Reflecting on Joplin

I've been working with Joplin for a while now. I keep it for notes, to distribute readings to students, and write up my research. I must admit to watching the constant request for features with a certain cocked eyebrow. I'm totally not dissing on people who do. Go for it. Ask for the moon. But, for me, I admit to having come to a realisation and a contentment with what Joplin does, and perhaps an understanding why it does it in the way it does.

Joplin is a markdown note-taking program. That's it. It deals with text. With Markdown. It can also add images, attachments and (for me, thank goodness) ABC music notation ... but that's not its core. It deals with markdown, and is extraordinarily good at it. The more I write, the more I use markdown, the happier I am with it. And I'm not a lightweight user. I write articles. I'm working on a new book. But here's the thing: if a process is not in Markdown (or I can't make it work in html), I probably don't need it.

I have two requirements apart from the markdown: the capacity to sync safely and to publish notes. Evernote allows the latter on the free plan, but it's so incredibly restricted to be useless until the AU$160 personal plan. To get the same in Obsidian—also an excellent markdown note-taking program—costs (checks notes and eyes widen) 283 trembling Australian dollars each and every year. I do not for the life of me understand the program's popularity. In the meantime, I get Joplin Sync—utterly reliable—and the ability to publish notes for under a pineapple (A$50) per year. It's a clean, well-designed app. I've never lost a note. And I can get stuff to students easily. It's fantastic.

Sure, it'd be nice to have other things, OCR of PDFs, more colours, spreadsheet capability, Mermaid 10+—but then, as Gino D'Acampo memorably quipped "if my Grandmother had wheels she would have been a bike". I do use plugins, notably @marc0l92's, ambrt's automatic backlinks, agerardin's knowledge graph and JackGruber's SimpleBackup. But, while I realise I'm probably in the minority here, I really hope Joplin never becomes Evernote. I don't need it. I like the simplicity.

(But then I also like trawling the Obsidian boards and working out how to do what they do for a lot less. So I'm probably a bad person.)


I'm glad that I migrated from Evernote to Joplin a couple of years ago, but there are some things where Obsidian excels, and I don't mean the features, but data portability:

Why I'm leaving Joplin (for now):

Issue No. 1 is more or less solved by the export option "Markdown and Front Matter". Issues 2 and 3 are linked to fundamental design decisions and probably will never change. Obsidian is poor when it comes to built-in syncing options, but it operates on an entirely transparent data structure, namely directory trees with Markdown and resource files in them.

Maybe it would help if the "giant folder" full of attachments accessible in "Tools/Note Attachments" could at least include the original file names which are embedded in the Markdown links of the respective notes.

In terms of features and usability I couldn't think of a better software for note-taking than Joplin.

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Huh, I get what you're talking about. Literally, the only thing I see as an advantage of Obsidian is its storing notes as markdown. I hadn't considered the front matter, but I can see how it would be advantageous.

Still, as someone who ported over thousands of notes from the locked-in hellscape that is Nimbus, I'm not too worried about that. I suspect (hope?) that being FOSS software, Joplin will outlive me in some form. But if the worst happens, I'll sigh and copy the notes again.

I think Joplin does store the original filenames -- attaching a file to a note on iOS, changing the link text, then long-pressing shows a dialog that still contains the original filename.

I think the main issue is that Joplin resource IDs are unique, while the original filenames might not be. This could be fixed by slightly modifying the original filenames, though.

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Quite right, and the lack of such unique IDs leads to complications Obsidian cannot easily deal with:

As you say, original file names aren't 'lost', and it would be a good idea to display them in a separate column in "Tools/Note Attachments".

I think the underlying problem is that there is no unified data structure called "note" or whatever (holding text and resources together) which can universally be processed by different types of software.

Evernote used to brand itself as an "all in one place" solution, but IMHO it's always been a bad idea to throw lots of PDFs in there (i.e. embed them into notes), even with OCR enabled.

Maybe we should all give up note taking and revert to editing text files and keeping photos and documents in good old fashioned directory trees :rofl:

That is exactly what I had been doing for 30+ years when I finally switched to Joplin for my note taking. :smile: I'm an old guy, so I still keep my photos and PDFs in separate directories; I use Joplin only for text notes. I simply don't trust any single app to store a whole bunch of media types and not eventually get itself all bungled up.


I also vote to not over-complicate Joplin.
Stay with markdown text + images linked within the note.
Anything beyond leave up to plugins, not the core.

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