Oddities in Syncing with Simplenote

I generally love the ability to sync a project between Scrivener and Simplenote, but I’m finding a couple of things that don’t add up.

First, If I sync a file that began on Scrivener, say “characters,” with Simplenote, then make a change in that file on my iPad, the change doesn’t show up in Scrivener, no matter how many times I sync. If i make a change in the Scrivener version, then sync, it shows up in Simplenote, but not the other way around. So, the file really isn’t synced at all.

Also — and I’m willing to admit that this may be a lack of understanding on my part — a file that began on my iPad did sync properly with Scrivener, but now it’s in Scrivener twice. I have no idea how that happened, and that troubles me.


Update: Now I have LOST DATA because of this sync problem. An addition I made to the Simplenote version of the file that showed up twice in Scrivener, has now disappeared because the newer Simplenote version was replaced by the OLDER Scrivener version.

This renders syncing between these two programs not just useless but destructive. No thanks.

Could you please post a set of steps that it takes to get this problem to occur, along with your Scrivener and operating system version numbers? This is not a universal problem, and I’m having no difficulties with Simplenote on my end.

Please be aware that all synchronisation systems are potentially destructive. This is one of those things where people ask software designers to hand them a loaded gun, and complain loudly if they can’t have their loaded gun, and then complain when they shoot themselves in the foot with it. Whenever you have a computer automate a job that ordinarily takes a human to accomplish, like choosing which versions of your files on two different systems are the primary copies that should be distributed everywhere, you run the risk of losing data. We’ve put as many safeguards in place as we can, but very little can protect you from the wide array of problems that can arise when plugging your computer disk into the Internet and asking some tool, half of which is located on some other area of the planet and connected to your machine through 20 to 50 intermediate computers and specialist devices, to change the contents of your hard disk based upon instructions received over the Internet. That’s just… like I say, playing with a loaded gun. Always keep careful backups on all devices that are being synchronised, and if you can’t do that for one reason or another, don’t use it. Take the extra five minutes to copy the files by hand.

Speaking of those safeguards we do have in place, do go through your snapshots and make sure the older material (or newer material) is not stashed away in a snapshot somewhere. Whenever Scrivener updates data one way or the other, it takes a snapshot since there is always the risk of something procedurally appearing to be newer, but not actually, in a human intelligence sense, being the copy you want distributed.

Honestly I’m having trouble duplicating the steps, for the simple reason that it requires that Scrivener first find and download a file I’ve created on Simplenote. And despite the fact that I’ve used the keyword as I’m supposed to in the Simplenote file, Scrivener won’t even recognize that there’s a file to download.

It seems, so far, that the only functional aspect of this syncing is that files created in Scrivener can be sent to Simplenote. But nothing can actually be done in Simplenote and sent the other way.

Are you assigning the project keyword or the general ‘Scrivener’ keyword? The latter is only for your convenience in Simplenote, it won’t ping the item in the sync list. It needs to have the project keyword for that to happen. But even without the keyword you can still bring a new note into your project. That is what the “Other notes:” list is for. Does it not even show up in that list?

Also, I would suggest reducing complexity when you are faced with a problem. Use the Simplenote website to verify and edit files. If it suddenly starts working, then you can investigate the secondary device leg. The breakage might not be in Scrivener -> Server, but rather in Server -> mobile.

I am assigning the keyword (in brackets after the first-line title in Simplenote). And no, it’s not even showing up in other notes. To me there’s no value in syncing between the two if what I write in, say, my iPad, can’t eventually be used in Scrivener in my MacBook.

Right, that is why there are features for doing just that. :slight_smile:

Below the Other notes list, you should see a checkbox for importing notes from other projects. This is off by default for safety net reasons. If you turn it on, you should see bracketed items from other projects in the list—maybe it will pop up then? If so there might be a discrepancy between the project keyword and the one that was typed in.

Do note you can also use Simplenote’s keywords—not just name hacks—to cause them to be recognised.

Here is the test that I ran, when attempting to reproduce this:

  1. Created a new test project with four test documents in it for syncing
  2. Went to File/Sync/with Simplenote...
  3. Set up the project keyword as ‘testnewnote’
  4. Clicked Continue; added one of the files to the upload list, purely so that I would get the ‘testnewnote’ keyword uploaded to Simplenote for convenience
  5. Clicked Continue and since I had no changes to step 2, Continue one last time to sync
  6. Seconds later, the simplenoteapp.com website that I had open in the background registered the new file I specified in step 4.
  7. In simplenoteapp.com, I clicked the Tag icon above the note list and set the tag filter to ‘newnotetest’; this reduced the note list to one as only the item I uploaded in step 4 is assigned to this project
  8. In simplenoteapp.com, clicked the + button to create a new note, and since the filter is already set to the tag, this new note automatically acquires the ‘newnotetest’ keyword. For the note content, I type in:

[code]This is a Test

I really have nothing more to say.[/code]

Note how I don’t bother with trying to add in the project keyword by hand. I’ve already done that with the Simplenote tag.

  1. Verify that the word “Saved” is printed in light grey at the bottom of the note a few seconds later. The note is now verifiably on the Simplenote server.
  2. Switch back to Scrivener and go to File/Sync/with Simplenote..., and click past the first step. I’m not concerned with uploading right now.
  3. In Step 2, I can see “This is a Test” listed in the Notes marked for this project list on the left. Great, that’s what I want to see. I click Continue, the note is downloaded from the server and placed into the Updated Documents yellow tab collection.

Okay, that’s my test, and everything works flawlessly. Meanwhile back in Simplenote, after syncing if I check the note I can verify that it has acquired Scrivener’s identification paraphernalia in the title line. It is now “This is a test (newnotetest [27])” though of course that number will not necessarily be the same for you. Additionally the note has acquired the “Scrivener” keyword so it will show up when filtering the keyword list by that, too.

If you follow along with those steps, following them to the letter, and get a different result then let me know where the breakdown occurs and what that breakdown looks like. It it works fine, then try applying these steps to your actual working project, modifying whatever routine you have been using thus far, and see if that works. If it does, alter one single detail, and keep doing that until it breaks. Then let me know where it breaks.

Incidentally I did also run a second test by using the new note content of:

[code]This is a Second Test (newnotetest)

This uses manually added project keyword for systems that do not show Simplenote keywords in the UI[/code]

And that worked as well, identically to having supplied the keyword in the website UI. I just wanted to be clear that I tried both methods.

Works fine for a test project. But something has gone wrong with the original and I can’t begin to figure out what. One file keeps getting duplicated and there are different versions of it now in Scrivener. I don’t want to mess things up any more by playing with it, so I’ll just say thanks for the help and I guess this sync business ain’t for me. Too bad.

What was the other “feature” you mentioned that would allow me to get something written on my iPad into Scrivener? That’s left me puzzled.

Folder synchronisation is the other popular method for working with an iPad. It uses, for the most part, Dropbox as the key ingredient in the middle. To be clear the process is purely file system based, so it could work with any system that uses files and folders. It’s just that at this point in history, Dropbox has a very wide array of third-party text editors on mobile devices that can directly browse your Dropbox account.

So with this method you’d create a folder on your computer where Dropbox syncs and point Scrivener to that location. It would then keep this location up to date between Scrivener and the files and folders. It actually has no interaction with the server. It strictly checks against your computer’s copy of the files. Dropbox handles the technicals. Since this is all done local, it also means Scrivener can automatically check and sync when opening and closing the project, too—as it doesn’t have to do a long server poll to get the relative change states between files.

So there are clear advantages to using this system, and given that you can choose your editor on the iPad side rather than be stuck with the one Simplenote provides, you have more freedom to pick an editor that pleases your sense of aesthetics and desire for features.

But you know, ultimately it’s going to have the same pitfalls of any other synchronisation system. It’s more risky to work this way and so you’ve got to be more aware of taking care of your snapshots, auditing changes after sync, and keeping good non-rotating backups somewhere. It’s the price for front-end convenience, to add a little extra burden on the maintenance side of things. If you’d rather be lax with maintenance, than handling file changes by hand is a better end of the equation to be on.

Personally, that’s my choice. I’d rather handle changes myself rather than have a system automate it. But I also take very good care of my backups—so I suppose I choose a lack of convenience on both ends of the fulcrum. I’d rather be a bit more deliberate than take advantage of bleeding edge tech I guess. But that’s just me. :slight_smile:

Maybe this is more of a use case than a response to this particular thread, but this thread is what got me thinking about it, so…

My recent acquisition of a MacBook Air, combined with some schedule changes that have me working remotely more often have gotten me thinking about ways to handle the whole synchronization issue.

It occurs to me that there are two scenarios.

In the first, I know from the beginning that I’m going to be working remotely, and have time and motivation to set up as ideal a work environment as possible. That usually means putting the project and whatever supporting materials (like a DevonThink database) on the MBA (usually indirectly, via Dropbox).

In the second, I’m going along, minding my own business, and either inspiration strikes or I find myself with some time to kill. But I don’t have the MBA with me (or don’t have time or space to set it up) and so I’m limited to whatever happens to already be installed on my iPad or my (Android) phone. For this scenario, I find that setting up SimpleNote synchronization is riskier and more trouble than it’s worth. Instead, I just pop up a fresh document in Google Docs, scribble down whatever I want to scribble, and trust Google to make sure it will be waiting for me when I get back to a computer with Scrivener. From there, it’s easy to copy or import into the appropriate project (or projects).

YMMV, of course, but I’ve found that maintaining the infrastructure to support (safely) every possible scenario isn’t as effective as being able to roll with whatever opportunities present themselves.


I think that’s the way I’m leaning Katherine. I think AmberV’s tip about folder sync is probably similar to the Google docs scenario, although a little more integrated. I’ve tried it, and using the Droptext app, it seems to allow me to create a file on the iPad, directly in Dropbox, and then later, through sync in Scrivener, to pull that file into the project. But it doesn’t allow me, using the iPad, to add to or edit a project file that already exists.

That seems safer than the Simplenote sync process. And as a bonus, the text I’m adding pops up right there in Scrivener, already formatted, rather than having to copy and paste from Googledocs.

AmberV am I getting this right?

Yeah, that’s about right. If you add a text document to the SYNC/Notes or SYNC/Draft folders from the iPad, where “SYNC” is the main folder you chose in Scrivener, then they should pop up in Scrivener the next time you come back to the computer. Which folder you put it in determines where it goes. Naturally the Draft sub-folder is for the main manuscript area, and you can actually set up where incoming “Notes” go, but by default it is Research.

If you put a whole .scriv project in your Dropbox folder, then that is correct, you cannot at this point in time edit that project on the iPad. That’s what the Scrivener for iPad tool will be for, when we release it. :slight_smile: The unfortunately reality is that there are too many complicated considerations to be made on the iPad side for this to be safely done by just any third-party app. The app on the iPad must be aware of what a Scrivener project is to a degree, and the Mac/Win version of Scrivener must be aware of the changes made by the iPad app. So there is a lot of complicated stuff going on there that will make this work seamlessly, but that is the idea—you’ll be able to load up a project on the go and have near full access to its structure, even make changes to the outline and corkboard and so on.

The Google Docs methods that Katherine describes is more like what I do. I don’t use Docs, but I do use a completely unconnected system of files that I copy and paste manually into the projects when I get back home. It’s a lot less convenient, but I often end up retyping them anyway since I can’t stand typing on glass keyboards and tend to shorthand everything. Honestly, I probably use ink and paper just as often. :slight_smile:

But if you’re feeling comfortable with the folder sync method, go for it. It’s a lot less fragile than Simplenote in my experience, because Dropbox seems to have a more accurate and stable framework, and on the Scrivener end it doesn’t have to do anything fancy at all, it’s just reading text files off of your computer drive.

The GDocs approach works for me precisely because the file doesn’t get imported into Scrivener automatically. I tend to have several projects happening at once, and sorting through the file structure(s) to find the correct place to put a new document is more than I want to deal with on a mobile device. I can get the note down now, and worry about filing later when I have my full set of tools available.

Much would also depend on exactly what the note to be imported contains. In my case, it’s likely to be some combination of brainstorming and self-reminders, and so not something that’s likely to get used verbatim anyway.


The other issue of relevance, for me, is the need to be able to write something offline on the iPad. In other words, when I’m somewhere out of range of a cell tower or wifi. (Which is going to be my reality at a cabin in the woods for the next two months).

Occasionally I need to be able to write without being connected (though still have the option of syncing or transferring easily later) so Google Docs is less useful, and that’s why I first went with Simplenote. It may be that Evernote is a better option, or perhaps iWriter, although I’m not crazy about some aspects of that interface.

You’ll want a program that has a good offline mechanism then. Not all of the Dropbox aware text editing applications can access DB files offline, or they have a somewhat clunky mechanism for “checking out” and “checking in” files off of the server that must be used at all times. One of the editors that I’ve noticed has a seamless online/offline approach is Daedalus. It’s also a good editor for its features, if you wrap your head around its unorthodox approach to file management (in a way, it’s actually a bit like Scrivener, where “files” are in “stacks” that represent larger documents or individual pieces thereof). Daedalus also has a customisable aux keyboard.

Just picked up Daedalus and it looks very, very interesting. Thanks for the tip, AmberV.