Why My Own PKM Software, Notenik, is Based on Text Files

Herb Bowie
5 min readMay 21, 2022
Files and Folders: Image Credit: iStock / D3Damon

I recently read with some interest a new post titled “Why I Don’t Believe in PKMs based on Plain Text Files,” authored by my fellow medium writer Paco Cantero.

He makes the case for storing your notes — information, personal knowledge, whatever — in a database, rather than in plain text files.

He recalls the inflection point at which databases speeded up technology, and says he’s rarely looked back since.

As someone who has worked as a computing professional for many decades — including lots of serious work on corporate database systems — I share many of Paco’s memories.

And so, I’ve often asked myself — why did I choose to write my own PKM application using plain text files, instead of a nice database system?

Your mileage may vary, but here are the things that came down for me on the plain text side of the scales.

1. I’m a Scribbler.

I’m a writer. I like to write. I write all sorts of things. Sometimes I’m just jotting something down so I can recall it later, and sometimes I’m writing a piece that I hope others will still find worth reading a hundred years from now. And sometimes a piece of info that starts in that first category gradually evolves into the second one. And I don’t want to lose any of it, unless I make a conscious decision to throw it away.

I started digital writing using word processing software, going all the way back to WordStar. And I’ve used MS-Word a bunch over the years.

And some of the stuff I wrote using those systems is no longer accessible to me, due to changing platforms and encoding systems and proprietary formats.

But then the Web came along, with the ability to hyperlink between pages, and suddenly the idea of creating stand-alone documents in a word processor, formatted primarily for printing, started to seem like yesterday’s news.

And all of the web pages I’ve hand-written or generated since then can still be read using any of a number of browsers (Safari, Chrome, Firefox, etc.), and still edited using any text editor.

And then Markdown came along, and gained in popularity, and provided an easy-to-read…