Yaogang Lian

What is Quiver?

Quiver has been compared with many other apps, including Ulysses, SnippetsLab, Mou, nvALT, Evernote, OneNote and Jupyter. Some people call Quiver a code snippet manager, while others think it’s a Markdown editor. I think it might be worthwhile to take a moment and reflect on what I think Quiver is, where it came from, and where it’s going.

I began working on Quiver about two years ago to scratch an itch that I’d had for years. I was looking for an easy way to take programming notes. Previous solutions either provide a good code editor but force you to enter text as code comments, or they provide a nice rich text editor which doesn’t support code syntax highlighting. I wanted a way to mix code and rich text in the same note, without compromising the editing experience of either one. That’s how Quiver was born.

Since then, Quiver has grown up a lot. It’s no longer just for programmers. Some users use Quiver to keep web clippings because Quiver saves web pages with high fidelity. Many Markdown power users use Quiver because they like the GFM Markdown support and live preview. Scholars use Quiver because they can easily write notes interspersed with images and math equations. Technical writers use Quiver because it’s so convenient to mix text and code.

So, what really is Quiver?

What Quiver Is

CrisOTheRivers said this about Quiver in a review on the Mac App Store:

Take a certain famous notetaking app, remove its total dependence on a web service, and add features that power users and developers beg for (markdown, code syntax highlighting, comprehensive keyboard shortcuts, LaTeX, documented and legible database format). Do all this with efficiency and thoughtful design. That’s what Quiver is.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. In essence, Quiver is a notebook app, and it should strive to serve users’ note-taking needs as best as possible.

A great notebook app must do three things exceedingly well: taking notes, organizing notes, and retrieving notes. And it should refrain from doing anything else. This is the guiding principle for Quiver.

Taking Notes

For a notebook app, nothing is more important than providing a great note-taking experience. This experience must be delightful and effortless. Little bugs or inconsistencies can quickly snowball into huge frustration for the user, when the app is used on a daily basis.

People take notes in many different formats — plain text, rich text, images, links, code, Markdown, math equations, diagrams. The best format of a note is often a mix of several content types. For example, programmers often need to mix code, text annotations and diagrams, scholars often need to mix text, math equations and images. The notebook app should facilitate these needs, instead of getting in the way.

Quiver lets the user freely mix different content types in the same note. Because of its cell-based design, you can edit rich text in a nice rich text editor, code in an awesome code editor (Ace), and Markdown in a great Markdown editor. This is what sets Quiver apart from other notebook apps.

Going forward, it’s important for Quiver to focus on this unique feature, while further improving the editing experience for each supported content type. New content types must be introduced slowly and with great care, so that they don’t negatively affect the app’s performance or ease of use.

Organizing Notes

Everyone organizes things differently. The best approach here seems to be providing several simple but flexible solutions, which can be combined to form more powerful systems.

At the moment Quiver provides the following ways of organizing notes: notebooks, tags, wiki-style note links. A lot more work still needs to be done: nested notebooks, easier note linking, table of contents, etc.

Retrieving Notes

Easy note retrieval requires:

  1. Open data format. If the notes are saved in a proprietary format, they might not be retrievable if one day the app is gone.
  2. Full-text search. Notes are only useful if they can be found quickly.
  3. Integration with other apps. You should be able to write a script to access your notes from other apps.
  4. Export options. You should be able to export the notes into many common formats.
  5. Cross-platform support. If you are on the road and need to access your notes, a mobile app would be very handy.

What’s Ahead

Quiver still has a long way to go. Many new features are planned for the Mac app. An iOS app is currently under development. A web-based viewer (read-only) is also planned, which will work on Windows, Linux, and possibly Android. Stay tuned.

Yaogang Lian

An iOS, Mac and web developer. Focusing on building productivity and educational apps.