to use the app seems to be at least for me not Intuitive enough.
Also the pictures I saw in the app stores are looking to me very unclear, with all those lines running across each other.

Very disappointing, and I feel that those apps, claiming to be “The Best…” turning out often to be the worst in my opinion, after trying them, don’t know why…? :thinking: :angry:

Interesting. My experience has been on the iPad/iPhone. I swipe left on any of the notes in the list to link them to the current note (the one displayed in the top lefthand corner). Curious to know if there’s a specific platform you’re finding this difficult on, or whether you’re trying to link notes in some other way.

It did me a second to get my head around the way ixnote works, being so used to text editors like Draft and PKM apps like Obsidian/Roam/Logseq/Thunk. Once I got my head around it (and it didn’t take that long really) it actually makes good sense.

I agree with you on the hyperbolic over-promising of marketing copy in general. That said, I have a soft spot for solo developers who seem genuinely invested in making apps that bring something new or different to crowded spaces (particularly those invested in developing meaningful tools for i*OS), so in this case I was willing to forgive! I’ve shared a few thoughts with the developer since I started exploring the app in the last day or so and he’s proven responsive. It’s pretty new, so if it interests you in any way and you have any feedback to pass on, he may well find it useful.

I like the idea of atomic level linking - which is why I prefer outliners that treat blocks as first level citizens. I am encouraged by the idea but am unable to imagine how the bottom up will work. I have written to the developer, waiting to hear back from him :blush:

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Help me understand: what do you mean by “bottom up” in this context?

I meant aggregating these micro notes to build a bottom up structure. The interface looks like it will get cluttered very quickly.

It was not obvious to me, that it work this way, and it also did not show this while I tried the App. Also I had some difficult to figure out, how to disconnect the nodes.
I can’t see any advantage for me, or even an part of my workflow, where I could integrate that.
As far as I understand, I could make a note, in a format that could only be read by the app itself in a useful way (I know, that I could open the file with any text editor, but it contains a lot of other stuff, beside the text of my note, so it is worthless to do it this way!).
Then I could make a link between this note, and some other notes.
If I click on one of the notes, it is jumping around between the notes, and sometimes I get a line between some connected notes, and sometimes I don’t, for whatever reason?
I also seem to not be able to get a view of all notes on one screen with the connections or not?!

If you don’t want to make a view of the different stations of the Tube, what could be a real useful use of this app?

If I compare the app with other apps, doing similar things, it seems to be neither a useful Notetaking App, like Obsidian/Loqseq/Notion and so on, nor a useful App to build a Mindnode.

I maybe just miss this, but what could be the big advantage of this app?

I didn’t really see anything on the ixnote website that drew me in and would justify investing time in it. There are so many apps in this space now that the bar is very high. If I’m missing something, please do tell.

Looks similar to TheBrain.
As can be seen in the screenshot and video below, TheBrain has the map on the left, the contents of Thoughts (notes) on the right. Lots of room for editing, etc.

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You must have missed the pullquotes from Robin Williams, Richard Branson, Octavia Spencer, and… someone named Steve

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I’ve heard lots of good things about TheBrain over the years. Unfortunately, the aesthetics were a barrier to entry for me, and as far as I’ve experienced it, the i*OS version isn’t as fully featured as the macOS version? It’s been a while since I last looked. Perhaps things have changed on that front.

And yes, crowded space. Ixnote may not be direct competition for other “fully fledged” PKM apps, and I wouldn’t necessarily suggest it as a replacement for something like TheBrain or any of the other Roam-likes. But I actually find the relatively limited toolset it currently offers to be refreshing, and I wonder whether it might be attractive to people who have a simpler set of needs. Like I say, I’m not planning to use it as a replacement for my current notes system, more as a complement.

For me? Simple concept mapping. I haven’t encountered as many issues in understanding the way the app works or deriving some preliminary value from it, even after an hour or so’s quick play. For visual representation of related concepts/entities, my current goto is iThoughts, but the possibility of rendering many-to-many relationships in ixnote is attractive to me. Of course, I might well be in a very small market… (I’m hoping not too small; I’d love to see what this app could become…)

The slider at the top right of the interface allows for some filtering. This might account for some of @Ulli’s queries about link lines that don’t appear? Haven’t yet spent enough time with it to test how well the filtering works, but I did see this about it: using ai to filter your topic graph in ixnote — ixnote

First blog post on the site seems to be just about a month ago. Maybe the pullquotes will be replaced with further favourable feedback?


Phew. Feels like I’m going to bat for an app I got a little excited about and wanted to share in case others found it useful! Regardless, I’m still looking forward to seeing how it develops. I’m going to continue trying it out to see if it claims a space in my toolset. Hope someone else here finds it at least interesting enough to try out or offer the developer some useful feedback.

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Me! It’s interesting enough to me to provide some feedback. Mindmaps don’t scale, and TheBrain is aesthetically discouraging :sweat_smile:. Its forums seem to be full of disgruntled long term users.

That ixnote doesn’t provide acres of space for editing is a plus for me… I want notes about relationships to be short, atomic and, if necessary, point elsewhere for more details. Then again, I’m no longer an academic researcher.

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Hi all, I’m the creator of ixnote’s. I’ve been lurking; read your first impressions; thanks so much for showing interest in my little app. As I have been using ixnote for 2 years now, in hundreds of meeting across about 100 projects, I wanted to try and answer a few of the questions, and I am happy to take more.

As several have mentioned or asked me directly, I am looking into how ixnote can support URL and email links in the notes. Thanks for the feedback!

@jsamlarose first, thanks for starting this thread off!
Atomic notes - I used Obsidian, Evernote etc., for many years and realized that each long-form linear note contained multiple facts and ideas. Atomic notes break things down to their smallest size, and at that scale, the links are essential to give them context. That’s why the links are emphasized in the interface; the 1st and 2nd-degree connections give the note its context.

@runhikemike unhikemik - the typing area is small; you are correct. That is because with ixnote I don’t take meeting notes by typing; I take meeting notes by linking. Meetings and lectures cover familiar ground most of the time. It’s Monday, 1pm, so I’m with the marketing team (I know all of them) talking about the same topics, web traffic, the results of ad campaign XXX, and the new project to refresh the website. I build my mind map of the meeting by linking all those atomic notes to an atomic note with the meeting title and date. In every meeting (with luck) there’s something new to record, a new project, task, or something, and that’s quickly typed in the little text field.

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@nationalinterest you are correct, the interface is designed to force succinctness. What I was trying to create was a way to look at 50 notes at the same time. Obsidian and tools like it have 2 viewing modes of the graph. Look at the whole graph as a point cloud; no readable information, just a warm fuzzy feeling that there is a lot there, or 1-3 notes side by side. Using a compact mind map format, many notes are visible at the same time. I find that sparks a lot of discovery.

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@Ulli - your feedback is very welcome, I use ixnote exclusively on the iPad, so its interface is optimized for touch. The mac-version is definitely a bit more clunky. I will be working on that; one idea is to use the extra screen space the mac affords to add link and unlink buttons permanently to the left of the notes, so it’s always just a click.

As for the use of the word best… I agree, but that’s what people search for… Best XXX on iPad, Best cordless mouse etc., its something I wrestle with, and might remove. Thanks for sharing your opinion.

As for the crisscrossing lines, as you add notes and traverse your graph ixnote will do a better job of sorting the more heavily used notes to the top, which tends to clean up the crossing a bit. Still, it’s not totally unavoidable without duplicating notes, as I do when you export a .mm file and open it in a mind map (see how-to export .mm mind map files from ixnote ).

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Thanks for the reply and explanation of your use case. It makes a lot of sense in that context. In my line of work, I work with different customers on a daily basis and try to take detailed notes on requirements and potential solutions. While many have similar requirements, the details are always different. I might find a place for ixnote for internal projects, which, as you say, would cover a lot of the same topics on a regular basis.

I tried on the mac, and I agree with the comment above, it’s one of the most unintuitive app I’ve used in a long time.

Onboarding is incorrect for mac and makes things worse, app doesn’t seem ready to be used on mac.

I tried it at that time only on iPhone and iPad, so my problems did not occur on the Mac.

First, who is “people”?
Second, if someone is looking for “the Best” of something on the internet, he/she will definitely not being fooled by someone, who claims that his product actually is “The Best”, while it actually turned out to be an Alpha-/Very-Early-Beta-Version, if you even want to call it like that!
There are countries in the world, this could even be punished, and beside that, I personally don’t like a behavior like that, and it is a reason for me, to turn away from a product like that!
Nobody has a problem, if an Developmentversion is called so, and someone who might be interested could join the Tests at an early stage.

Further, if I take notes I want the notes, where I placed them, or where I expect them!
If I have a larger Mindmap (I have e.g. currently one with around 1.500 nodes) I don’t want the need to use a search engine every time I want to look at some point of the map, because some, so called A.I., has “sorted” everything again, specially if it is done with some uncontrollable/hardly controllable settings.

Speaking about your “Export” function:
Have you really ever tried to “Export” something from your app into a .md-File, if your note also contains some text?
I have done it for a test, and guess what, the main part of the text within my note wasn’t “exported” at all!
And to be not surprised, it is the same behavior, if you try to “Export” something into an .mm-File.
So, at the best, you have an app, where you can draw an clumsy kind of an “Single-Term-per-Line” mindmap. Any notes, that you add to that, are lost during the process, you call an “Export”!
And beside that, it is even not possible, to “Export” the whole Map, but only single nodes!

It might be, that this App is working perfect for your personal needs, and I know, and respect, the work it takes to write an App.
But your approach to get this app into the public is a complete Dead-End, from my personal point of view.
I would redo the “marketing”, start an alpha-phase with a small group of interested users, and collect their thoughts and needs for an app like that, then go thru the necessary development process, start at some point an Public-Beta, and if everything has reached a level at which it at least does, what I now promise it would do, then I would think about an RC.
Sorry!

A few possibly alternative personal view(s):

  • The app is a free release. It costs me nothing (or maybe 5-10 minutes) to try it out and decide whether it might work for me or not.
  • I’m pretty immune to any claims made by apps these days. I expect app developers to write whatever they think will communicate to their users, and acknowledge that I may not have been the user they had in mind. Having spent a lot of time experimenting with a lot of different apps, I’ve learned to read between the lines. I don’t really care if this one claims to be the best anything. My experience of the app matters more to me than the marketing copy.
  • I’m grateful ixnote is available and that I can try it and offer feedback on what might make it better now, rather than sitting on the outside of a waitlisted testing group for a year or more before having the opportunity to do so.
  • Where an app is a new release of something I don’t yet depend on, I’m inclined to allow for the possibility of growth and development over any flaws I might pick up on, if the core offer is enough to pique my interest.
  • I have different expectations of ixnote than I do of iThoughts (or any other mind-mapping apps like iThoughts). I think ixnote has something different to offer beyond the spatial placement of nodes in a network that mind-maps allow for. I don’t think ixnote is trying to be an iThoughts (or MindNode or other mind map app) replacement. While they may exist in similar places, I wouldn’t critique one on the basis of my expectations of the other.
  • I’m interested in seeing meaningful ways of representing relationships between nodes/concepts/entities that go beyond the trope of the network graph. Particularly on i*OS. So even if it has a few rough edges, I celebrate ixnote’s developer for the work that’s been done thus far.
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