The Archive, a new “slip box” for your notes

The Archive is a new note-taking app for MacOS. Its basic functionality will be familiar to you if you’ve ever used Notational Velocity or its more popular fork nvAlt. There’s an editor window on the right, a note list on the left and the “omnibar” on top. Type a string into the omnibar dialog box to search for notes, or to create a new one.

Slipbox methodology

The wrinkle with The Archive is that it is built on principles of the Zettelkasten method of note taking and management. Zettelkasten is German for “slipbox.” It was developed by Niklas Luhmann, a German sociologist, who used index cards for his notes and needed a method of cross-referencing and connecting those notes. He would assign each individual card a unique number, which placed the card in a unique place in his file, and which could then be referenced in on other cards. Modern note-takers have adapted this method into digital systems, thus avoiding the drudgery of filing and refiling.

The Archive will automatically set a unique number to each note you create in the format of yearmonthdayhourminute that the note was first made. Call that the note ID. You can append a note title to provide a clue as to the content of the note. Together those will make up the file name of the note — each note is saved as a separate plain text file in the designated folder.

Thus The Archive facilitates the first important part of a Zettelkasten system — the unique ID. The app also facilitates to some extent the second part of the system, relating and linking notes. It does so with a quasi wiki-like approach. Putting the unique ID (or any search string) of the note you want to link to in double brackets makes that string clickable… and when you do, The Archive swings its omnibar into action searching your notes for that string and presenting the results in the note list. While not exactly a link, this method may actually be better. A link will take you to one and only one note, whereas this method will display all notes that meet your criteria. It will also show you other notes that link to the same material (since the search term will appear in those notes).


If you are a fan of markdown, you’ll like The Archive’s editor, which makes use of the plain-text formatting scheme. While not in place as I write this, the developers plan full multimarkdown support in a forthcoming release. Applying the markdown results in a hybrid preview of the formatting — that is, text will be bolded or italicized, but the markdown characters will continue to be visible. There is no preview mode that shows the markdown rendered. There also is no support for exporting or printing your notes. However, you can set up an external editor in which to open and view your note. I’ve set up ByWord, from which I can easily print and export my notes.

I find it interesting that this early release of The Archive incorporates a typewriter mode with the editor, which centers your cursor on the screen, so you do not have to be typing at the bottom of the window constantly. This is a nice feature, but one that more often ends up being added later (for instance, Bear doesn’t yet have this feature). That the developers made it part of the initial release indicates to me their vision that The Archive is for writing notes, not just clipping information from elsewhere.

One feature The Archive desperately needs is backward and forward navigation buttons, so you can return quickly to the notes you’ve been viewing and working on.

Saved searches

I said earlier that The Archive has three elements: the editor, note list and omnibar. There is actually a fourth, the saved searches bar which resides just to left of the note list.

The Archive allows you to create saved searches for your notes, and access them through icons in the “saved searches” bar.

Final thoughts

The Arhive is not available on the App store. You have to purchase your license from the developers. It costs $20 through May 15. After that the price will go up. As it stands today, The Archive is a functional note-taking application focused on the writing of notes. I think $20 is a reasonable price for what you get, especially since the developers have further plans for developing version 1 (see the roadmap on their website).

Update: Christian Tietze, one of the co-authors of The Archive, recommends 1Writer as a companion app on iOS devices.


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