Local knowledge base note taking apps

Some time ago in our Matrix chat these three tools were mentioned:

I’m thinking we should review these and decide on maybe listing them if they’re good.

I also would like to take a look at Xournal++ as this could be particularly useful for people interested in note taking with a stylus.

I think we’d be best to have a markdown category, (primarily what the above three tools are).

Help with this particular task would be more than welcome.

I think for a criteria we should look at the following:

  • Non-obscure format which can’t be read by anything else
  • E2EE at rest if stored server-side
  • Acceptable privacy policy.

I think it is better to recommend using first party notes applications over third party notes application ( similar to the office suites section).
I question the need for markdown category as most people aren’t familiar with markdown syntax.

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https://obsidian.md

I wouldn’t be so keen. On the security of plugins — Decrypted | Standard Notes

Unless something’s changed recently, they don’t do E2EE at all.

I dont understand the difference between a knowledge based note taking app (maybe a sort of wiki perhaps?) vs a regular note taking app. Can someone explain the finer points please? Especially if the person writing has no intention of publishing it publicly.

I also see markdown as a slightly different way of writing things, but basically the same as plaintext, or rather something between plaintext and rich text. The analogy in mind would be notepad vs wordpad. Both provide the pretty much same function and the other seems marginally better.

Regular wiki for a start has a lot of overhead, generally a database, and requires specific syntax for editing “pages”. A markdown note taking app like this I assume would have minimal frontmatter perhaps and essentially would just be a collection of markdown documents. (That’s basically what my notetaking is currently).

Throughout university I basically did something like this:

and now I pretty much just use markdown-preview.nvim. That’s obviously not ideal for most people though.

Even now I still don’t really worry about E2EE as my notes aren’t sensitive. If i’m honest I’m not a fan of a thousand different web-based E2EE systems, with varying levels of quality.

If I need E2EE, I will use strong tested products, I know work well, OpenPGP.js, GnuPG, Olm, LUKS, Cryptomator etc, or I simply don’t bother. I think for some companies it has become a “buzzword”.

Public audits are necessary to make sure that the developer has not made the most basic of mistakes or used the product as a “learning project” and then tried to turn a profit on that experience at the risk of users.

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I can answer some of your question here, with Logseq:

  • You can export any notes on JSON format and EDN, their notes are build on plain-text Markdown and Org-mode files.

  • They have no encryption at rest or way to lock the files but they work 100% local, they have a sync feature on beta that they said it will be ee2e and probably paid going by how they charge with to be beta tester (lol)

  • I don’t know what qualifies as an aceptable privacy policy, since those are just words for me. But there you go: https://docs.logseq.com/#/page/Privacy%20Policy

*** Other notes:**

  • it has a learning curve that may be beyond what some users tolerate, so far I don’t think I would recommend it to a no thinker person
  • It has lot of hidden features and not everything is well documented
  • Some of their clients/features are still on beta, I had found some broke UI on their mobile clients
  • They have a journaling feature and so far I feel is that is the best use for the app.

For the other apps, I tested Odisean and it’s more polish and feature rich that Logseq, their files are also local and markdown, I don’t remember if their sync feature is ee2e but there were some community plugins that were, so it seemed better in many ways, minus the fact their app isn’t open source, and it’s team is very against the idea of open sourcing it, even tho their plug-in community is as big as it is because is open sourced.

A big issue I found with Xournal is that their iOS app is not out, allegedly because it is on beta and apple wouldn’t approve it, given it is a flutter codebase and their android repo have not been updated since 2021, I wouldn’t considerate it, an app like that makes more sense on mobile than desktop. And I don’t bet on the niche group of people having wacoms liking the UI.

Another thing I needed to add is why not considering Notion or Notesnook? This latter one looks really good on paper as a regular note taking app.

It seems “knowledge based” note-taking apps don’t have anything to do with privacy or security.
I do not see a point adding a separate category for “knowledge based” note-taking apps in recommendations.

I agree. Also, from what I’ve seen most people use iPad for digital handwritten notes. I think for these cases first party notes apps will suffice (e.g.: apple notes, freeform, google keep).

I don’t think notion is a good option as a “regular” note-taking app as it doesn’t end-to-end encrypt notes or offer local storage option.

Personally I use Obsidian on Desktops as it really helps managing my knowledge with linking, connecting data and references, it also can f.x. integrate with Zotero a tool I use for reference management which is extremely useful this way. It doesn’t get close to what Notion offers but it’s the closed I could get with the features I need. I sync this using my own server, I have not fully looked into the e2ee they offer but it’s too expensive for my liking. I also tried the mobile app and I did not really appreciate that one.

On mobile I only use more simple notes. For these I recently switched to Notesnook from Standard Notes. It has a more complete feature set and especially the mobile layout is feels more close to Material Design I do care for this a lot as it feels intuitive. (If their dev is watching this please make Material You happen in your app :D.)

The point would be giving people more options, “knowledge based” note-taking apps offer a different workflow for organization some people may prefer. If something there should be a “Journal” section with alternatives to things like Penzu, too

Apple notes and freeform makes sense if you are OK with only synching to other apple devices, specially if you use Advanced Protection for ee2e on iCloud, for people who need their notes on multiple plataforms? It is not going to cut it. Google keep is a no go.

Good to know.

What works for you doesn’t necessarily works for everybody.

The notes apps bundled in OS are actually weak in security & privacy.

Apple Notes are not encrypted locally (at rest) for both “iCloud” and “On my iPhone/iPad/Mac” accounts. For each note the padlock need to be clicked and the password typed to manually encrypt it, a tedious process one often doesn’t want to go through. When using iCloud sync, there is advanced data protection for end to end encryption, but it is only available in the US right now and won’t work for many here.

The built-in notes apps on other platforms (OneNote, Google Keep) also has more limitations (forced cloud syncing without support to set your own encryption passphrase.)

imo recommending apps like Notesnook that allow end to end encrypted sync or Obsidian that allow storage in the local file system are still necessary.

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I don’t think this approach will affect scaling because there could be apps for a variety of workflows.
The recommendation should focus on tools or services that helps people achieve their privacy and security goals, rather than a comprehensive list of secure and private tools that cover every aspect of life. These should be chosen by the reader based on their security plan. (similar @ dngray decision about not needing E2EE).

I have made a similar decision that not all of my notes need to be digital. My note-taking workflow is mostly an analog system.

Those three statement contradict each other. How giving people more options to chose will be against their interest on this case? If something, there are currently around 5 topics on this forums related to note-taking, that tells you the current options on the site don’t work for everybody.

Very valid, but won´t work for everybody.

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I think note-taking is a very highly-individual area as everyone has different workflows and needs. It is hard to recommend one specific service just cuz it is open source or private.

It can be encrypted both on the cloud (with standard data protection) and locally (with file vault).

This is not required if you use turn on File Vault or ADP. However, some might find it useful to prevent spotlight indexing the notes (so it won’t appear when you search with spotlight).

Correct. ADP end-to-end encrypt notes if you choose to sync notes via iCloud. You can choose which notes to sync and which one to save locally.

iOS 16.3 RC and macOS 13.2 RC brings ADP to all users worldwide as Apple promised.