Welcome to the Collate Blog!
As our first blog post, let’s kick things off with the story of why I created Collate in the first place and the ideas that were the main driving force behind the app.
There are a lot of note taking applications out there. Some of the big ones are Evernote, Microsoft One Note, Google Keep, Simple Note, and Apple Notes. Every one of these have an amazing feature set, they’re highly polished, and are available on pretty much every platform available. So why reinvent the wheel?
Well, I see it as basically the same problem Goldilocks had.
- Evernote was pretty good for a while, but then the interface changes started happening and they started slashing features, which made it even less attractive. The worst part was that Evernote forces you to use their syncing platform and so my data didn’t truly feel like it was mine. Along with that, it was wrapped up in a non-standard ENML markup language, requiring you to use their application to access your notes. This requires to you to be fully invested in their ecosystem, which I did not want to be.
- Microsoft One Note is pretty good but its interface was too confusing. There is just way too much going on with One Note’s interface, with the Notebook/Tab/Note organization, hap-hazard tagging, and millions of different formatting options. One could spend days getting stuck formatting notes. The good part is that you don’t need to use their syncing system through Microsoft One Drive, the bad part, however, is that these notes were also in a non-standard XML based markup language. Try reading it in a text editor.
- Google Keep is basically an online post-it note. Great for reminders, but not for more complex note taking needs.
- Simple Note has a beautiful editor, but it’s just too simple for my taste. The interface is basically a text editor with some syncing. It’s great if you’re only interested in storing text but not much else.
- Apple Notes is pretty great and Collate shares a lot of the same features. The one major problem is that it’s only available on the Mac ecosystem.
So on and so forth. Before biting the bullet and creating Collate, I spent hours trying to find the right note taking application to suit my needs and I still wasn’t satisfied.
What I wanted from a note taking application:
- I wanted to own my data, and have access to it in 5, 10, or even 50 years. It had to be in a format that could be parsed and read without the application itself. No special markup languages, file formats, or programs. This basically leaves one option: plain text. Plain text was the basis for the Collate Note Format which at its core is just plain text files, stored in directories. As long as the data is intact, your data is safe and accessible for many years to come. Check out an example collection here. Here’s a really basic spec too.
- The file format had to be simple enough for somebody to browse in a file browser and open with a text editor. This was to guarantee that even without the application, the files would persist and could actually be worked with by themselves. The application would just make things easier and add some neat features on top of the data format. This is why I settled on Markdown for note bodies and YAML front matter for metadata. Markdown has the right mix of rich text formatting and readability, and YAML formatted meta data offers a highly readable format for both humans and machines.
- I wanted the interface to be simple and offer a very fast and convenient way to create notes. You should be able to open the application and start writing quickly without having to deal with user interface cruft. It just needed to work, work well, and be easy to use for everybody.
- Cross platform support was a must. We’re getting to a point where we use multiple operating systems on a daily basis. High availability for a note application is essential, meaning that in order to effectively take notes, you’ll need to be able to do so from any device you own. Collate is starting on the Desktop and I’m hoping that once it’s stable and ready to go, I can begin work on a cross platform mobile application.
- Privacy is a huge concern in this day and age, when the government can gain access to your data stored in the cloud with a simple court order. With Collate, I wanted an offline first application which allowed you to store and sync your data however you want. Store it in a cloud sync folder, in a Git repo, an encrypted volume, or a USB key. It’s up to you.
These are the basic guiding principles of Collate. I built something that I wanted for myself, that I couldn’t find in the multitude of options out there. I hope that you try it out and see if it also works for you.
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