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The benefits of journaling have long been espoused, and as I decided to take greater care of my mental health, I decided to take up journaling. However, being conscious of the environment and wanting to save on costs in the long term, I wanted to keep it digital.
I was already familiar with OneNote, having used it extensively for university, but saw it as very bloated for what I wanted to do, and I didn’t want to associate my journalling experience with the application I use to study my university work. Furthermore, my access was through my university, and that wasn’t going to last forever – soon I’d have to be paying for a subscription. Other note taking apps weren’t cross-platform, ran on subscriptions, or were either too simplistic or too complex for what I wanted. It became apparent I needed an app which was designed for journalling.
Annoyingly, of the dedicated journalling applications, pretty much all of the options were subscription based, and failed to sync across the differing platforms of Mac and Android. Frustrated, I resigned myself to biting the bullet and accepting the inevitability of a subscription-based world.
I was drawn to Day One as a long term user of WordPress, and saw that their owners has acquired Day One. This, plus the rave reviews, the cross-platform compatibility, and ease of use, made me decide this was the app for me. I could include photos, create a journal just for motivational quotes and advice, and I liked how it snapshotted the weather and location alongside the date and time. The daily prompts were also intriguing, and I liked how I could create templates to log daily activities such as meals eaten and media consumed. I told myself I’d give it a year’s subscription, and it may be worth it.
However, it didn’t actually start well. I soon realised the Android version of the app was significantly less featured than the Mac version, and missed many of the features which drew me to Day One in the first place, though I told myself this would surely be updated soon enough. Another strange issue was the inability to edit entries on my Mac after making them on my Android phone if the entry had an image in it. Nonetheless, I was writing in it every day, and eventually found it therapeutic, so Day One was serving its purpose.
Though things were obviously far from perfect, and without any sight of the features arriving on the Android version after waiting many months, I wanted to find a more suitable solution. Although I had this task pencilled in for over a month, I was only jolted to actively research an alternative when I saw an email come in from one the newsletters I’m subscribed to which debated the use of different writing apps for Macs. Although this wasn’t journalling exactly, the apps mentioned varied from note taking to manuscript creation, involving markdown, rich text or plain text. All this sparked by imagination and I contemplated again what could become a journalling application.
Again, my requirements were unchanged: Cross-platform between Macs and Androids, no subscription, and easy to use. I tried a variety of applications, but settled on UpNote. Although it has a subscription option of around $1 a month, there is also an option to purchase a lifetime version for just under $20, cheaper than one year’s worth of Day One. Not only is it available on Macs and Androids, but also on Windows, iOS, and Linux – all for one purchase without needing to pay for each platform.
Granted, UpNote is not a dedicated journalling platform, but I had gone without many of the fancy Day One features, I didn’t think I actually needed them. Plus, it is actually a great and well featured note taking app, I saw how I could use it to hold the various notes I have scattered across my devices in one place.
However, the data in UpNote is not encrypted and the developers state the information stored is visible to them. As such, while UpNote may be fine for quickly noting I need to buy cat food or jotting down the name of a new movie which catches my eye, I thought twice about using it for my journals, something more private and personal, where the data was stored more securely which I had control over.
While not as flashy or feature rich as UpNote, Joplin seemed to tick all the boxes for me again as it was cross-platform and without subscription – it can actually be used for free. The files are stored on either a cloud platform, a server of your own through options such as WebDAV or a Nextcloud server, or you can use Joplin’s own syncing service. As such, I felt much better having more control over my private data, and also appreciated the files being stored in Markdown in case I wanted to move to a different platform in the future.
I began migrating my non-time sensitive ‘to do’ lists and lists of things such as movies to one day watch all over to UpNote. Its nestled notebook system was perfect to organise these random notes and lists, as well as hold my journal entries and those motivational quotes I had gathered.
The former was easy to do. I was using SimpleNote to hold around twelve of these notes, and I was able to export these without a fuss to UpNote – I exported as JSON and chose to import via JSON on UpNote. I deliberately started with something simple to understand the process and thought “Great, that was easy, now we’ll do the same with Day One to Joplin”.
It’s here my dislike for Day One grew immensely, and makes me never want to recommend such an app to use, because it locks the user in a way it didn’t have to. I recall when I chose Day One that there were ways to always export my entries out and that I’d never be stuck in the platform – but I never actually did a test myself. It turns out to be very difficult to export your entries to a different platform. I tried JSON, but it didn’t work, no entries imported. I tried the ‘Plain Text/Markdown’ option, but Day One had bundled all the entries into one single file, same with the HTML option, and these couldn’t be broken down into separate entries. I started to panic slightly, it suddenly dawned on me that exporting my entries was not as easy as it was advertised, and I might have to manually copy-and-paste each entry over by hand. Something I was unimpressed with and made me happier than ever to be moving away from Day One.
Thankfully though, after some online digging, I came across this Reddit post which described a great workaround. Export as JSON, import via Bear (which I had considered as a Day One replacement, but was deterred due to subscription fees for syncing across platforms), export the posts as markdown, and then finally import those markdown posts into Joplin. I was elated when I saw the process working, it had preserved tags, date and times, and of course all the diary entries. I had some of the motivational quotes as images, and these didn’t import successfully, but an easy workaround was to export those in Rich Text, and just accept they would lose their dates and times – not the worst thing in the world for quotes.
Satisfied with the outcome, I deleted everything from Bear, thanked it for saving me countless amounts of hours I would have otherwise needed to manually migrate the entries over, and uninstalled it. I cleared up my random lists from SimpleNote, deleted my account, and uninstalled too, then finally came to Day One. I made sure everything was backed up in case I needed to do the Bear trick again, and then deleted all the entries before uninstalling.
I’m not sure which application I would recommend for journaling cross-platform without subscription fees, I think that is something people will need to just experiment and trial out for themselves. What I can say with confidence is to avoid Day One. Sure, it may work great on a Mac with all its fancy features, but the fact it was such a pain to export my entries out of it is enough to dissuade me. I don’t appreciate companies making it harder than it ought to when it comes to accessing my own content. UpNote, Joplin and Bear both have plenty of options for exporting your content, without locking you into its platform making it difficult to leave, Day One should be able to do the same.