Private journals are a much better way of venting your frustration than Twitter. Studies have proven this. (Okay not really.) This explains Day One’s success. The thing is, there aren’t that many quality journaling options available on the Mac. I reviewed Capture 365 Journal — a nice-looking alternative — about a year ago and found it to be less than satisfactory compared to Day One. Is there no hope for a Day One stand-in? I think I’ve found one, actually.
Its name is Bits, developed by the people who brought you Numi. It lives up to its very short name, and I’d go so far as to call it the smallest journaling app available on the Mac. It’s very minimal in appearance, but the developers have given it a unique strength: blog integration. Could this tiny app be the basic digital journal we’ve always wanted?
Alas, there is a major problem right at the start: you can’t import entries from another app. This makes switching from Day One, or any other app, difficult and, for someone with over 800 entries, superfluously tedious. There’s not even plain text support, which would be a good start as some people store journals in this format with TextEdit.
I was surprised to find that there’s an option to back up from Bits’ iCloud storage, but not to import them again. This seems like a useless feature without a way to import entries. You can back things up manually by going to the default directory ~/Library/Application Support/com.dmitrynikolaev.bits and copying the journal.bitsarchive to anywhere you’d like; don’t move it though.
Pseudo-Markdown Formatting and Quick Tagging
Adding a journal entry is one click away and doesn’t open a new window, which is nice for multitasking. Once you’re in the composition pop-up, write down your thoughts and click Save. If you get interrupted during the process, the app will save the entry. You can simply click the compose button again to continue drafting your innermost secrets.
Bits seems to support some sort of Markdown formatting. The thing is, I can’t figure out how to use it. The help page says, “To make emphasis, use ‘*’ for strong emphasis (bold) and ‘_’ for regular emphasis (italic): This is a *bold* text.” I tried to add a link using the typical Markdown syntax, but it parsed in a strange manner. In the end, I gave up on hyperlinking text and settled with plain formatting options.
If you like to organize your entries, Bits has good support for tagging. You can add them anywhere you’d like in an entry using the hash symbol and then search for them either in the top bar or scroll through your tags in the Tags screen (Command + 1).
Very Few Options
Bits isn’t very customizable. If you, say, wanted to add a journal entry that you wrote a few days earlier on a scratchpad, everything would be fine until you got to the date, which you can’t change when composing. You have to save the entry and then open it again to modify its time, which I found to be inconvenient.
Retroactively adding a journal entry should be just as easy as adding a new one. Likewise, the app should automatically pull from a photo’s metadata just as Day One does. (An even better feature would be Dropbox Camera Uploads or Photo Stream integration.)
A Few Strange Bugs
In the process of testing Bits, I encountered some strange bugs. For example, switching from the Entries screen to Tags and then back again made all the entry previews blank. I had to quit the app and reopen it to fix things. That one wasn’t too major, but it gets worse when you click a tag in the Tags screen. This should display the entires with that tag. Instead, it shows more blanks. In all my testing, this blanks issue was the worst. I couldn’t edit an entry without it becoming blank and messing up the user interface. I ended up opening and closing the app every few minutes.
I also had a lot of trouble connecting my WordPress blog to the app. Tumblr only took two clicks to integrate nicely, but despite already having XML-RPC enabled, it refused to log in. I tried a few different blogs to see if the app was taking issue with one of them. In the end, WordPress integration did not work.
Blog About It and Bits is Free
There’s a free seven-day trial of Bits available on the website if you prefer to test it out before paying $9.99. However, if you want a copy for free, all you have to do is blog about it. “Write review about Bits, describe why you like it, and we will send you a license for free,” the developer says at the bottom of its website. So, download the app, try it out a bit, and tell the world what you think. If you really like it, ask them for a complimentary code.
Such Potential Ruined by Odd Bugs and Lack of Features
Minimal apps are acceptable when they are equally useful. Bits has an imbalance. Its functionality is very minimal, and it’s not very good at what it’s supposed to do. I was expecting a solid little app, considering its limited feature set. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by its buggy user interface and strange alternative to Markdown for formatting. I like where the app is headed, but right now it seems to be a long way from the goal. Even the core functionality, WordPress integration, didn’t work when I tested it.
Overall, give the app a try for free. If its bugginess doesn’t annoy you, maybe you’ve found a winner. I wouldn’t spend $9.99 on this app, though. Even if it’s perfect, Bits is only worth half that price.