Plain Text vs. Notes/writing apps

I’ve been using it for a while. I dump notes and images in it as I’m processing neuroimaging data. No complaints.

Edit: in addition to iOS they also have a Windows version, if one needs that kind of cross platform.

@ryanjamurphy How do you settle with DT on mobile? At the moment I just sync the global inbox because I use multiple databases and syncing is slow. This means that DT on mobile isn’t much use, and the app isn’t very good either.

All of this prevents me from using DT as an active system - it ends up being not much more than a filing cabinet where documents go to die.


DTTG sync is pretty fast after the initial one. I’d let that complete and give DTTG another shot if you are already using DT3 on the desktop

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It can be a real pain. I went through app hell trying to get it to any degree of speed in the first year I was using it. And I am so sad that DT3 is so far ahead in terms of features…

A few things made a big difference for me, though, and it’s definitely useful to have:

  • I use local, Mac-to-iOS syncing. It is much much faster. You can use this and use any other syncing services simultaneously and they don’t conflict. (I read somewhere that you can do a cable-based sync, too, which may help for the initial sync if you’re loading up something huge.)
  • I broke down my databases. I was stubborn for a while and left basically everything in one, but that meant sync almost never completed properly.
  • I minimized the number of tags. For a while I was automatically tagging items and had thousands of tags with 1-2 records. This was dumb for a number of reasons so I stopped.
  • For my working files, I index iCloud folders. This means that you have two paths to get iOS access to those files: DEVONthink To Go and Files. This does mean you’re taking up double storage though.
  • I accept DTTG’s limitations. I use it as a file-finder (e.g., if I want to show someone something, I know I’ll find it in DTTG), as a reliable repository (e.g., I can point Shortcuts to data-storing items there), and as reference (papers and highlighting). I don’t try to do a lot of file creation/manipulation in it.

I had huge hopes for Notebooks but, as far as I’ve seen, it still lacks a decent web clipper. (Despite how dusty the app is, Evernote still reigns king in that field and I wonder why no developer seems intent on taking that crown from them.)

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I’m not ready to give it an endorsement as my go to for everything, but for some use cases I’m finding Notion to be pretty great.

I’m using it for study material (my job requires a written test every 5 weeks).

Being able to use toggles is great to write notes in question format with the answer behind a toggle.

If I want to go more in depth I can create a new page right within the same document.

Again, it can’t replace an everything bucket (yet) but for some uses it’s very powerful.

I have and is DT as well but even the sync annoys me. It’s something great about Evernote. Sync is so fast.

So thanks for sending me down the ZettelKästen rabbit hole :confused:



I am evolving more and more toward a plain-text, app-agnostic approach. Take markdown, for instance. I can edit it with anything from TextEdit to nano in the terminal to LibreOffice to VS Code. Having a preview is secondary and not essential (although preferred).

Currently I am using VS Code for both ZettelKästen files and all my SSG sites using 11ty (markdown, nunjuck templates, javascript, CSS, etc.) I like that the files are both portable to many editing environments and can be powerfully parsed/manipulated by 11ty or other SSG’s. It’s a ‘separation of concern’ between content authoring and content output. All the power has been moved to the generator. By the time the file is delivered to the reader it’s in plain old HTML.


Like @ryanjamurphy, I keep my notes in standard file formats (typically HTML for me, so that I can use rich-text features like multiple highlight colors and text colors, but also lots of diagrams, spreadsheets, etc., in other standard formats) in my computer’s filesystem and index them in DEVONthink (v2), with heavy use of file tagging. I never edit the content of files in DEVONthink, but use “Open with…” (usually “Open with default editor”, keyboard shortcut: shift-command-O) like @tonycraine and @ryanjamurphy to edit files in my preferred editors.

I also use, Finder, BBEdit, and Terminal to browse/search/batch-modify files. This is another benefit of using standard file formats in the filesystem: I can use a variety of file editors and filesystem interfaces. I suspect this gives me more control than the “obscured database” approach that you mentioned as the alternative.

I’ve been happily working this way for about five years and I don’t anticipate changing.


How do you edit HTML files? That’s been my main hesitation with that format. Are there any semi-WYSIWYG editors that provide a nice experience?

I feel a little embarrassed by how low-tech my response is: I use TextEdit for notes! I think it works great. It’s full, not semi, WYSIWYG. I wrote an AppleScript service that I invoke with a keyboard shortcut (F16) whenever I want to write a note. It prompts for a date and time (autofilled with the current date and time), creates an HTML file at the proper place in the filesystem, opens it in TextEdit, and inserts the provided date and time.

I only use TextEdit for notes and journal entries in my Zettelkasten-like personal hypertext system (and yes I insert hyperlinks between relevant notes in addition to tags). Longer-form one-off writing projects, formal letters, etc., are done in other apps (Scrivener, Word, etc.).

Years ago, the DEVONthink developers quickly implemented a feature request of mine (or bug fix, depending on your point of view) so that I could do things the way I wanted, which was very helpful.


Huh. I didn’t know TextEdit handled HTML at all. Thanks for the elucidation!

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Tip: Use TextEdit’s Preferences to set the HTML saving options.

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@nat-art You mentioned using the Leap app and I see that it and the related Yep app are part of the latest BundleHunt offering. What are its benefits?

Wild! Haven’t heard of anyone doing this before.

@gxwilso: Leap’s greatest strengths are in tag browsing/management. If you are not a heavy user of tags you may not have any use for it. I will quote what I wrote elsewhere about it:

if all notes are stored in the same location (as say ‘Notes Universal’ within iCloud Drive, Dropbox etc.), the apps used to access them matter less. As long as they can be pointed at that single source for reference, editing, or managing.
DT3 can also join the party without becoming the centre of attention.
Hazel can be used to sort notes into subfolders allowing you throw your gems into one basket knowing they will be sorted into diamonds, sapphires etc.
The same system works well for the downloads folder. FWIW.

Hook is worth a look for unifying research activity.

Thursday,12 March,2020. 08:47 UKL


I know I’m late to the party. I’ve been using plain text in DropBox for years. First with Byword. Now with Ulysses. Write in Drafts then copy over later.

Including pix or sketches with notes make them more effective. This is clunky vs not possible with plain text. May just go back to Evernote (with all its problems).

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Same here! It is exactly how I feel. I have recently been using plain text for most of my writing. I have been accessing these files using Vim on the Mac and iVim on iOS. It has been working well so far.

I’d like to think that the older you get the more likely you are to go for plain text. It’s not just that plain text was first and old-fashioned, its that you gain experience over the years of being burned when the format you had been using goes away. (I still have some WordStar files from the early 1980’s)