Review: Day One, simplicity in journaling

Posted on by Mike Evans

Day One in a Mac OSX windowForget the bells and whistles, forget the layout and extras, the only thing that matters with a daily journal is regularity. If you’re not motivated, no amount of smart journal software will succeed. I’m not alone in having a desire to keep a diary or journal. Heaven knows, I’ve tried often enough and, always, the good intentions have withered in the face of the daily slog of writing a few words.

I’ve tried a number of journal applications for iOS and Mac over the years, including MacJournal, but the one that comes nearest to style perfection is Momo Note. With Momo Note you have native iPad and iPhone applications, both of which (particularly the iPad version) are visually stimulating and fully featured, including tags. Unfortunately Momo Note is let down because it doesn’t have a Mac version. Instead there is an excellent web-based application that works well but, of course, is available only when you have an internet connection.

Another of my experimental apps, this time restricted to the Mac, is Per Se which shows great promise, particularly if who want to add photographs and other media to the daily doings. It’s more of a blog than a journal but what it does it does with aplomb. It’s pretty and fun. Sadly, without synchronising iOS applications it is not practical for me.

One of the biggest problems with journal apps—in contrast, for instance, with plain-text note apps—is the difficulty of export and import if you decide to try another platform. In most cases your journals are trapped in a proprietary format or spewed out in plain text which is difficult to match with the import in another application. Even those such as Momo Note, with an export facility, can fail when exports are re-imported into another application. Dates and tags are the essential information, but I’ve experienced great difficulties in achieving clean transfer of data without editing all entries. 

Day One, the subject of this review, does have iOS and Mac applications which are all elegant and simple, though currently lacking in some features. In particular, there is no tagging feature which the developers have promised in a future release. All that exists at the moment is a “Favourite” flag which isn’t particularly useful. And in common with some other journaling apps, there is no way of exporting your information in a format is then easy to re-import into another app. The only choice is *.TXT but I suspect more formats are planned because there is a pull-down choice box containing just the plain text option.

This is the iPad configurationOnce exported, all the vital information is there, including the date, a true/false flag for the favourites button and good old plain text for the entry. But to get this into, say, MacJournal or Momo Note would involve a lot of fiddling around. MacJournal offers perhaps the most comprehensive of export options but, from experience, finding the one that works with another application is difficult. No doubt the good doctor Drang of Leancrew or Brett Terpstra would knock up a script in two seconds, but I’m just Mr. Average Joe and I crave built-in automation.

Frankly, what we need is a common format for journal entries that is recognised by all applications that store notes chronologically.

All this is pretty incidental to the biggest problem of journal software and that is in keeping up the entries regularly. In my opinion there are two overriding requirements for a good journalling application:

  • Constant availability on all your platforms (in my case Mac, iPhone and iPad)
  • Effective synchronisation via Dropbox or a proprietary cloud.

Day One meets these criteria. It offers a simple but very effective means of entering chronological notes which are then synced across all your devices via Dropbox. As usual, though, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Dayone in iPhone modeDay One is the first journalling application I have managed to keep alive for more than a few days. I’m now into my 62nd day and, so far, I’ve found something to say every day. It is the first application of its type in which I’ve had the confidence that I could keep it going.

Day One is currently a simple canvas, but it works. Tags are missing, as I mentioned, and this is the biggest problem for me. Tags in a journal are almost essential so you can review activities in a structured way other than chronologically. According to the developer’s web site, tags are on their way and I am content to believe in this and face the task of categorising all my enteries when more features are added.

As a note-taker, though, Day One is great. It supports Markdown and is suitable for creating formatted notes that can be copied and used elsewhere. Federico Viticci of MacStories is a committed Day One user and he has a lot more to say about the three apps. Will I keep it up? Only time will tell, but so far Day One jumps the first hurdle. It’s there on my home screen and I am encouraged to make a few notes whenever I open my iPad or iPhone.

Costs from the App Store: Mac, £6.99, iPad and iPhone (universal) £1.49. Total, £8.48

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