Google Keep – Modern Stickies

Stickies is that Mac app that you either ignore completely or use for everything. It has been on the Mac for a very long time, one of the few apps from the classic OS days that still ships with macOS today. It is one of those apps that is just there, rarely getting an update and never getting mentioned. And yet people love it because it serves a very specific need; they are quick notes that are easily glanceable.

Among the many downsides of Stickies.app is the inability to access them anywhere than one local Mac.1 It is a pure, old school, local only app. That may work, but it is far from ideal in today’s multi device world.

Enter Google Keep. Keep has been around for a while. It is one of those Google apps that gets a big announcement, and then you rarely hear from again. When it was announced a lot of people compared it to Evernote and listed it as a competitor. It isn’t. But it does make a very compelling modern replacement for Stickies.

Keep gives you a canvas of card-like notes. You can even color them in the colors commonly seen with physical sticky notes. It is on the web as well as iOS and Android, along with a curious ChromeOS app that breaks out of the browser for some reason.2

When I first tried Google Keep I threw a ton of data at it, and it quickly got overwhelming. There is a web clipper similar to most other note taking apps, but all it does is save a URL, unlike Evernote’s clipper that will attempt to grab the whole page.

Where Keep came in handy was for taking down a quick note that either needed to be referred to often, or that was a task that needed to be completed. For example, at work I will take down order numbers or repair invoices while I work on them. This makes it much easier to find when I need to. When I complete them, I archive the note. Like Gmail, Keep has a one button archive that removes the note from view, but keeps it around in case you ever need it again. If the text grows into more of a document, there is a one click option to make a Google Doc.

Another nice thing about Keep is that if you set a reminder on a note, it will also appear in Google Inbox and Google Calendar. This makes Keep a great choice for task related notes if you are invested in Google’s ecosystem.

My biggest complaint about Keep is that is lacks an API. This a bit of a disturbing trend I have noticed with Google, who used to be very good about allowing programmers to augment their products in interesting ways. It makes it impossible to use Keep with any of the automation apps on iOS, somewhat blunting the impact it could otherwise have.

Keep is useful for what it does. If you find yourself scribbling down notes on actual stickies, Keep may well serve a useful function for you. For the things I need quick, glanceable access too, it is much faster than Evernote. I never have more than 10 to 20 notes outside of the archive, and that seems to be the key to how it works best for me.

  1. They are stored in a database file in ~/Library that many people miss when backing up or transferring their data.
  2. ChromeOS does this sometimes. Why one app is a webpage and another is standalone is anyone’s guess.

The Apps that Replaced Evernote

After quitting Evernote I went off in search of the One True Evernote Replacement. Turns out there is no such thing. Or rather, I found that there shouldn’t be. I used Evernote much as the creators intended, as a repository of basically everything I could ever want to recall at a later date. While this has an advantage in that there is one unified place for everything, in practice there was a hidden cost. Actually using the data I had saved was becoming a burden. So rather than replace Evernote with a single app, I replaced it with four.

  • Google Keep: Short, frequently referred to notes, as well as tasks. Basically the modern replacement for Stickies.
  • Microsoft OneNote: The most Evernote-like of my new apps. This is where I take longer text notes, as well as clipping websites I intend to use often and/or annotate.
  • DEVONthink: This is an app I knew about but never used before. It ended up being a near perfect solution to “place where I save things that I may or may not ever need again”. Receipts, attachments, random screenshots, and most of all, web articles I am saving “just in case”.
  • Quiver: Specifically for code notes.

It is counterintuitive that four different apps would perform better and be more convenient than one, but it ends up working better in day to day use. Everything has its place, in an app optimized for that purpose. I will explore each of these solutions in detail in subsequent posts.

One question that you may ask is “Why not Apple Notes?” It is true that Apple Notes has gotten much, much better in recent years. And for most people I think it is the right solution. But that usually ends up a liability for me. Anything that is “right for almost everyone” tends to be wrong for someone as particular as I am. Notes is great, but the apps I ended up settling on are all better in ways that, though small, total up to being a more enjoyable experience. I am not knocking Notes or its capabilities, but it is not quite what I am looking for.

Google Inbox for Education

Inbox by Gmail is finally available to Google Apps for Education domains.1 This means I can finally use Inbox as my primary email client across the board. When it launched, it was mostly a clone of the now defunct Mailbox, but it has really grown over time. There are two main reasons I prefer it to the other mailbox-like email apps.

One, it is available basically everywhere. There are apps for both iOS and Android, and the web client works great on basically everything else.

Two, it is made by Google. You do not need to rely on a third party server and all the potential security issues that brings. It is also not going to break because of some server side change that Google implements.

It’s a great productivity apps that can help keep your inbox sane, and I highly recommend Google Apps both enable it for their users and actively encourage its use.

  1. It was supposed to be enabled automatically, but I had to check a box in the admin console.