New Simplenote is a small and simple note co-editor


I used Simplenote a few years ago, but had some issues with it, not the least being that I couldn’t reliably get it to sync notes between web and iPhone versions, and there was no sharing of notes. But I always liked the concept of a small and simple note app with sync and storage in the cloud.

Somehow I had missed the fact that the Simplenote team at Codality were acquired by Automattic, the organization behind WordPress back in January, and that they have been at work on a redesigned application family ever since. New apps for Android, iPhone, and Mac OS X have been rolled out, most recently for the Mac in September. [Disclosure: Automattic is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.]

The new Simperium synchronization technology is hosted on Automattic’s own servers for WordPress, so scaling should no longer be an issue. And iOS 7 now supports background sync, so I expect that to work better than previously. (Although I did encounter an issue with the Mac client not syncing well, and the app not responding. But I was running it on two browsers, my desktop, and my iPhone, all at the same time, and it did finally settle down with all notes intact. )

The new look is very clean, on OS X, iOS 7, and web implementations — I haven’t tried Android. Here’s the OS X version, showing the means to share a note: adding an email address as a tag, and the person is invited to share the note. On the side of the inviter, the tag is a reminder.

Screenshot 2013-10-10 14.45.14

This form of sharing is what I call “tooing” — notes are shared independently of others — and in the case of Simplenote, there are no folders or other grouping of notes, so tooing is the only option other than sharing all files. (For more of “tooing”, see “Tooing” beats teaming because all work is personal.)

Strangely, when a note is shared, the receiver of the invitation does not have the identity of the sender as a tag, which seems like a strange omission. On the web version shared notes are indicated by a special broadcast icon, but that is absent on the Mac and iOS versions. I hope they roll that feature out everywhere.

I found a number of oddball undocumented feature, that give me the impression that Automattic are directing the product direction of Simplenote to meet their personal desires.

Screenshot 2013-10-10 15.18.07

I found that if I typed in a date in the title of a note a pop-up menu appeared that pulled in info from Apple’s calendar. I bet they are using that in Automattic.

Simplenote also supports publishing notes to the web, so they can be seen by anyone who has the URL.

Screenshot 2013-10-10 14.46.43

The rendering of the web page can take advantage of markdown or html styling, but it appears as text in Simplenote. Likewise, I can compose a draft of a report or a blog post in Simplenote using markdown and then copy and paste the result into other editors, like Google Docs or WordPress.

The Bottom Line

Rather than storing my notes in text  files or Pages documents, I plan to keep my notes in Simplenote for the next month or so, and see what other features emerge from the developers. At the very least, the product’s syncing, sharing, tags, and web page publishing make it an attractive and easy-to-use application. We’ll see what other features pop up. But I think the baseline they have implemented sets the stage for a serious push in the co-editing space. Now, all I want is the comment thread in each document like Quip (see I want a social editor, but Quip isn’t there quite yet), and something like folders, and I’ll be happy.

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