The Sweet Setup: How to Use Keep It for Long-Term Research

Josh Ginter has written a great post about Keep It on The Sweet Setup, How to Use Keep It for Long-Term Research, which is very much appreciated. Near the end he raises two concerns:

First, while I appreciate Keep It is paid for via subscription — and thereby, at least somewhat, ensuring more consistent revenue throughout the app’s lifespan — the app is way less known than other major players in this category. The fear of Keep It being swallowed up by a competitor or being sunsetted due to business reasons scares me, especially when looking at the long-term. For shorter-term users — perhaps those writing a dissertation or thesis, or those writing a book — I don’t expect this will be a major factor in your decision process. But with the rate of change in the iOS app industry, will my notes and research be available for my entire lifetime inside Keep It?

Second, while the benefits of using a digital tool far outweigh the consequences, there’s still something about physically writing in a book. Especially an heirloom item like a Bible. Perhaps this is specific to my use-case, to which I plead ignorance. But one day, I’d like to pass on my research and thoughts to the best of my ability. Keeping everything inside Keep It — if it’s around when I’m in my elderly years — is probably less safe than keeping it in a physical format.

First of all, Keep It’s features and design are heavily based on an app originally called Keep It Together, which began life in 2004. The app was renamed to Together for version 2 in 2007 (because the frequently-used abbreviation KIT was an impossible search term) and continued under that name until 2017, when Keep It was released as its successor.

There was also an iOS app for Together from 2014 onwards. Working well with iCloud and app extensions, and achieving feature parity across Mac and iOS meant taming some of the Mac app’s decade-long legacy and a substantial rewrite of its underpinnings. Giving the app a new name and resetting the version number to 1.0 was the best way to indicate this was a fresh start.

Throughout the last 15 years, there has always been an upgrade path and discounts for loyal customers.

Secondly, no app is guaranteed a future, no matter how big or established the company behind them, and digital formats cannot compete with the durability of the annotations in Josh’s physical copy of the Bible (not to mention how much BETTER you appear if your Bible has almost as many annotations as verses), but there are things apps can do to help ensure you’re not left in the lurch.

Like its predecessor, Keep It is designed to avoid lock-in. Everything you put in Keep It is stored in files and folders that you can access in the Finder on Mac, and the Files app on iOS. You can add files to these folders and they’ll automatically be added to the app, and open those files in other applications to edit them.

Keep It uses standard file formats for everything except its own notes, because those offer features that go beyond what RTF allows. Whenever those notes are exported, they will be converted to RTFD files, with incompatible things such as interactive checklists replaced with the equivalent static checkmarks and boxes, dividers with asterisks, etc. Alternatively, you can make the default format Markdown, rich text or plain text. Even Keep It’s password-protected files are actually ZIP files encrypted with AES-256 that can be decrypted by apps such as The Unarchiver.

Keep It allows you to export everything, including metadata, in a single operation, converting notes to RTFD files, decrypting the encrypted files, and preserving the folder hierarchy (and on Mac, the tags too). 

In the digital world, using standard formats is the closest you can get to the durability of physical media. When Keep It Together was originally released back in 2004, it was expected that apps either work directly with standard formats or export them. iOS’s siloed approach may have made the idea seem less relevant for a while, but apps have been able to access each other’s files since iOS 8, and should provide ways to get data out of them in the most useful formats possible.

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