January 4, 2019

Introduce Agenda to Your Note-taking

Agenda IconAgenda Icon

Product: Agenda - An elegant new take on Notes.
App Store: Agenda App Store Link
Price: Free with Premium Features for $24.99

What Do You Get When You Pay for Agenda?

Agenda introduces an interesting variation on subscriptions.

Agenda has a free version. It is available to use for as long as you like. Agenda has two kinds of features: Basic features and Premium features. The basic features are available to everyone. If you pay the yearly subscription of $24.99, you are entitled to all the Premium features that are released during the year of your subscription. At the end of your subscription, you are given a choice. You can renew the subscription, which entitles you to all the new features to be released during the coming year. If you don’t renew, you get to keep all the features you had already paid for but you are not entitled to the new Premium features which are going to be released during the next year.

It is a unique model. My first reaction is that it is a fair model.

The usual subscription model makes your access to the use of the product contingent on whether you have an active subscription or not. Agenda doesn’t do that. If you paid a subscription for a year, you are entitled to use the product and all the features that were released during your subscription period for ever. You are not entitled to new features but you can continue to use the product.

The developer provides a detailed Roadmap to let you know what they are working on, and what you can expect from the developer during your subscription period. The developer provides a sense of what they are busy fixing. This transparency gives you a clear idea on what the developers are focusing on. This helps you make the decision to subscribe or not.

Using Agenda

PrettyPretty

It is pretty. That is the first thing you notice about Agenda.

Agenda is a different note-taking app. The difference is highlighted by the descriptor of Agenda from the developer:

Agenda is a date-focused note taking app for both planning and documenting your projects.

Most note-taking apps deal with notes. They are not date-focused or project focused. Agenda changes the paradigm. It lets you assign dates to your notes. Effectively, it provides a time-line for your note-taking as it relates to a project.

I have two kinds of notes.

  1. Notes which are project driven. It makes perfect sense to have those associated with a timeline and Agenda has the right answer for those notes. Seeing a progression of notes within a project based on a timeline gives me the ability to dig into the details and also lets me take a broader view of the project and its progression.
  2. Notes which are subject driven and not project driven. They are not helped by an association with a date component. Agenda does provide Projects (think folders) which do contain notes which do not have to be associated with a particular date or timeline.

Agenda tries to avoid being prescriptive. You can use Agenda any way you think fit and it is an interesting addition to the note-taking space.

Agenda does tags. Tags are useful for organizing and search. Bear is built around the concept of tags. Agenda is not. Agenda is built around the concept of Categories and Projects. Categories are broad, like work, home, macOS, and so on. Projects are components of Categories. Tags are not nested, they are discrete. You can tag your documents and set up smart searches which collect all the notes or notes in a particular project containing the specified tag. It is an integral component of the search function.

Are You Confused Yet?

Agenda is new. Nothing in the marketplace compares. Notes are usually stand alone documents. They might be associated with a topic or a project, but they have not been associated with a timeline or placed together in any convenient way before. This is new to the world software. Thus, confusing.

This is what the developers say about the product:

Agenda… is really in a category all its own, there to assist you in getting the most out of each and every project, no matter how big or small.

All your notes are part of a project. They can be linked to a timeline. They don’t have to be. Agenda gives you the ability to adopt a timeline for a note or not. So, for instance, if you are managing a project which lends itself to a timeline, you can associate its notes to calendar events and thus you have the ability to assign due dates and build your workflow around the milestones relevant to your project. Agenda is a great way of maintaining control over such a project.

On the other hand, you can be taking notes on something that is not linked to a calendar event at all. Collecting every little bit information you can get your hands on for a DIY project, like Build a Table. You can assign notes on this to a project, call it Build a Table. Tag it with a tag like #table. Add notes to the project as you deem fit. You have all of those notes in one place and they are easy to search using the tag, through the specific project, or through a saved search.

Agenda gives you the ability to manage your notes any way you think is beneficial to you or relevant to the project you are tackling. That flexibility is both a strength of the product and a weakness. The strength comes from the unique approach to generating a timeline of notes relevant to a project and the ability to record the progression of the project through date-centric events. The weakness is the plethora of choices that this provides for the user. You, the user, have to decide on how you want to best manage your notes. The learning curve is a function of the introduction of a new paradigm to the concept of note-taking. You have to grok the program to get the best use of it. Agenda provides a significant quantity of information to help you along the process of figuring out what the product can do.

Preferences

Agenda PreferencesAgenda Preferences

  • You get to choose whether you want to go all in on the concept of associating your notes to a timeline.
  • If you use Agenda on multiple devices, you can sync your data through iCloud and have your notes available on all your devices.
  • The interesting part of the preferences is that it includes a link to the community built around the product.

Community

Note-taking is a crowded marketplace. Agenda is built around a new paradigm of note-taking. It is differentiated from the norm in terms of the function of the product, the design of the product, and the pricing of the product. How do you get traction in the marketplace?

The solution that the developer has put together is a focus on the community around the product. They maintain a product forum which is build into both the preferences and the interface of the product. The forum provides the user with information and a place to ask questions, discuss workflows and get educated about the product. The added benefit of such a forum is that it increases user involvement with the product. Users have the ability to share with other users, learn from them, and effect the direction of the product’s evolution.

Of all the elements of the product mix, if the developer is able to build a vibrant community around the product, this will be the most important element underlying the success of the product.

I am excited by the effort and I commend the developers for thinking this through and giving users a forum to engage in discussions about the product and its use. This ensures that the users have skin in the game and increases their involvement in the product. Nice.

Improvements

Agenda has potential. Like every other software product, it needs some improvements, In no particular order, they are:

Performance: Projects which have a sizable number of notes, and for notes which are long, Agenda lags. Collapsing the notes makes it a little easier to deal with. It is a pain. If a project has a few too many notes, the program becomes slow. The lack of responsiveness makes the product feel unstable. You need to trust the program if you are going to trust it with your notes. Performance glitches destroys confidence. Agenda needs to be more responsive when burdened with a significant number of notes.

Sorting: Notes within a project should be sortable.

Tags: For tags to be meaningful the application has to support hierarchical tags. Or nested tags. As it is implemented now, the tags are just a placeholder for you to remember something or perform some rudimentary organization. Categories and Projects are nice but they restrict you to two levels of abstraction. Nested tags would make this an user selectable level of abstraction. Also nested tags would have to support saved searches for it to be useful.

Font Support: Please let me use my own fonts. Avenir is nice but I have fonts. Nice fonts. They are sitting here, waiting to be called on. Please let them be useful.

List Manipulation: Agenda has to do a better job of managing todo’s. I need to have a place where I can go to look at all my todo’s. If you are going to support todo’s, you have to provide an integration with Reminders.

Single Note Full Screen View: In full screen, I want the ability to concentrate on a single note. The stream of notes is fine in windowed mode, but a single note focus in full screen would improve the ability to write.

Easier Input: A quicker way of getting notes into Agenda would be welcome. A menu bar item or a global input box where I can type in the title of the note, where it belongs (category/project), the date element (if needed), the necessary tags, and the content of the note would make the process of getting notes into Agenda more efficient. At this stage, I need to switch to Agenda to make this possible. This can be simplified by a global inbox, with the metadata input and categorization to be left for later.

Recommendation

Agenda is available to download and use for free. There are no barriers to entry. Download it. Try it out, use it for a while and decide whether it fits your workflow.

There are a lot of things to like about Agenda. I like the innovations it brings to the genre. I like the focus on the community aspect of the application. I love how pretty it is.

Remember though that this is a program which requires a deep dive. If you use the program, you are going to go all-in on the program. Agenda is going to control all of your notes and you are going to be reliant on its proprietary database backend. Agenda has good export options (PDF file, Markdown file, rtf, rtfd, and Agenda files), but you need to be conscious that this is a movement away from the elegance of individual text files and it is a move into a proprietary database controlled by a small independent developer. The good news is that the developer seems to explicitly eschew any concept of a lock-in. There is no lock-in. The export options, and the payment system both steer you clear from any lock-in. The only remaining concern for me is performance. I am not sure that the program can ably support the sheer number of notes that I have. Personally I am going to monitor the progress of the program and not do a deep dive into it.

If you like the demo and are comfortable with the paradigm of notes allied to the calendar that it provides, this is a unique application in the macOS space and it is well worth exploring.

I recommend Agenda with some reservations about its performance issues.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.


Agenda macOS iOS note-taking


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