With some reluctance I am finally releasing a very early version of a new personal information manager dubbed “South Lake”. Test release only, macOS only. Use at your own risk!



South Lake clearly draws inspiration from Journler and other similar applications. I still have an intense interest in personal information management and in developing a product that researchers and writers of all kinds really inhabit, something that is essential to cognitive activity in an era of personal computers and mobile devices. How can I best accomplish this? Journler was one attempt. South Lake is another.

The intent is to produce a project based information manager in which documents and text entries are both primary sources. Ultimately the application would also support sophisticated organizational capabilities such as smart folders, tagging and auto-tagging, and machine learning based recommendation and natural language processing (see also, suggested tags, related research, etc). You could potentially import thousands of documents and have them immediately organized or you could build repositories of information from scratch. It would also support internal and external linking and search indexing, ideally to any kind of data (think contacts, emails, google docs, etc).

This is an extremely early release. A lot doesn’t work or doesn’t work properly, but it should give you a sense for the vision. I have a number of reservations about the product and the direction I’ve taken it so far, but I finally decided that I should release it and start a conversation about what a product like this ultimately looks like.

How You Can Help

I am releasing the application at such an early stage in order to begin a conversation with potential customers about how development might proceed. That means I need your help! Please try the application and let me know what you think. Specifically I am hoping to answer a few questions:

  1. Am I building the right product? Is this even the right tool for what you’re doing, or am I way off the mark? I am open to the possibility that this isn’t the right application and that I should be building something else entirely. What other kinds of cognitive tools could I be working on?
  2. Am I supporting the right use cases? What kind of information management do you need: scientific, legal, personal, literary? Are there particular needs you would like addressed?
  3. How can I differentiate this (or another) product from similar, competing products? You have a number of options for general personal information management and some more specifically tailored to your profession. Why use this one?

Feel free to engage in that conversation here or via email. I’ve made my email address available within the application.


There are a number of reasons why I am uncomfortable releasing South Lake.

Personally it is difficult to revisit this space after giving so much time to Journler and ultimately failing with that product. I also remember what it was like running an indie software outfit and I’m not sure if I’m ready to commit to that again. I know that I can really only succeed with the help of others, but will I be able to find partners and build a team? I also can’t say for sure if this is even what I want to build, or if I want to be building software at all. Fear of missing out, fear of failure and fear of commitment are powerful if spurious motivations for pursing some other activity.

Technically I’m dissatisfied with the development stack I selected and worry about the technical debt I may be accruing. South Lake is a macOS native application written in Swift. I value the native macOS experience and have come to enjoy writing Swift code, but dependency management on the platform is a disaster and I am extremely reluctant to lock myself or my customers into a walled garden. Consequently I selected database and search libraries that are not native to the Mac, but I am skeptical of their reliability (the database anyway) and now regret that decision.

I also don’t know how important web based, cross platform or mobile compatibility is, but I have to assume that need exists. If I start with a macOS native application it is difficult to transition to a more widely compatible product. It is not pleasant to maintain multiple code bases and almost impossible as a single developer. The alternative is a web based application from the beginning or native applications that rely on web technologies for their core. If I’m going to change the software stack I need to do that sooner rather than later.

Financially I now have a major expense in my life which is also the reason why the initial development came to an abrupt and silent end: I’m a first time homeowner! I now have a monthly mortgage payment, and independent software development is financially uncertain work, especially at such an early stage. To pursue the project safely I might need some amount of financing but I don’t have experience raising money. The alternative is client or corporate work which both pay exceptionally well right now.

I express these reservations not as deal breakers but to be transparent with the project risks I’ve identified, risks which also affect the customers who might use South Lake. I welcome any feedback you have about them as well. =)

Thanks for reading, and I hope to hear from you.



47 Replies to “Alpha”

  1. Dear Phil,

    Was an avid user of journlr and have enjoyed the Per Se offshoot.

    Would love to try south lake but is not compatible with the oldie versions of OS X. Are there some video or pictures of it for me to get a feel for how it is??
    I don’t plan to update on this laptop, will do if I get a new laptop…

    I’d like to speak with no hairs on my tongue (as the spanish say). I’ve read your blogs and have tapped into how you think and where you are at and think you are really onto something special. A goldmine.

    I get the feeling your journlr success was because you simply flowed with it, mind of a child and also that you had something that soo many other companies wish in their wettest dreams they had. An engaged community of users.

    I still use journlr 2.5.5, worked fantastic for what I needed, but now in work life feel their is an important gap to be filled. South Lake is aiming at that, and holistic solutions are the ones that add the most value to people and society.
    But, as one person commented, it is absolutely fundamental that you focus on a group of users.

    I am very excited for you on this new venture, and would love to get involved.


    1. Hey Tristan, thanks for the kind comment! Yeah I’ll post some screenshots further down the road (literally, I’m actually on the road traveling right now! Well, at a coffee shop at the moment).

      I think you’re right about the level of engagement contributing to Journler’s success, from both sides. We had an awesome community of power users who were always helping new users, and early on I tried to be as responsive as I could.

      If Journler development continues down its purely native path, I probably won’t support much older versions of the macOS, maybe 10.10 but I doubt anything earlier. On the other hand if I do switch to web technologies for the core then supporting earlier versions of the OS should be easier.

      1. Thats great to hear Phil, I miss being on the road !

        I think going down the ‘cloud’ route does make a lot of sense nowadays. Although my perpetual concern is security and unwanted eavesdropping if you know what I mean.
        I was reading about OVH, the french web registrar and more, and how they were planning of opening up a north American OVH but separate to the European one just to make sure their would be no breach of data due to the far reaching claws of the Patriot Act.

        Look forward to seeing the screenshots.

  2. P.S. – I don’t suscribe to such a deterministic vision you wrote about tools.
    Tools are a reflection of what we care about and what problems we are trying to solve.
    Similarly to thinking. We think about things, thought cannot exist by itself but needs a context to arise.
    We could even say that thinking is also a tool. A tool that other animals don’t have as developed as ours.

    ”Our tools, both digital and physical, determine our possibilities for thinking and acting, for being who we are.”

    I think its the inverse, we are and our tools reflect who we are and the context that we are living. Which is why our tools change over time and have gone to different realms. From hardware (plow) to software (journler).

    I like C. Christenssen’s ‘jobs to be done’ perspective.
    To get from one place to another, we used to walk/run, then we used animals. Then we developed cars. Same problem, different ‘tools’/mediums.


    1. Right, but then cars determined how we built our cities and how people typically move around, especially in the US, changing how we eat, our work habits, how we spend time with friends and family, how we recreate, and so on. It’s a circular relationship for sure.

      1. Hehe.
        Was it cars that did that? Or car companies pushing for that change? There is always a human hand pushing for these tools and changes to occur.

        Nevertheless, one thing that really stuck with me is that we adapt to our environment. If we engineered our environment then we will follow this change, thus a space(city) where cars are given importance will have the repercussions you mentioned.
        Similarly, a city designed for bicycles will also have consequences on the people who live there. Was it the bicycle? or Was it the city zoning commission realising that bicycles are the better way to go?

        I think that in the past we adopted tools which were better than our previous ones (like the car instead of horses) with the sole criteria being faster, cheaper and more stuff could be moved around. Now we have new criteria to consider which is making us rethink the tools that we use. I see this very clearly here in Europe, in the Netherlands, in London, Denmark etc.

        What does that mean? I don’t think cars will be obsolete at all but they certainly are changing, reflecting a new context that we live in (climactic variability, pollution, oil prices, middle eastern instability etc).

        I can see that the right way to see technology/ tools is the one espoused by Linklider and Engelbert when they talked (and you also did) of Augmented Intelligence. It reflects a subtler and much more beneficial view of how we should see our tools. The key example is computers. Humans and machine coming together to solve human problems, resulting in huge benefits to our society on soo many levels.

        I think this is the way to go in the burgeoning field of Machine Intelligence. A field which would be great to tap into for your programmes. Imagine journler could talk to South Dakota (or the next development stage and or name it gets) so you could fuse work and private life together. Would definitely give you an edge over other stand-alone softwares. Imagine a family of ‘tools for thought’, which work seamlessly together and solve the many problems people have when using their computers for work and private life.

        This vision would sit next to Steve Jobs’ who talked of hardware and software working together. Look where that took Apple. I think we can conclude that that would be your best selling point.

        That was long, but thanks for reading and taking the time to answer.


  3. Phil, I downloaded South Lake, and I have it running in the background as I write this. (I’m running South Lake in El Capitan in a virtual machine, since I’m still running Mavericks as my host operating system.)

    It feels good to be running another Phil Dow product, and I hope you feel good that you shipped something and got feedback from users.

    Synchronistically, while you were working on South Lake, I was simultaneously trying out other solutions that could serve for me as a successor to Journler, which I was using since mid-2010. I had been procrastinating on finding an alternative to Journler, but your work on South Lake inspired me to tackle the task. So after exporting my files from Journler and trying a lot of software, I feel well prepared to comment on your questions:

    1. “Am I building the right product? Is this even the right tool for what you’re doing, or am I way off the mark? I am open to the possibility that this isn’t the right application and that I should be building something else entirely. What other kinds of cognitive tools could I be working on?”

    I think you have your finger on a legitimate cognitive enhancement need. I don’t think you’re “way off the mark” in identifying the need. But I share your doubts about whether this app is going in the right direction to meet that need.

    A few blog posts I found on the web that indicate the need include: Designing a Personal Knowledge Base (2014) by Alex (and a related discussion at Hacker News); Building Your Personal Database (2015) by Kelly; The Sad State of Personal Knowledgebases (2015) by Marcus (and a related discussion at Hacker News); and What Is Your Personal Knowledge Management Ecosystem? (2012) by Elizabeth, who wrote: “Now, some of us are searching for the tool that will do it all for us – here are the functions that need doing on my list […] I still yearn for one tool, although years ago, when I took a personal knowledge management workshop with Steve Barth, who was about the only expert at the time, he told me I’d have to give up that dream. It took me years to accept that he was right. Why? I can find a tool that does one or two of these things the way I like to do them, and that does it really well. The more functions it adds, the less likely I am to be satisfied by the way it does all of them. And the less likely it is that it will do them all well. Bigger programs tend to be clumsier and slower.”

    If you haven’t read those blog posts, you might check them out and skim through the comments for examples of how people are thinking about and solving this cognitive need.

    2. “Am I supporting the right use cases? What kind of information management do you need: scientific, legal, personal, literary? Are there particular needs you would like addressed?”

    When I was looking for apps in 2010 and I decided to use Journler, my need was similar to the needs in the blogs that I mentioned above: personal knowledge management, broadly conceived. But my ambitions were especially broad: I wanted something that I could use to manage my whole life, and that I could use for personal project management in a systematic way, inspired by books such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done, Hillary Rettig’s The Lifelong Activist, etc. I wanted to integrate a kind of reflective knowledge base (basically a journal) with more or less GTD-style project management. I didn’t want a separation between journal entries and action items, as would happen if I combined a journal app and a task management app. Your documentation for Journler showed that you were familiar with GTD and you were consciously trying to meet this kind of use case. By using Journler’s tags, categories, links, folders and smart folders, I was able to build an evolving system that worked.

    My background is in graphic design, illustration, and writing, but that’s almost irrelevant since I think Journler could have worked for me if I were in almost any other field that involved a fair amount of autonomy. But the key reason Journler worked for me is that I didn’t want to separate my work problems from my personal life problems; I wanted it all together in one place because it’s all one life for me. But I don’t work in a corporation, and I expect that some people who work in a corporation would make more of a separation between their work and non-work life, and their corporation would likely have its own information-management policies that would prohibit such an integration anyway. People with needs similar to mine are likely to be in “creative” fields, in academia, in small businesses, etc.

    3. “How can I differentiate this (or another) product from similar, competing products? You have a number of options for general personal information management and some more specifically tailored to your profession. Why use this one?”

    That’s the big question. During my migration away from Journler in the past months, I’ve looked at a number of possible replacements. My thinking was quite influenced by what you wrote in your blog post on “Tools for Thought”; it inspired me to learn more about personal knowledge management. I discovered a 2005 paper titled Building the Memex Sixty Years Later: Trends and Directions in Personal Knowledge Bases that helped me think about what exactly I was looking for. (I found the section on data models in that paper to be really helpful.)

    I looked at personal wikis and even installed (but haven’t used) a few open source personal wikis via MacPorts, namely: DokuWiki, ikiwiki, and MoinMoin. A personal wiki called TiddlyWiki has recently added the incredibly cool TiddlyMap, which does graph visualization of links, backlinks and tag relationships. I have to admit that I really want something like TiddlyMap as part of my system, but I decided not to adopt a full-blown wiki because a different idea occurred to me. (I was also influenced by a 2015 blog post titled You Don’t Need a Wiki: Being Content with Your Software.)

    One of the major changes in the Mac world since you created Journler is the advent of tagging in the file system (a good resource on this topic is Brett Terpstra’s blog posts tagged “tagging”). In my view, the advent of tagging in the file system is a major game changer for personal knowledge management on the Mac. Before the advent of file system tags, building a personal knowledge ontology (a system of categories) was difficult or impossible without a nice app like Journler or more complex wiki software. Now it’s incredibly easy and tags are accessible everywhere.

    So after I exported all my entries from Journler into the brave new world of 2016, I soon came to realize what Douglas Barone (who is also a former Journler user) wrote in his 2009 blog post File System Infobase Manager, and I’ll quote from him: “First, I poured all my notes into Journler, a fabulous but sadly abandoned gem of a program. Journler allowed me to think of my infobase as a structured whole, rather than as disparate segments, and it prompted me to habitualize the process of capturing and synthesizing the random bits of data flowing past my writing desk every day. Primarily the import to Journler standardized all my file formats. From the transition I got a fairly fixed TXT/RTF/RTFD/HTML set of documents, augmented with some PDFs, various image and audio files. This was not an insignificant feat. […] Then I found a better way. Now I’m using a system that is stable, and sustainable, and scalable; one that seems to fall into the background while I work; one that is as future proof as can be. It allows me to refer to my notes, do my writing, create new ideas, synthesize old ones and not wrestle with an application while I’m doing it. I think it’s a long term solution that is platform neutral and vastly extensible. It’s called the ‘file system’. Yep, the file system, that’s all. The very thing we use to run our computer every day. Shocking huh? After all those applications and proprietary file structures who would’a thunk that the best answer to electronic note taking would be the good old file system?”

    I came to a similar solution as Doug: just use the file system. My solution isn’t “platform neutral” as Doug says, because I’m using Mac file tagging. But other than the tags, my system is perfectly cross-platform. (If I ever switch platforms I will probably have to write a script to convert the Mac metadata into text within the files.) I had to decide what file format to use for my journal entries: plain text, RTF, Markdown, or HTML. Plain text and RTF had major disadvantages, and I could have gone either way between Markdown and HTML. For now I’ve decided to use Cocoa‘s HTML because I do love the Cocoa text system, and Markdown is not well integrated with it. By using HTML, I can open the files in TextEdit (or another Cocoa-based editor) when I want to write in a mature rich text environment (which is most of the time); I can open the files in a plain text editor if I want to edit the HTML source; I can easily do batch operations on the content since I’m comfortable with grep and HTML; and if I need to convert to a different format in the future (such as Markdown or LaTeX) I can do so with Pandoc. Linking between entries is not as insanely easy as it was in Journler, but it’s easy enough. (By the way, my long-form writing is all done in Scrivener in Markdown and then converted via Pandoc to whatever the final output format needs to be, usually Word or LaTeX.)

    At the present time, my three main interfaces to my journal system are: the Mac Finder; an awesome Finder alternative called Leap, which has a tag cloud and other cool features; and DEVONthink, which has a semantic artificial intelligence engine that suggests connections between my journal entries, my bibliographic entries in BibDesk, and any other files that I have indexed in DEVONthink. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s what I am using now. I am always open to completely changing my system if a better alternative comes along.

    What I’m really missing now is Journler’s automatic backlinks. That was one of Journler’s killer features that is missing from my present system. I would also like some kind of graph visualization like that found in TiddlyMap.

    Above all, a personal knowledge base, or any other set of files or software, is part of an evolving process. Here’s a relevant quotation from a 2015 blog post titled How a Daily Routine Improved My Life and Work (here Zettelkasten is a German word for note box or note card system): “I try to refer to the Zettelkasten Method rather than the Zettelkasten as a single entity. You need to embed the necessary actions of the Zettelkasten Method to get the Zettelkasten really working for you. That’s why I call it ‘method’ instead of ‘tool’. A morning ritual is one of the tools.” This is very true: a journaling process has to be an evolving method and lifestyle.

    And here’s a quotation from Gary Snyder, from a 1996 interview in The Paris Review: [Interviewer:] “I gather you have some complicated system of file cards, even for the poems. Can you describe that?” [Snyder:] “Most writers I know, and certainly prose writers, have a well-organized shop. There are moves in longer poetic projects that are very like the work of researchers. I tell young would-be poets not to fear organization, that it won’t stultify their scope. I use some systems I learned from anthropologists and linguists. Now I use a computer too. A friend who’s a professional hydrologist gives a good caution, ‘Write up your field notes at the end of each day!’ And then get them into your hard disk fairly soon and always back that up. The main thing though is to give full range to the mind and learn to walk around in memory and imagination smelling and hearing things.”

      1. Tristan, I have heard a lot about TheBrain, and it is mentioned in several of the blog posts and articles that I cited above. I have never tried it because I’ve been repelled by the graphic design of TheBrain’s web site and of the app as shown in screenshots. My background is in graphic design and illustration, so I notice user-interface aesthetic details. Philip Dow’s web sites and apps have always been examples of tasteful graphic design (in my view—and this is a very subjective judgment), and South Lake provides more evidence of his good taste.

        Mentioning TheBrain does bring up the issue of the “granularity” of a personal knowledge base (this issue is well explained in the 2005 paper Building the Memex Sixty Years Later: Trends and Directions in Personal Knowledge Bases). When ordinary files are the basic units (or the basic “chunks”) that you are manipulating, it seriously limits the “granularity” of your knowledge system. In this way, Journler and South Lake are no different from simply using the file system the way we usually do. This level of granularity is sufficient for most of us. But if you want or need to manage knowledge units or “chunks” that are smaller than ordinary files—sentence-level units or smaller—you will need something else. TheBrain may be good for such a use case (I am guessing, since I’ve never used it). The issue-mapping tool Compendium, for example, is a good sentence-level argumentation-based knowledge base. The concept-mapping tool CmapTools is an example of a sub-sentence-level knowledge base. It’s difficult to imagine a tool that could span a wide range of levels of granularity and still be easy to use, but perhaps such tools are coming in the future. The Semantic Web has been one project that attempted to address the limitations of the granularity of the World Wide Web; the Web has mostly been files linking to other files.

      2. Hey Tristan and Nathan,

        I hadn’t heard about ‘The Brain’ before. I’ll check it out. Interestingly they mention having an enterprise level product but they don’t really seem to push it.

        One of the colleagues I spoke to about financing suggested that I focus on an enterprise level tool, which would move me into organizational knowledge bases rather than personal knowledge bases. In other words compete with Evernote but in the business space rather than the consumer space, which they dominate.

    1. Hey Nathan, thanks for the great post. I’m familiar with some of the tools you mention but not all of them. I’ll be looking at every single one of them and reading each of the articles you posted. I eat this stuff up.

      I definitely appreciate the comparison to the file system and Douglas Barone’s decision to primarily use the file system. The deeper I think about Journler the more I come to the conclusion that what I really want is a file system level or Finder/Explorer level tool. I hadn’t heard of Leap so I’ll be taking a look at that. The file system does come with its own limitations, though, due to its use of the filing cabinet metaphor, although tags do help with some of that.

      One direction I’ve considered is building tool when the network is the file system, so building a Journler-like application that resides on top of Drop Box, Box, Google Docs, Amazon S3, etc. Not exactly sure what that looks like.

      1. Phil, everything you have said sounds great. One other interface idea that I would point to is the “Scrivenings” view in Scrivener, which allows the user to select multiple text files and see their content concatenated in one scrolling view. Here is how the Scrivener manual describes it: “All of the text content (even empty documents) will be stacked together as if on a long spool of paper, letting you read through large sections of your book at once, no matter where they are located. As you make adjustments to the text in this view, each of the corresponding documents will be updated as you work. The overall effect is as if you were working in a single long document, but in fact you are editing potentially dozens or even hundreds of files as you go.”

      2. Another feature that I think is going to be mandatory for any kind of information management going forward is geotagging. We’ve had timestamps on files and much other data for as long as I can remember (and certainly timestamps were very prominent in Journler via the calendar, etc.) and now geotags are becoming just as important: they are implemented in apps such as Evernote, Day One, and the major social networks. (As far as I know, software interfaces that allow users to browse data by both space AND time are practically unavailable to consumers, and I know of only a few enterprise-level implementations mostly used by law enforcement, the military, and intelligence agencies. I’ve long dreamed of a space-time calendar, but that’s a separate topic.)

    2. “Space-time calendar”: love it.

      Continuous entry viewing and editing, in which you select multiple entries and can view and edit them as an apparently single document, is something I’ve considered and would like to implement.

  4. Philip,

    I’ve been using South Lake for the past two days. So far I really like what I see. I really like the fact that you went with the use of markdown and look forward to the other features being enabled.


    1. Yes, markdown is fantastic. I’d like to build a single pane markdown editor that mostly hides the markdown and have been looking at other editors for examples.

      Mainly I want to be sure that text entries are html rather than rich text or some other format, and markdown is a powerful, easy option that translates into html.

  5. Hey Philip,
    glad you are back and I am so happy to hear from you that the Journler project has been reactivated. I know there are a lot of people out there like me who still intensively use Journler for different purposes.

    After Journler came to an end I looked for alternatives but didn’t find anything satisfying. I use Journler for personal and business purposes like storing documents and keep track of notes and deadlines. Same for business: Journler is the only solution where I can put documents, emails, pictures etc. in context. And this is its biggest strength.

    In Finder I can gather a lot of documents but often you have to make notes to a document and put it in perspective. Journler has always been my one-stop solution for this. One place, fast and stored in an accessible database. So I don’t have to worry if it gets corrupted – I still can recover my texts.

    The window layout of Journler was not great and the fonts & text layout was not always easy – but I am still using it. Of course I tried the alpha of South Lake directly and I am happy to see that you are working on a simpler markup.

    I am just concerned about the file handling. Now the texts and documents are just a list of files. This is what “Together” ( also does and this could easily be done with a collection of files in finder. I liked Journler because it was like an offline wiki. No worries where to save the documents – just information with links to the related files where needed.

    I hope to push you in the right direction and to make South Lake unique again.

    Best regards

    1. Hi Andre, if I understand you correctly the difference is the addition of wiki-like document linking? The application would certainly support that while keeping the folders/list paradigm that is common to most applications like this.

      How do you mean the window layout of journler was not great? What are you thinking of specifically?


  6. Regarding the decision between starting an independent software business and doing client or corporate work, this advice from Hillary Rettig’s The Lifelong Activist (from the section titled Don’t Start a Business Simply as a Way of Earning a Living) may or may not be relevant:

    “Some activists, and especially those with art, construction, programming and other skills, think they can beat the system by starting a small or freelance business. The thinking, which is shared by many non-activists, is that they’ll be able to earn money doing the work they want to do and doing it on their own terms: flexible hours, no boss, no long commute, etc. And think how much time there’ll be left over for activism!

    “As someone who has coached hundreds of people in entrepreneurship, I can assure you that it usually doesn’t work that way. Business is way harder than it looks, and it is way harder than most jobs. If your business is like most, you will wind up working fifty or more hours a week, mostly on marketing, sales, bookkeeping and management. And for all of this work and stress, your take-home pay will likely be minimal and/or erratic, at least for the first few years.”

    1. I posted a long comment about South Lake and personal knowledge management as well, but it looks like that comment was lost or perhaps was caught in the spam filter. I can send it by email if you didn’t receive it already.

    2. “Business is way harder than it looks, and it is way harder than most jobs.” Trust me, I know that!

      While I am willing to prototype this application myself I’m not willing to professionally pursue it myself. I’ve spoken with colleagues about financing, ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars, which would allow me to build a team. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere if I’m going to fully commit to this project it will only be as part of a team.

  7. Always loved Journler, and even that it still works. Cool to see that you are working on new projects. You have a gift

  8. I am totally baffled to read that you think you “ultimately failing with that product”, Journler. Would you mind explaining, in another blog post maybe, WHY you think so?

    Because for me, Journler is still one of the most valuable tools on my Mac and the only one that allows me to literally “think” in it – append notes to ideas, draw (and find) connections to other entries etc. No other application does it like Journler, and I tried a lot! Some swallow everything, but are everything but smooth in handling it (DevonThink), others are too heavy on the drawing, but forget there are other media than text (Tinderbox), some are funny to play with, but ultimately distracting (The Brain), and so on.

    1. Wow, is that Andreas Eschbach as in THE Andreas Eschbach, one of Germany’s top sci-fi/fantasy writers? Now that’s exciting! It would be very interesting to hear more about your information management experiences – I suspect you’re using a wide variety of tools.

      Talking of which, have you used Curio and its rather nice little note-taking utility Curiota? And what about GrowlyNotes, or OneNote, or Outline+? It’s interesting that these OneNote-like tools don’t receive much coverage in information management discussions – perhaps because they’re not structured enough?

      Scrivener is an information management tool in its own right, of course, but so is Ulysses, its Markdown-based competitor. The latter is becoming ever more powerful, with support for attachments, images and all sorts.

      One of the closest equivalents to Journler is probably the Mac app Quiver, which is described as a programmer’s notebook. This doesn’t do it justice at all, at all! The developer is currently working on an iOS app, but has recently moved to Germany, so development is going slowly.

      1. Bill, thanks for mentioning Quiver. I had not seen Quiver before; it looks to me like South Lake! Quiver’s cell-based interface feels to me like OmniOutliner’s interface, but without OmniOutliner’s outlining functionality. The “presentation” mode in Quiver is a surprising idea; it turns notes into an instant full-screen presentation! I find the interface very pleasing, and the ability to manually sort items within a folder (or what Quiver calls a notebook) is something I had always wanted in Journler (although it is also possible to manually sort items in DEVONthink, for example). Overall, Quiver looks like a beautiful app that should appeal to many users.

      2. However, I am not so impressed by how Quiver stores its data on disk. Everything is stored in files with random alphanumeric UUID filenames; I much prefer Journler’s way of storing entries (and attachments) with human-readable filenames. Furthermore, linking between notes is more difficult in Quiver than in Journler (not to mention all the other features Journler has that Quiver doesn’t).

      3. Yes, I am the German writer. And yes, I have tried (and spent too much money on) a lot of different information management systems. I have worked a while with Curio, but always found me fiddling too much with its overwhelming design possibilities. I tried also Tinderbox, which seduces me from time to time, but I never managed to make something really useful with it. Growly Notes feels too toy-like for me. One-Note is an app I avoid because, Microsoft 😉

        My main tool for collecting information bytes of all kind is DevonThink Pro, which I use as my Journler-replacement, too. But the interface is clunky, and although it’s probably the most powerful information manager on earth, it still misses some features Journler had.

        Journler fit my way of working with informations, thoughts, texts like a glove fits my hand. If a genie came to grant me 3 wishes, I’d wish world peace, end of hunger – and then a Sierra-compatible version of Journler … 😉

  9. The only failure that was made with Journler was to quit with its development. After my wish for a smaller/lighter MacBook Air instead of the less travel friendly MacBook Pro, I was forced to upgrade to 10.9. It is a pity that on 10.9.5 Journler panics with a “EXC_BAD_ACCESS (SIGBUS) KERN_PROTECTION_FAILURE”. I have tried a few days with Xcode to comment out stuff from the open sourced Journler code that I don’t need. However I don’t have enough Objective-C skills and didn’t have enough success to bring this attempt to a not any longer crashing

    I do now use MacJournler, though regret my choice for the MacBook Air every day that I am not traveling. The import was horrible. I ended up with a load of undesired links to articles and am hardly able to find the note that I need when I need it.

    I miss Journler every day, especially its search engine and very well presented results, so I could find my notes (mainly hardware and software build recipes) again. Right now I am willing to pay a 4 till 5 digit number to (get guidance to) get the Journler working on 10.9. I don’t need (quicktime) movies, neither sound, formatted text with internal and external hyperlinks are the must haves. Tables and images are “would be nice to have”.

    1. Ceriel, you can run Journler on your MacBook Air in a virtual machine in VMware Fusion or (probably) Parallels Desktop for Mac. I am also running Mavericks 10.9.5 on my Mac, and I can run Journler in a virtual machine in VMware Fusion running Snow Leopard Server 10.6 (although I am no longer using Journler, as I described above). VMware Fusion also supports Leopard Server 10.5. I think Apple still sells Snow Leopard Server 10.6 for $20 if you call them. If you have any questions about getting Journler to run on your Mac this way, reply and I will do my best to answer.

      1. VMware is a slow piece of … software. Especially when running with only 4GB of RAM. Fusion is also crash happy. Not for the software itself, but for the VM’s inside. After having called VMware support twice in a month to revive the bricked VM’s, I have decided for ParallelsI have reverted all my VM’s back to Parallels and left the paid Fusion license unused.

      2. Ceriel, I’m sorry to hear that you had such a bad experience with VMware. My experience has been completely different; for me, VMware Fusion runs several varieties of OS X and Linux fast and flawlessly and it has never crashed. However, I have a very fast quad core processor and SSD. I hope you managed to get Journler to run in Parallels.

  10. Hi Phil,

    Really enjoyed using Journler. It was just what was needed.

    I wanted to know can I import my journler notes to South Lake.

    Alok Sogani
    Jaipur India

  11. This looks like a really great start. I used Journler back in the day to write blog posts and short pieces of fiction, although it wasn’t all that suitable for long-form fiction and I eventually moved to Scrivener. If uploading entries to Blogger hadn’t stopped working long before you wound it down, I’d have kept using it until the entire program stopped working. I have a feeling, reading some of the comments here and on Outliner Software, that I never used Journler for anything approaching its full potential.

    I like the Markdown focus, and I’m seriously considering writing newer fiction projects in Markdown (especially since Scrivener supports it). I’m thinking of how I could include South Lake in my writing workflow—perhaps to keep story bible/world-building notes (replacing my personal Dokuwiki)—once it’s more ready for prime time.

    If you’re serious about suggestions for other approaches, you could consider building a plugin for Adobe Brackets (an open-source text editor oriented toward web design) to add tagging, smart folders, and other niceties that Journler had. Technical documentation is my dayjob, and we’re migrating away from our current CMS. Markdown is one of the possible replacements… the idea of loading a few thousand topics into something like South Lake and having them automatically tagged, categorized, organized is mind-blowing. And if you’re curious, hell yes we would pay for something that can do it well. It might be enough to convince TPTB to give us all Macs to get the work done.

  12. Hi Phil,

    I am still using journler though I have to find a way to transition out of it which I am not keen on doing. I recently started with Devon Think which is fine, but lacks the flexibility and journal feel of Journler. I was able to import various folders into Devon Think, and can see them without problem in Devon Think on my laptop, but I cannot see them on my iPhone. I will try copying and pasting the entries, since I do not want to lose them once I upgrade my mac, but I am not ready to say fare well yet. I wish Journler was financially a success for you. It is a huge success for me in my life which I know is not much of a consolation though I did pay for it.

    Fingers crossed for your next endeavor. I just downloaded South Lake, and read that you would not mind receiving wish lists. So, here’s mine:

    -iphone app as well as desktop
    -easy sync between both
    -tagging for both iPhone (which I do not think is possible) and on the desktop computer
    -split screens (at least 6). I use scrivener now which offers two splits, but if you count the binder as another and the Inspector as the other. There are four. I would like to have two more.
    -easily importing snippets of texts from other sources
    -easily formatting the imported text it so it is consistent with other snippets
    -emailing into the app’s inbox!!! (devonthink still does not have this feature!)

    I am thinking of two products that I have heard are missing on the market:

    1. a researcher’s notebook: something like Circusponies, which is no longer available and Scrivener. I have not used Circusponies but many love it and are now possibly transitioning to OmniOutliner. If OO adds tagging, they will be competitive. The idea is to work with small portions of text (quotations from sources rather than the whole article), and to be able to organize the small portions in the most flexible way until the information makes sense and until one can see the big picture of the argument.

    What I do not like about OmniOutliner but love in Scrivener is that OO does not have a cork board,especially in its flexible feature. I would love to have more control with tags. Want to be abel to assign tags to the small snippets of texts, and to be able then to easily review the tags and change them as I see fit. I do not think there is an app right now that offers flexibility and control with tagging.

    2. a project management system for academics which is not bulky and does not take forever to input the information. The omnigroup has one which I tried. It is super detailed, which is what I both like and dislike about it. I need a full time job to manage it, so I am back to using a paper calendar and wracking my brain on how to be on top of things with all deadlines and projects. (I am a fan of their OmniFocus app. It has many features, that powerful apps like Devon Think does not have. For instance, it is very easy to file something away in OF; not so in DT!).

    If you can integrate both, that would be great, but for now, I would vote for the first option.

    Whatever shape your new project takes, I wish you the success you want!

    1. Hi Anna, thanks for sharing your great ideas. I have a couple of responses to your two numbered points:

      1. You probably already know this: Tagging snippets of text already can be done in Scrivener. You can add keywords (or other custom metadata fields) to any item in Scrivener and then search by keyword, or create a collection for a particular keyword. This offers very good flexibility and control with tagging within Scrivener. The blog post Magic Metadata: Using Scrivener for Drafting and Revising (2016) by Alyssa describes her use of Scrivener metadata very well (and I added my own comment on that blog post back in April, as you can see).

      2. For me, the best project management system has been the one I invented for myself based on what I have read. As I mentioned in my comment above, David Allen’s book Getting Things Done (GTD) and Hillary Rettig’s book The Lifelong Activist were especially important influences on my system, but I’ve also incorporated ideas from dozens of other sources into my system. Writer Antony Johnston (who is a Scrivener user) wrote a blog post titled “Getting Things Written” in which he describes how he adapted GTD into his own system and he concluded with a quote from comedian Harry Hill: “You’ve got to have a system.” Once I figured out a system that worked for me, I could implement it in any sufficiently flexible software program (in fact, I used Journler for exactly this purpose for many years) or without any software at all; there are people who implement effective GTD- and note-systems with index cards, paper notebooks, and a paper calendar. A common theme of GTD and the note-taking blog at is that you (i.e., your thinking, your strategy, your behavior) are the most important part of the system. That has been my experience.

      The system that I designed for myself that I described in my long comment above is my (temporary, evolving) way of integrating those two points for myself, although if I ever learn about a better system I would eagerly adopt it.

  13. Hi Nathan,

    I will definitely explore the sources you suggest in your posts. Coming up with an efficient system has always been a challenge for me. Whatever systems I come up with by myself are not ones I want to stick with for longer than half an hour. So stealing systems from others has worked for me (better than nothing, right?). In many ways, such systems are part of the apps I use because they are based on one. Also even if I read the GDT book long before the iPhone existed, I was not able to implement it in real life. The electronic version of these systems has definitely enhanced my life.

    I recently came across Organized Creativity, and it made a difference for me though I am still not nearly as efficient with my academic work as I wish. I believe I learned about Zettelkasten from the Organized Creativity blog, and if I remember well, he liked it but did not recommend it highly because it is a small app which means that it might disappear soon and then one has to think about transferring all the data to another app, which could be burdensome if the format is proprietary. Not being a techie myself, I am willing to try Z for a small scale project, but it will be burdensome because I will want to have my information in Z and in my base app, the one I currently trust and where all my stuff is housed.

    In any case, if Phil decides to develop this app, I hope it’s a research notebook. I can add other things on the wishlist, Phil 🙂

    I know Scrivener uses tags and metadata, but I do not find them flexible. That’s what I, and I am sure other researchers, would like to see soon.

    1. Thanks for your response, Anna! I understand your reluctance to stop using Journler; I was in the same position until very recently.

      You are asking for a “research notebook” but I wonder if “notebook” is not the best word for what you need (“notebook” to my ear suggests a very limited data model—the “book” part more than the “note” part). The thorny issues of data models and user interface are well explained in the 2005 paper titled “Building the Memex Sixty Years Later: Trends and Directions in Personal Knowledge Bases” that I mentioned in a previous comment above, and I find it surprising how little progress seems to have been made in the area of personal knowledge bases (PKBs) in the decade since that paper was written.

      When you say that you do not find Scrivener’s keywords and metadata to be flexible, I wonder whether you are referring to the user interface or the underlying data model or both. I find Scrivener’s keywords and metadata to be flexible, but only within the context of writing a long-form document. Scrivener is, I think, a document writing tool rather than a PKB; that’s why I use Scrivener for long-form writing projects but my PKB/GTD system is separate, previously stored in Journler but now simply stored in the Mac filesystem and accessed with apps including DEVONthink, Finder, and Leap. (Perhaps some people use Scrivener as a PKB but I couldn’t see myself using it that way.)

      Regarding your feature request for “easily importing snippets of texts from other sources”: I wonder if you have tried the free PDF reader called Skim? It has highlighting and annotating tools and allows exporting highlights and notes very easily, with page numbers for each text excerpt exported. I really like Skim and I’ve been using it for years; it also integrates very well with the reference manager BibDesk. If I remember correctly, I read somewhere about a researcher who loves Skim so much that he converts all his sources to PDFs and marks them up in Skim. There may be other apps that work just as well; BibDesk and Skim just happen to be what I use.

      I should clarify that the blog at that I mentioned is just a blog about Zettelkasten, the German word for note box or note card system, and I was not referring to any particular software. A Zettelkasten can be implemented in a variety of different software programs or on paper. In fact, one blog post at is titled “How to program yourself for productivity and stop searching for the ideal software” and begins with the statement: “In search for the perfect software application to manage a Zettelkasten note archive, surprisingly, I have become the tool I was looking for. Here’s what you have to do once you settle for the important things and let go of false feature needs.” I haven’t stopped searching for the perfect software, but in the meantime I too “have become the tool I was looking for!”

  14. That’s encouraging! I will look into the website in more detail.

    As for the tagging, in cork board mode I want to be able to place in one area cards that have the same or a similar tag and in another part of the cork board, I want to place cards on a different topic, but I do not think that’s possible at the moment. I can only see the cards with the same tag. That’s a disadvantage to me.

    1. Anna, here’s another way to do what you may (or may not) be trying to do in Scrivener: When you view your entire draft in the outliner (outline mode), you can add columns for keywords (or label, or other metadata) and then you can either sort or manually rearrange all the subdocuments by keyword (or label, or other metadata). If you manually rearrange the subdocuments by keyword (or label, or other metadata) in the outliner, then when you switch to the corkboard the cards will be arranged in the order you had arranged them in the outliner. You can also select View > Corkboard Options > Show Keyword Colors and on each card you will see color swatches corresponding to each keyword. (When you mouseover a color swatch, the name of the keyword will appear.) If you want the differences between topics to be even more visually conspicuous, and you only have one topic per card, you can assign topics in the “label” field, manually rearrange them by label in the outliner, then switch to the corkboard and select View > Use Label Color In > Index Cards and then each entire card will be completely colored by topic.

  15. Hi Phil,
    Andreas Eschbach wrote earlier: I am totally baffled to read that you think you “ultimately failing with that product”, Journler. Would you mind explaining, in another blog post maybe, WHY you think so?

    You did not answer. But i’am also very interested in your answer.

    1. In short, Journler failed because it did not earn enough money. I never had a business model for Journler, and after three years of development the ratio of users to donating users overwhelmed my capacity to work on the project.

      A postmortem suggest a number of other contributing factors. One, for example, was a strategic failure to recognize the importance of mobile and web. Evernote nailed this, whatever else you think about the product. But even if I had wanted to build for those platforms I didn’t have the resources. Another was the absence of a partner, mentors, or a team. We had an amazing community, but I needed technical and business assistance which I didn’t have and couldn’t afford. Both are related to strapped finances.

      At this point, even with a proof of concept available, I remain reluctant to rebuild Journler. I’m not particularly interested in competing head-to-head with Evernote or OneNote right out of the gate. So a question like this one — what one thing? — hopes to identify a particular feature or niche market that I might tailor a product to. Right now I think that’s the only way I can put convince a team to work on this, raise money, and avoid failure again.

      1. Hi Phil, Thanks for your extensive reply. Now i understand your hesitation and your poll for – what one thing?

        But might it be that you already have this one feature? Or at least you don’t need much more.

        As i stated in an ear lier post. And i know others are looking for this too:
        – 1 big collection of notes
        – tag every note anyway you want
        – make as many smart folders and as deep nested as you want/need
        – every (smart folder) level you go deeper: the selection of notes is narrowed down (based on the keywords/tags you filter on)
        – any note can appear on any level in any smart folder as long as it has the right keywords/tags

        Seems so natural. But to my knowledge no other app can deliver this….? Or am i wrong? If not. This might a solid base for your succes.

        Lots of people want to be able to view at their data from different angles in a very easy way. And that is what Journler delivered.
        And the Journler UI is also incredible natural and intuitive.

        Might be that these 2 factors are so self-evident for you that you do not see the beauty and value of them. That is how Journler did a remarkable job on these aspects.

        I was a Java developer and web-developer (Sun certified and all) for many years. So i know a little what i’am talking about.

        Journler is written in ObjectiveC not? Don’t know much about ObjectiveC. But in the Java world there were many open-source packages to get basic things done. Things like storage layer, communication layer, UI, etc. were available in open source. We use them like building blocks. And you build from there.

        If those packages are not available in ObjectiveC. Choose a different programming language. One that provides these basic building blocks. And you build from there. Making use of the power of the huge crowd of developers.

        Make the data layer work stand alone, NAS and cloud storage. Make the app work on Mac and on mobile too. Better on Windows also. Off course it can’t be done in one release. Or can it? Make a roadmap.

        I hope you are still with me. Because i guess you already looked into it like this?

        Don’t know about others. But i’am willing to pay for an app like this. Even when an additional annual fee is charged i would go for it.

        They pay for EverNote, OneNote, MacJournler and all the others out there. Don’t they? So why not for your software…?

      2. Hmm … What I ask myself is this: If creating a piece of software that is very much loved by a huge number of people (not many abandoned apps are *mourned* like Journler!) has to be abandoned because of a missing business concept – is creating a *NEW* piece of software then really the logical way to go?

        I remember that I had my doubts about the sustainability of Journler from very early on. When I learned that behind this ingenious software that could almost do everything, there was only 1 person, plus this 1 person wrote an extensive online manual that still stands as an example how software manuals should be written, plus this 1 person was managing a discussion forum that reminded an overcrowded market place, plus that 1 person published updates with new functionality almost every week, I really asked myself how long it might take before the entire project comes to a stop because of a heart attack or the like. And then this 1 person hesitated to take money! And then, later, the demanded license fee was breathtakingly low!

        In my opinion, neither OneNote nor Evernote are even playing in the same field as Journler. (Actually, I still ask myself how people really *work* with Evernote? Aren’t they just pretending to “work” with it, but in reality, they just store information and retrieve it again? And then? IMHO, even to describe Evernote’s work-with-information-features as “rudimental” would be flattery.) Journler’s competitors were apps like Tinderbox, ConnectedText or Zettelkasten.

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