WriteRoom and Notational Velocity

Jesse Grosjean over at HogBay Software put out an update to his fabulous (and free) application, SimpleText, and the change log caught my eye.

The update specifically was to integrate the app (which is the sync system for WriteRoom for iPhone, eventually for TaskPaper for iPhone, and in fact any set of txt files you throw at it) with Notational Velocity, an iconoclastic and intriguing open source note taking data base manager that I tried and dumped a year of so ago because it stored all its data in a central database, obviating my architecture of ‘external to any application’ data files.

So I was trying to figure out how and why would SimpeText work with NV, when it dawned on me to actually go look at the NV application again (duhhh) and I found that in the most recent (Sept 09) release, NV now has the option to not only store data as TXT’s or RTF’s it can also access those files from an any folder, all via a preference option.

The lights clicked on.

SimpleText is a sync tool that reads a folder filled with txt files to a cloud server. There you can edit them in a cool minimalist web page, and from there they are synced to your iPhone. Jesse had just modified SimpleText so it could read and write to a list of txt files created or modified by NV.

So what’ the big deal? People who use NV get kind of religious about the design of the application. It’s an entirely different way to keep notes and manage text; not quite wiki, not quite shovebox. It is designed with the idea that a note once taken can be expanded on rather than recreated. When you create a new note in NV, by writing a new subject for the note, the application brings you to any prior note on the subject with a type along search process. You have to try it to grok it.

I’m not so sure I fully grok it yet, or if I ever will, but I have figured out that NV also works just fine as an editor on a folder of TXT/RTF’s without opening each file, as a ‘Drive by Editor’, you could say. This was the one feature I really missed from Journler, EagleFiler, MacJournal, et al, because I can replicate NV’s searching using Spotlight, and can preview the searched files using QuickLook, but if, as I go through them I say, “Ouch, that’s the wrong word” or “I need to add this idea” it entails popping open the file in Bean or WriteRoom or whatever to make the change. Not a big deal I know but for those minor touchup edits, it’s just enough of a hassle, and is obviated by NV. And maybe someday I’ll get the heading-search-body text architecture of NV.

Bonus: Using Jese’s QuickCursor application (also free) you can edit those NV notes in the zen like wonderment of WriteRoom’s full screen glory, (from NV to QuickCursor to WriteRoom, all seamless) and if you target your SimpleText folder with NV, all those edits end up synced to WriteRoom for iPhone.

Bonus Bonus: All this is happening against my existing library of files that, should any or all of these apps implode someday, will be just as they are now, fully functional for the next system that comes along.

I’m not sure if Grosjean or the NV developers planned on all this integrated goodness to occur, but the combined design is nothing short of near perfect minimalism and maximum functionality in the note taking and text management field.

If you are not using WriteRoom, go get it. Your money is well spent, it’s a great writing platform, then get it all tricked out with QuickCurser and SimpleText to make it really sing. If you’ve never tried NV go download it (it’s free) and see what a unique note taking application looks like. Once you do that the only thing missing will be the data set itself and you can follow my system or concoct one of your own.

More on file systems, archiving and note taking from Dougist…

Dating DEVONThink

Writing Tools – Journler

The Low Fi Manifesto – Data Architecture, and Journler

Shifting Mediums

File System Infobase Manager

Notational Velocity Show In Finder

This entry was posted in Productivity and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Posted January 9, 10 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    Great to hear the integration is working well for you, thanks for your post!

  2. Posted January 13, 10 at 10:25 pm | Permalink


    Thanks for bringing Notational Velocity to my attention. I was already loving the SimpleText.ws in the cloud, SimpleText for the Mac, WriteRoom for iPhone, Write Room for Mac combo that Jesse has made possible. Notation Velocity is the nice addition I was looking for. Thanks!!! But that NV icon – oh my!

  3. Posted January 14, 10 at 8:49 am | Permalink


    +1 on the, I don’t even know how to describe it (Hurst Thrusters?) design. But I did learn a little trick a while back. You can change any application’s icon by popping open it’s info panel in Finder and pasting in an another graphic. I’ve found some note pad like icons and use them, so the NV icon now only shows up when I delete a file or go to help.

    You might want to look at an application called FastIcns for help in changing the icon. And http://www.iconaholic.com/ has some great icon designs.


  4. Posted January 14, 10 at 2:41 pm | Permalink
  5. Posted July 2, 10 at 10:04 am | Permalink


    I am a new iPod Touch user (3 months or so) and I have a 32GB, Gen3 one. I’ve loaded iOS4. WriteRoom for iPhone and TaskPaper for iPhone were among the first apps I loaded on the iPod. I have WriteRoom for the Mac and have recently come to the conclusion that Notational Velocity is for me. Future-proofing and all that.

    I set up NV with the SimpleText folder on my iPod but then was distressed to see (obviously) that all the files showed up on my iPhone. For some reason, I hadn’t seen that part. To date, I have a dozen and a half files (slightly more) I sync with iPhone/WR/TP/ST website/ST app.

    Here’s my question: when you set up WR and TP for the iPhone to be linked with your NV app on your Mac, don’t you have loads and loads of files on your iPhone? Doesn’t that get confusing? Or do you merely search for anything you need (on iPhone) and can get to it pretty easily? In NV on my Mac, I can access stuff quite swiftly. Moreover, is having all that data something you rely on when your mobile?

    BTW, I am really enjoying your website. I found it through Minimal Mac, among others.

  6. Posted July 7, 10 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Hi Scott – (Sorry for the late reply – I was away)

    Yes, it get’s nasty confusing. In TP it is much easier because Jesse has the tagging function installed, so i can sort them out. ]Take a look at his new product, the replacement, it seems for WR iPhone. It will be synced via DropBox, and I assume, will allow for folding at the client level.

    While we are on the subject, I go hot and cold on NV. It’s cool as a drive by editor as I noted, but if you have any kind of intellectual production capacity you wiz past its capabilities to manage data in a meaningful way, rather quickly. I can add a dozen, or dozens) of notes to my info base a day, and I’m adding pdfs and images as well. So I find NV limiting. It’s funny, Merlin Mann was doing a podcast over on Mac PowerUser and was referencing my article on DEVONThink but couldn’t find the exact quote while on air. He powers up NV but because of the size of his database he couldn’t find it in that “in the stress of the situation” situation.

    Where I am gravitating to, through shear weight of real world use, is using the mobile devices just as one would use a paper journal when out and about; a place to ADD new data and ideas as they come up. They then end up on my macBook or iMac, or what amberV has been recently been calling “a legitimate computer” and it is there that they reside. This work flow has been gaining points now that the DropBox mobil apps have a searching function, and now that they allow files to be opened and edited in other app on the iPad/iPhone, and developers are using that API to make their apps DropBox aware.

    So, as a writer, if you think of Journaling separately from Writing (as, to my mind, you should – idea and fact capture is not the same as writing to tone and mood) then the mobile devices become a tool of capture (and a little augmentation in that window before they get moved over to the DropBox/HardDrive folders) and the ‘legitimate computer’ is where the writing takes place, as in Scrivener or WriteRoom or whatever.

  7. Craig
    Posted October 5, 10 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Since I am still happily using Mac OS 10.4.11 the use of SimpleText is not possible for me to be able to sync Notational Velocity with WriteRoom on my iPhone. Also apparently WriteRoom app hasn’t been significantly updated in while to fix problems it has, though it works find for me, but then I’m still using iOS 3 on an iPhone 3G.

    Fortunately for me, apparently SimpleText is being abandoned for a new better strategy that is being first implemented in a new app called PlainText that syncs with Dropbox automatically. So all I had to do was install PlainText on my iPhone and now my Notational Velocity folder in my dropbox is automatically synced on my phone and I can modify the files and even create new ones while I think of thinks on the go and this gets synced back to my NV on my Mac. Awesome! only drawback is I have to use txt files only in NV rather than RTF but most of the time that’s all I really need. The tech in PlainText will be apparently in the next major update to WriteRoom for iPhone whenever that happens.


    I tried TaskPaper, I never cared for it, for to-do stuff I use much more powerful apps, but really daily to do’s go in my paper planner that is much easier and more powerful to use than all that electronic stuff to keep me on track, pencil and paper can’t be beat.

One Trackback

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>