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iA Writer as a Zettelkasten Note Archive

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  • Cool! Has anyone put together a quick comparison of iA Writer and The Archive?

  • edited January 2019

    @Eurobubba said:
    Cool! Has anyone put together a quick comparison of iA Writer and The Archive?

    Glad you enjoyed the article! :smile:
    I'd say these can be considered to be the biggest differences, among others:

    A couple of things iA does not have which the Archive does:

    • Custom theming (other than light and dark mode)
    • Quick shortcut to create files when the app is not open
    • [[this]] style of linking

    And things iA has:

    • Multiple working folders simultaneously, indexed
    • iOS, Android, Windows apps
    • Customizable templates for exporting .md files to pdf, .docx and other formats

    But yeah, the really main difference is that Writer is not a Zettelkasten-focused app, it's just a writing app which happens to work well with the method. The Archive, on the other hand... it's super Zettelkasten-y. I use Writer for mine mainly because I was already using it before for school assignments, lecture notes, and I already made the monetary commitment, but I reckon if I had to pick one solely for the Zettelkasten, I might have picked the Archive.

  • Since reading this, I've been playing around with using both The Archive and IA Writer. IA can sync to the same folder (Slip Box, in my case) as The Archive, but you can add additional folders for writing or class lesson plans or scratch notes or whatever else you'd like to have alongside of it.

    Though I still haven't been able to shake myself of Ulysses. So all of this is a moot point.

  • @kevin Ulysses is a well-crafted app, so what's your pain with it that makes you consider switching to anything else?

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • @ctietze I've been trying to go all-in on Ulysses for all of my text. I really like it. But then some kinds of text don't feel like they should be there.

    In a perfect world, I think I would have folder of text files synced across MacOS and iOS between Ulysses, iA Writer, The Archive, etc...

    BUT!

    iA Writer only syncs with iCloud, and Ulysses on iOS can only bring in external folders from Dropbox.

    So I've started to think that Ulysses, while I love it, is the problem with my overall system.

  • @kevin shouldn't recent updates to iA Writer have added proper Dropbox sync, e.g. through the Files app on iOS 11? https://ia.net/writer/support/general/dropbox

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • @ctietze said:
    @kevin shouldn't recent updates to iA Writer have added proper Dropbox sync, e.g. through the Files app on iOS 11? https://ia.net/writer/support/general/dropbox

    You can get to the files, but I think you have to use the file picker with any new file you want indexed or a part of search. Unless I’m doing it wrong, you can’t just mount a folder that’ll sync automatically.

  • @kevin said:
    In a perfect world, I think I would have folder of text files synced across MacOS and iOS between Ulysses, iA Writer, The Archive, etc...

    BUT!

    iA Writer only syncs with iCloud, and Ulysses on iOS can only bring in external folders from Dropbox.

    Well, you could use Hazel or some other folder sync utility on your Mac to keep your iCloud documents and Dropbox folders in sync — of course then you'd be using twice the space and inviting sync errors. (Part of me wants to say use Unix hard links, but I don't think those play very nicely with sync services either.)

  • @Eurobubba said:

    (Part of me wants to say use Unix hard links, but I don't think those play very nicely with sync services either.)

    stares grimly off into distance They most definitely do not.

  • If I am in note 1 and have linked note 7 with it how do I quickly get back to note 1 from within note 7? Do I have to add the link back to note 1? Does that make sense?

  • ⌃⌘→ Shortcut Key for Navigation Back
    ⌃⌘← Shortcut Key for Navigation Forward

    I usually place backlinks when linking.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • I'm new to Zettelkasten, and iaWriter is my workhorse when composing text. I have been looking for a way to combine the two and I built a workflow with Siri Shortcuts on my iPad that

    Asks for a title
    Then creates a new entry with that title in iaWriter
    Attaches the current date & time as a unique ID to the body of the entry
    Here's the rub: Sometimes it works beautifully, sometimes not at all.

    I'd show you a screenshot of the workflow, but unfortunately can't attach anything here. Suffice it to say that the most important line of the workflow is: ia-writer://new?path=/ZETTELKASTEN/Titel.txt&text=Datum.Titel&edit=true

    Any ideas what I got wrong? One thing I haven't figured out yet is how to get the ID automatically to the bottom of the newly created iaWriter entry and the cursor right at the top.

    After googling around for a few days, I found very few workflows for this kind of scenario. Thanks for any tips and hints!

  • I've been using iA Writer as my primary Zettelkasten system for a while now. The writing experience is excellent, but there are some idiosyncratic things about it as a Zettelkasten that annoy me. As has been noted, it's clearly not designed to be a Zettelkasten app, so it doesn't surprise me that it's not going to meet every criteria I have. That said...

    The primary criteria I had when selecting an app for my Zettelkasten:

    • Works on desktop and mobile
    • Saves files to internet storage
    • Supports tags/keywords
    • Supports inline images
    • Supports linking of notes, and preferably backlinks
    • Supports markdown, preferably Multimarkdown

    On the surface, iA Writer supports all of those features with the exception of backlinks. However, after using for some time now, there are a few annoyances with it that are starting to bother me quite a lot:

    • iA Writer opted not to support wikilinks like [[link]] with the rationale that they're not standard Markdown. Instead, they implemented x-callback functionality. This is great if you want to link to notes from other applications, but it falls apart in practice if you ever edit the filename because the links are effectively "hard coded" into the note. It's not a deal breaker for me, but it's not ideal.
    • There are no backlinks, and while at first I thought this wouldn't be a big deal, it's becoming really problematic. I spend far too much time editing links as the system grows and evolves.
    • iA Writer automatically makes the first line of the note the filename. Again, this is fine in principle, but the way they've implemented it, it doesn't scale well if you use a keyboard expansion application. Often I end up renaming files because iA Writer is too quick to commit the filename and write it to my network storage. This also isn't a dealbreaker for me, but it interrupts the flow of note taking and has become an annoyance.

    On the whole, I generally like iA Writer for the writing experience, and I haven't really found an alternative to it that both meets my criteria for a Zettelkasten app, and feels good to write within. The lack of bracketed wikilinks and backlinks would be a really nice thing to have – and I'm increasingly of the belief that this is the key feature needed for a seamless "second brain" system of notes.

    I love the feel of The Archive, as well, but the inability to embed inline images and the lack of a mobile app are deal breakers for me.

  • @peaceblaster I emailed their support and I believe you are able to back link. I provided an example of Note 1 and note 7. Here is their response:

    “ If I understand what you want to do, using a url-scheme will help you.

    In your case, inside of note 1 you would want to include a url-scheme to open note 7.

    To do this, you want to find note 7 in the Library list, long tap on it. You will have the option to Copy URL Command to Open File. Please note that Settings > URL Commands > Enable URL Commands needs to be turned on.
    Then inside of the editor open note 1 and you can paste this as a link. The easiest way to paste this is using the Command keyboard (⌘) and selecting link button. The syntax will look something like this:

    insert name for link here

    This will allow you to link to note 1, however you will need to be in Preview to be able to open from this link. We are hoping to enable this in editor soon. “

    I hope this helps. I have iA writer though am just learning it.

  • For anyone that's interested, I now created a shortcut for iOS that allows one to quickly create Zettels in iA Writer, inspired by @flohma's post. I hope it can be found useful.

    Here's a link to the shortcut and how it works or just a direct link to the shortcut if you don't wish to visit a blog post.

    Comments, additions, etc. are more than welcome.

  • edited April 23

    @peaceblaster said:

    • iA Writer automatically makes the first line of the note the filename. Again, this is fine in principle, but the way they've implemented it, it doesn't scale well if you use a keyboard expansion application. Often I end up renaming files because iA Writer is too quick to commit the filename and write it to my network storage. This also isn't a dealbreaker for me, but it interrupts the flow of note taking and has become an annoyance.

    As far as I understand it, iA will only commit the first line as the filename when you hit carriage return or in general move away from that line. This can be used strategically with text-expanding software to set a filename. It has always worked well with my text expanding app (aText) on the Mac. What app do you use?

    Post edited by trms on
  • @trms said:
    As far as I understand it, iA will only commit the first line as the filename when you hit carriage return or in general move away from that line.

    This doesn't seem to be the case for me, unfortunately. I use Alfred snippets (my snippet is below), and one of two things happens:

    1) If I don't insert the placeholder "_inbox" tag onto the second line of the snippet, Alfred won't automatically write out the filename (which is good), but as soon as I type a single character into the first line of the header where my cursor is inserted, iA Writer makes that single character the filename.

    2) If I do insert the placeholder "_inbox" tag onto the second line of the snippet, iA Writer immediately writes that as the filename when the snippet is inserted.

    Either way I have to rename the file every single time.

    # {cursor}
    #_inbox 
    [//]: # ( UID: {date:yyyyMMddHHmmss} )  
    [//]: # ( Date: {date:yyyy-MM-dd HH:mm EEEE} )  
    
    DESC  
    
    CONTENT  
    
    ---
    **Links & References**  
    
  • @VDL1516 said:
    I emailed their support and I believe you are able to back link.

    Using the x-callback URL link scheme is fine– and it works– but it's not really future-proof "backlinking" because it's dependent on a hardcoded file system URL, i.e. if your filename changes, the link breaks. To me that's not sustainable. Ideally your filename would use a unique ID, and the application would use a fuzzy search to that UID. That way if any other part of the filename string changes, the backlink is preserved, and if you move to another system or need to rely on flat files, you can still derive the backlink to the note.

    Using the x-callback scheme to directly link to iA Writer files from other applications is great, and I don't expect those links to be preserved in perpetuity if my filename changes.

    For me it's mostly an annoyance with iA Writer used specifically as a Zettelkasten, not a deal breaker.

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