Diary — Awesome Open Source
This Diary app for android, by Bill Farmer, has made it a pleasure to keep a diary of short observations. I wasn't a diary writer until I installed it about two years ago and now I have been using it nearly every day, ever since.
What I like about this Diary:
- Simple arrangement: a new blank page each day.
- Off-line. (Why important? see below.)
- Quick and easy to add short observations during the day: tap the home screen icon, tap to edit, start typing. As an off-line app, it's ready in less than one second no matter where I am.
- Stored as plain text files. (Why important? see below.)
- Insert photos, videos, sound recordings, link to maps and calendar events, format text (bold, headings, lists, ...) if we like, or...
- Ignore all the fancy stuff and just write plain text, if that's what we prefer.
The way I use this diary mostly is to jot down quick observations whenever I have a moment. I don't write long reflective prose. Just something I heard, saw, did, or made. Sometimes complete sentences, sometimes just a hint which I will later complete and correct. When I remember something, I don't write “Last Tuesday...”, I go back to last Tuesday's page and add it there.
Why an off-line app?
As readers may know, I shun entrusting any of my personal life data to the Facebooks of this world. With an off-line app, my data lives solely on my own devices under my control.
An offline app is not dependent on some proprietary service provider that stores and uses our data under their terms and conditions that support their business model. Instead, a good open source offline app does what is useful for us, and we retain our personal rights and control over what we may do with it.
An off-line app is ready to use, immediately and fully, no matter where I am and whether I have a phone signal.
Why plain text files?
This Diary stores its pages as a tree of plain text files, one file per day. We choose either absolutely plain text or plain text with Markdown formatting. If we insert photos, it stores them as plain standard image files alongside the text files.
Using plain files in this way is powerful. This is a great way to store data that we want to keep for many years. It means the content of our diary is not tied to this app. We can edit the diary easily with any text editor. Most apps we use today didn't exist a few years ago and, in a few more years from now, may no longer exist in a readily accessible form that works on whatever new device we have then. Much as I like this particular Diary app, I don't expect it be the one I use forever, and yet I want to be able to carry my diary history with me as I move to some other software.
By storing data in plain files, in a format that is widely understood and not unique to this app, it means we can preserve our diary archive over the long term. No matter how much we may like this particular app, we know we will inevitably replace it with another at some point in the future.
For example, I synchronise my docs folder between my phone and my laptop, where this app is not available. Instead I can still view and edit my diary entries using any generic text editor on the laptop. If the text editor supports MarkDown, so much the better: then it will help me view and edit any formatting or inserted media, but that extra help is not essential.
Sync and Backup
Using plain files also helps with long term storage and back up. I configure the app to put the diary folder inside my Android “Documents” folder, and arrange to back up that whole folder using general purpose file backup tools. My diary storage doesn't depend on any Diary-specific or even Android-specific backup tools. (I currently use Syncthing to sync it to my server, and Borg backup there.)
 This app is available from the freedom-respecing app store F-droid, and not from the Google Play-by-our-rules-only Store. If you haven't started using F-droid yet, you should! (Here's one guide to it.)
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