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Notational Velocity, Simplenote, and Dropbox bring child-like wonder

TJ Luoma, @tjluoma

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The phrase "game changer" is no doubt cliché and overused, but every now and again it just fits.

I had heard about Notational Velocity when Merlin Mann posted about it on 43Folders. It changed how I use my iMac, MacBookPro, and iPhone, bringing them all together in a very cool way.

The app has been around for awhile (we talked about it five years ago!) but some new features and new technologies make it well worth another look. It took me a minute to understand why I'd want Notational Velocity, it because it sounded like yet another "everything box" like Yojimbo, which I was already using.

Notational Velocity does save notes, either in ASCII, RTF, or HTML, but with the latest version, Notational Velocity syncs with Simplenote or WriteRoom for iPhone. It also easily syncs via Dropbox if you follow the important configuration notes here.

Imagine if Apple had created an over-the-air method of syncing Notes and it all Just Worked. That's what Notational Velocity has achieved. Notes on my iPhone, my iMac and my MacBook Pro. Edit a note anywhere, and the changes are synced nearly instantly and appear everywhere. It's fast, it's seamless. Thinking about getting an iPad? That's only going to make this setup even sweeter.

Once you have set Notational Velocity to store your notes in individual files, you can edit them with any text editor, or within Notational Velocity itself. You can edit them on Windows or Linux machines synced to your Dropbox. Spotlight can search them. Notational Velocity will search incrementally as you type in the main box, and if it doesn't find a matching note, it will let you create one.

It would be unfair and inaccurate to call Notational Velocity a replacement for Yojimbo. Notational Velocity has basic tagging features, but it doesn't store images or PDFs or web pages. However, during the many, many months when I couldn't get Yojimbo to sync over .Mac/Mobile Me, I fell out of the habit of using Yojimbo. Syncing Yojimbo via Dropbox is dangerous because it stores all the information in one large database. My new habit involves storing individual files in Dropbox: images in ~/Dropbox/Photos, PDFs in their own folders, and so on. Web pages, which I used to store in Yojimbo, I now put into Instapaper. While it is possible to use Yojimbo and Simplenote together, I haven't done it, so I'm not sure how well it works.

After a few days of using Notational Velocity, I exported my entire Yojimbo database to a folder in my Dropbox. An app that used to sit in my dock and auto-launch when I logged in now sits empty. Notational Velocity changed the game, dramatically and quickly.

Notational Velocity is open source, and hosted on GitHub which means that anyone can access the source code and modify it for their own use. Steven Frank from Panic forked his own version of Notational Velocity that includes a third pane to display the note in Markdown format.

Of course you don't have to use Dropbox, or Simplenote, to use and enjoy Notational Velocity. They just work really well together. If you love text files, and especially if you're already using Simplenote, checkout Notational Velocity. It has brought together several bits of technology that I love into a big hot fudge sundae with cookie dough ice cream combination of nerdy yumminess.

Update: It is important to note that if you are syncing Notational Velocity, you should choose either Dropbox or Simplenote, not both. Trying to sync to both will lead to problems (trust me on this one, I found out the hard way). I ended up moving my Simplenote data out of Dropbox so I could sync via Simplenote, because I wanted to be able to use the Simplenote iPhone client.

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