The Importance Of Plain Text

Trunk Notes is just one of many iPhone/iPad apps that make a big thing of plain text. This is a refreshing trend. In the not too distant past it was all about proprietary file formats. If you used an obscure program ten years ago you will likely find it difficult or impossible to open your saved files today without resorting to hackery.

Thankfully times have changed and now it’s all about interoperability. Most modern programs, particularly on the Mac, make use of open file formats and offer multiple ways in which data can be exported. Many people steer well clear of programs which lock data in. With the rate of innovation who in their right mind would spend time building up a vital store of data in an app from which there is no way out?

Plain text is the ultimate in open file formats. A text file is something that can be viewed without the need for any software over and above what comes with your operating system. It’s also hard to think of a modern system which won’t also allow you to edit text files out of the box (just don’t try using Notepad on Windows and expect sanity!)

It’s often the case that once you introduce formatting of text (bold, italics, different sizes of font) you lose the ability to use plain text. The rise though of simple mark up languages – Markdown, Textile, … – provide an opportunity to keep things simple and still use plain text. The great thing about Markdown and other similar syntaxes is that most examples are perfectly readable even if you don’t know what Markdown is or that the text is anything other than plain text. After a while writing in Markdown becomes second nature.

Who would have trouble reading the following?

To do lists

Stuff to do at the weekend:

  • Research buying a new car

  • Buy food for Saturday dinner party

  • Clean toilet and bath

Trunk Notes stores it’s text data internally in an SQLite database. However you can quickly export all your wiki pages as individual text files. You can also sync text files to a Dropbox account. Images, sounds and other files can be retrieved via iTunes File Sharing or again via Dropbox. Of course I hope that Trunk Notes users never feel the need to move to another app – but if they do then it should be very simple to get their data out of Trunk Notes in a sensible format.

In summary make sure that the apps and programs you trust with your notes and other data don’t stop you from migrating your information somewhere else in the future.