Replacing Circus Ponies Notebook
I am way over due in writing this post, as I promised to do so back in my January 2016 article "Saying Goodbye to Circus Ponies Notebook." The Circus Ponies App for Mac and iOS is no more...quoting the developer that "Circus Ponies has gone to that great Alphabet company in the sky." So now what?
I could turn this article into its own book, but instead I am going to keep this as short as possible (which is still going to be relatively long) and tell you what I have done and mention some of the really great options there are out there. Here are the steps I recommend you take:
- Export all of your existing Circus Ponies Notebooks into formats that are a bit more future-proof
- Examine your specific needs and based on those needs choose an app or several apps that best fit those needs
- Stop using Circus Ponies Notebook and move on
Exporting Your Circus Ponies Notebooks
Freeing your precious data from the crumbling prison of the Circus Ponies Notebook app should be your top priority. Using the term "crumbling prison" is probably a little harsh as the Notebook app has several really simple and powerful ways to exports all your data from a given notebook with just a few clicks. But even so, it is VERY important that you do so quickly. While the Circus Ponies Notebook apps will continue to work on iOS and macOS for at least for a little while, you still need to sever the tie to this dead platform. Here are the export actions I took:
Export to a webpage:
This is all done through the Circus Ponies for Mac app from the "Export" menu option. This creates an "index.html" file that you can open in any web browser and then interact with your Circus Ponies Notebook just like you could with the app, at least from a reading and browsing perspective (you can't search or edit). This was a really key thing for me because I had a ton of embedded images in my notebooks and exporting out to OPML or to Word just didn't help because they don't retain the embedded images. So if you know approximately where in your notebook you are looking for data this export option is by far the best way to get to your data.
Export to Word:
As I mentioned above, exporting out a complete notebook to Word doesn't retain the embedded images but it does nicely take the entire text content and structure and stick it into a Word document. Images and files that were attached or embedded to the Notebook are still listed in the Word document so can still eventually get to those files (more on that later). Because Word is such a powerhouse app it is unlikely to completely disappear from the Earth any time soon, so this is a good long term format for your data. Just like the export to a web page option above, this is done through the Circus Ponies for Mac app from the "Export" menu option.
Extract All Images and Attachments:
This is a very important step because the only way to ensure you get absolutely ALL of your content out of the Circus Ponies Notebook format you need to grab all the "non-text" content that you added into each notebook (things like document and images) and this is done manually. Here is how you do it...
- Find the Notebook on your Mac you want to grab all the data from. It will have a ".nb" file extension.
- Control Click the file and choose "Show Package Contents" from the menu that pops up. Circus Ponies Notebook files use the Mac OS package file format, so the attachments and files that are embedded in a Notebook are all stored within the folder structure of that Package file.
- Now you will see a bunch of folders, but the one you are really looking for here is "attachments." This folder contains everything from your Notebook that was added in as an image or attachment.
- Copy and paste all of the files from this "attachments" folder into a folder on your computer so you can search and find these documents later.
Examine Your Needs and Choose Replacements Apps
Ok, great. You have rescued all of your precious Notebook contents. Now what? There is no single "one size fits all" answer here. The replacement app for you depends on what features of Circus Ponies Notebook you were using. So start by looking at what you need our of a "Notebook Replacement App." Once you have figure out your "can't live without it" list of features it is time to look at the options.
If there was a single app out there that had the best chance of meeting most people's needs for a Notebook replacement app this would be it. Best of all, this is a "free" app. Free is in quotes here because Microsoft is pulling in some profit from the app because the app is helping them to drive up their Microsoft 365 subscriptions. Because the app is not paid for upfront, there is a chance that Microsoft will stop supporting it in the future but that can be said of any app. OneNote has been a solid app for quite a few years and I suspect it will continue to be for quite a for more years. Seriously take a look at this app. If it does what you need this a great choice. Unfortunately this doesn't work for me for one very silly and simple reason...syncing. For whatever reason (probably the reason I mention above), Microsoft does not offer local storage as an option on their Mac OneNote app. It is an option on the PC and on mobile devices but not on the Mac. If you use OneNote on the Mac the data must be stored in Microsoft's cloud which is called OneDrive. The reason this doesn't work for me is that one of my biggest use cases for a Notebook is to capture data for work and almost all of that data is sensitive data that can't be stored on a cloud service.
This is the solution I have settled on. It is a bit on the pricey side, but you get what you pay for. I spend so much time taking notes and ferreting away information that the solution I choose has to be very powerful and stable and I need to know that it is going to be around for a few years. OmniOutliner hits all of those points for me. I recommend biting the bullet and buying both the iOS version (OmniOutliner 2) and the Mac version if you are like me and need to take notes everywhere you go. For my work purposes I only use the Mac version and keep all the data locally on my machine to get around the sensitive data issue I described earlier. I recommend buying OmniOutliner for Mac directly from the OmniGroup's website rather than the Mac App Store because you will get discounted upgrades when new versions of the app are released (and discounts are not possible through the Mac App Store).
So how does OmniOutliner replace Circus Ponies Notebook? There is an excellent article over at Organizing Creativity that goes into great details about how you can do this. I have no intention of trying to duplicate any of that great work here so just give that article a read. I will warn you that using OmniOutliner as a Notebook replacement is not for the faint of heart. It is going to take a bit of fiddling and you will need to create some templates in order to really do it right, but in my opinion this is the best "power user" solution moving forward and it keeps your data in a format that quite future proof.
There are actually quite a few app that have "notebook" features and Outline by Gorillized is just one those app. But there are two things that make this app stand out. The first being that they actually developed a Circus Ponies Notebook importer, so you can directly import all of your old Circus Ponies Notebooks into the Outline app. Here is a link the the support article that explains how to do this. The other reason to take a good look at this app is that they offer a discount for all of us "Circus Ponies Refugees." The discount only works on the Mac version of the app, but all you have to do is go to their website and purchase the Mac app and at checkout enter the discount code "CIRCUSPONIES" for 30% off the purchase price. I will probably end up purchasing this app and using it for two main purposes. One is to have a user friendly version of all my previous Circus Ponies Notebooks and the other is to use the app replace how I used to use Circus Ponies Notebook as a digital notebook while sitting on console for rocket launches.
I really like the clean look and simplicity of this app. I haven't personally used this app yet, but everything I have heard about it has been positive. Depending on your needs this app might be a good solution for you.
The last step in the this process is to move on. You must sever all ties to the now dead Circus Ponies app and move forward with the application(s) you have chosen as (a) replacement(s). There is no such thing as a permanent application , at least not in today's fast moving technology world. Don't be afraid to experiment with different apps and use multiple apps to replace Circus Ponies Notebook, using a single app to replace just one or two key features at a time. It is also important to think about the longevity of your data in these replacement applications. How is the data stored and how easily can you export that data into a format that can be read and used by another application. After all, Circus Ponies Notebook won't be the last app that goes off into that great big gig in the sky...