Day One 2: A Big Update

The same entry in both the old and new Day One.

Day One has long been a favorite app of mine, even if it fell out of regular use for me. Over the years1 I’ve tried using it a few different ways. Sometimes it’s a real diary (as in I hope no one ever reads it), other times it’s a little notebook, storing half-baked fragments of ideas. I even tried to use it as a catch-all for my digital life thanks to Brett Terpstra’s Slogger project, which he just updated for version 2.

The most consistent use I’ve gotten out of Day One has been using it as a running diary, which I’ve written about here before. It’s still my favorite way to track the more personal aspects of my runs. Whereas Runkeeper and, to a lesser extent, Apple’s Workout app, track data about my runs, Day One stores how I feel, how I look, plus the weather and what I’m listening to.2

So when Day One 2 hit the app store last night, it was a no brainer to purchase it. I’ve used it for so long, I was only too happy to kick another $5 in the direction of Bloom Built, the app’s makers. That’s the current sale price for iOS. On the Mac the new version costs $20 for the first week, after which it will double. The truth is I haven’t used Day One on the Mac in a very long time, so that price gives me pause enough to hold off. Of course, if I ever want to use the aforementioned Slogger again, I’ll have to get the Mac version. And actually one of the marquee features of Day One 2 might make me want to reboot using Slogger. More on that in a bit. Let’s talk about some other apps I use briefly.

Writing on iOS in 2016

I’ve been messing around with text editing in various apps for years. I thought by now I’d have settled on a single, clear workflow. This…is not the case. I really wish I could pare it all down to two apps like Ben Brooks, but I’m not there yet.

Like Ben, I’m using the Ulysses beta on my iPhone, and it’s very, very close to being the end-all be-all writing app for me. All of my writing on a Mac is done in Ulysses, so having that synced library available to me on the go is an incredible resource.

However, Ulysses doesn’t quite feel fast enough for jotting things down quickly. Oddly, its most compelling feature, that it syncs my entire writing library to all my devices, works against it: I feel like I can only store “real” writing in it. This is more neuroses than it is the fault of The Soulmen, but it’s something.

The only app on my home screen for jotting notes down is Vesper. It’s bare bones and its future is uncertain, but for whatever reason it’s been one of the stickiest note-taking apps for me. I love the way the top line becomes a headline and how it handles photo attachments.

When I read paper books (which I’m wont to do lately) and come across a compelling passage, I fire up TextGrabber, quickly join line breaks together in TextTool, and then paste the quote with title and page number in Vesper. Sometimes I’ll attach the still of the book page, for context later. I’ve tried in vain to use other apps, but the way Vesper implements tags (and something like, say, Apple’s own Notes, doesn’t) has proven incredibly hard to give up.3

So Vesper gets the book quotes and some other jottings. Notes actually gets a few entries from me, but mostly because I’m trying to wean myself off of Q Branch’s seemingly abandoned app. I still use Drafts every once in awhile, but never to store anything. Whatever gets started there will land in Vesper, Ulysses or Notes later.

Basically at present my iOS writing workflow is a mess. (And I haven’t even brought up all the writing that goes into Field Notes, never to be heard from again.) Adding a new version of Day One into that mix probably isn’t the smartest thing I could do, but I still feel like, outside of the running diary, it can play an important role in organizing my thoughts.

Headlining New Features: Multiple Photos and Journals

The original Day One was itself a repository. The app was the journal. The new version allows for up to ten different different journals, which at first sounds to me like a crufty solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

Day One has long supported tags, which allow me to quickly enter and then revisit entries on a specific topic. My running entries are tagged “Running,” as the obvious example. In the old version of the app I could simply go to that tag and I was looking at what was effectively my running diary.

These new journals work similarly, but just one layer above. I was pleasantly surprised to find they offer advantages beyond my old tagging system. The key thing that makes multiple journals exciting for me is that each is assigned a different color. That may sound trivial, but since color now plays a big role in Day One’s overall interface, it actually makes for some interesting visualizations of your diary.

I moved all of my posts tagged “Running” into a new journal called (obviously) Running. I set the color to red, leaving the default journal (called Journal) in the light blue that has always been a part of Day One. Now I can choose to look at either just the Journal or the Running entries, or I can look at “All Entries” throughout the app. What’s neat is that the journal color now corresponds to entries across the whole app.

Day One 2 Calendar View

Take the app’s calendar view. When “All Entries” is selected, days that have entries from a single journal will be highlighted in that journal’s color. So on days when all I did was run, I see a red square; on days where I only did a straight journal entry I see a blue square.

The new map view, which drops a waymarker on your entries that have a location, does the same thing. So I can see where my running posts were, and have them clearly visible since the waymarker will be red. It’s a really nice touch, and something that I can see making multiple journals extremely useful.

Multiple journals, by the way, is the feature that may get me back into Slogger. The main reason I stopped using it was that I found my journal became overrun with archival minutae. Putting that type of content in a separate journal may be a nice compromise.

The other major feature is the ability to add multiple photos to an entry. In the old version of the app, you could attach a single photo to an entry. I actually liked that simplicity. (See also: my enjoyment of Vesper, which has the same limitation.) Adding more photos always seemed like it would be a nice addition, but something I knew would likely not be a feature I would use.

While adding multiple journals is an expansion of the feature-set in Day One 2, the implementation of multiple photos per entry is a fundamental change to the way the app works, and, unfortunately, it’s a step backwards. Before I go any further, I want to point out that this app is an exemplar of great iOS design. It’s an incredibly well thought out piece of work, and something I intend to use heavily for years to come. But I also need to be honest.

The trouble is hinted at in the release notes:

Multiple Photos per entry (up to ten inline photos)

I blinked and missed it. All entry photos are now inline, as in they appear in the middle of your text. Previously, the single photo allowed for each entry was treated more like metadata: it appeared at the top of your entry, but was selected as a piece of information that ran alongside your words, just like the location, weather or current song playing. While the ability to add inline photos is a welcome change (you couldn’t before without using Markdown to point to an image hosted elsewhere), by making all photos inline it actually demotes them to the level of regular content. They used to be the raison d’être for a post.

This isn’t just ideological. Creating a photo entry is now much more confusing. You’re presented with a great looking photo picker, which allows you to choose up to ten images. For my running diary, I only need one image. After tapping the one I want and hitting “Done,” I’m presented with the entry and the inline image, with the cursor in place above it. Right away this is a jarring change since the old photo entries that were imported put the photo at the top with the text below it. So which is correct?

Setting that aside for a moment, the image has a glass overlay down the right side of it with three buttons, which, as far as I can tell represent the following functions: expand/shrink, delete and comment. If one were to save the entry at this point, the photo would fill the width of your device screen and have no annotation.

Image entries in Day One 2.

The first thing that confused me on the edit screen was what the “expand/shrink” button does. Basically, the image preview is, at first, a small crop of the full image. I suppose this makes editing text easier, especially on a bigger screen like the iPad, while still allowing you the ability to see the full image at the tap of a button, but I had to spend some time fiddling with it to figure out it has no effect on how the image looks in the final, saved entry.

The more confusing icon is that “comment” button. Tapping it will move your cursor below the photo, something you could do by simply tapping below the photo. When I first tapped this icon I was expecting the ability to add some kind of caption (as in something like <figcaption>), not just the ability to enter regular text below it.

The trash can icon works as advertised, but itself is even a little confusing in context next to the comment icon. Tapping the trash can brings up a dialog asking if you want to remove the photo. It removes the photo, but not the text below it which, had you tapped the comment icon and added a description, feels like it should with the photo. Basically the functions of both of these buttons can be achieved with the cursor, and it’s much clearer to me what the cursor is doing.

Back to the initial placement of the cursor on a new photo entry. One thing I love in Day One is the ability to make the first line of any entry bold, causing it function as a title. Since all of my old photo posts have the photo at the top with text below them, I feel inclined to keep that up for all future entries. However, the state the app launches in makes me think it’s the “right” way from here on out, and it places the cursor above the photo.

It’s an easy fix for me: just move the cursor below the photo and Bob’s your uncle. Yet this is exactly what I mean when I say photos have been demoted. They are now just content, which kind of makes me wonder why there are still two new entry buttons: one for photo posts, one for all other entries. They all seem the same to me now.

So Much Unmentioned

And there’s so, so much I’m not going to be able to get to in this article. Every last pixel has been refined in this new version. Tags are immensely better in Day One 2, thanks to a brand new interface both for adding and searching tags. Getting through your journal archive is much easier now, with buttons for quickly getting to posts with specific metadata. Want to see only posts with music attached? Or from when you were flying? They’re just a few taps away.

The map view, mentioned above, is brand new and a truly remarkable feature. While I’m actually a fan of checking in places with Swarm, sometimes I want to remember where I was without sharing it with the world. Day One is perfect for that, and the map view makes viewing at my escapades fun. I’m thinking of starting a journal just for food and drink. Months down the line I’d love to see Austin peppered with little pins of my memorable meals (and beers).

And only just yesterday I picked up Workflow and started messing around with ways to log movies in Day One. I’m not sure if that will be sticky for me, but it doesn’t matter much. That the app is so flexible that it can fulfill all of these needs for me makes me deeply appreciative it exists. Day One takes the powerful technology of a social network and personalizes it just for me. I love that.

I know I spent a lot of time nitpicking about photos, but it all comes from a really positive place. Day One’s developers are quite open about this update laying the groundwork for bigger updates down the line, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with. This new app is a ground up rewrite, including a brand new sync backend. That means they put a ton of work into it, but it also means that it’s a new beginning. So change is expected, and I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

  1. My first entry is August 16, 2012, and says only, “This is a thing.” That’s basically my “Hello world” for new things↩︎

  2. Runkeeper now tracks weather if you purchase a premium “Go” account, which offers a number of other perks, yet I’m still on the fence about upgrading to it. ↩︎

  3. I’ve tried Quotebook many times, which is supposed to solve this exact problem I have, but it plainly isn’t designed to preserve quotes the way I think about them. For me, context is paramount, which means I want to know: the book, the page, the author and other bits of context important to me. If a quote I pull is spoken by a character, I want to know whom.

    Just the other day I pulled a quote from Agee on Film:

    Color is very nice for costume pieces and musical comedies, and has a great aesthetic future in films, but it still gets fatally in the way of any serious imitation of reality.

    On its own that’s an excellent quote. But when and if I revisit it, I’d like to know he penned it on July 24, 1943 in a review of Sam Wood’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Quotebook has no space for that kind of context. ↩︎