Why I'm switching back to Workflowy

After almost a decade of using Workflowy, I discovered Dynalist, was very impressed, and within a few weeks, imported and switched over a couple days ago. There’s a lot I like about it, but after some real usage, it fails in a few key areas for my use cases. So here’s why I’m switching back. (Feel free to move this to a more appropriate forum category)

I have a very large number of items. I used Workflowy for taking all my notes on everything (checklists are actually a very rare use case for me, so I rarely remove items - I just find my brain thinks best in a hierarchical bulleted list, which these apps are perfect for). I was super impressed by how quick and crisp and responsive Dynalist was, but after importing, I’m guessing the sheer number of items took care of that; it was notably sluggish, moreso than Workflowy is at that number. I split up my monolith into two files, but it still has performance issues. And I don’t want to need to switch between files just to preserve performance.

The mobile app (which is vital to me to capture notes while I’m not at my desktop or laptop), while seeming marginally better than Workflowy’s, is now infuriating to deal with. When opening the app, it takes 3-6 seconds to connect/load. Then I navigate to where I want to add an item and add it, maybe one or two more, when suddenly it will interrupt with the loading screen again for another 3-6 seconds, and revert me to the top of the parent item, losing my place and often most of the item I was typing. This will continue 2 or 3 more times before it seems to stabilize, but that “open app to take a quick note” is the most common use case on mobile, so this is unacceptable for me.

There are a number of issues with moving items that I don’t have the energy to expound at the moment, but among them: You can’t indent an item under another item which has no children while dragging, something I commonly want to do. And bookmarks seem to break if they get moved to a new file.

And here’s the primary functional issue that was the dealbreaker for me. Dynalist tabs in the same browser seem sync to the view opened in the most recently used tab. This means I can’t have separate tabs with different views open with any consistency. This may in fact only be a problem when reloading, but much as I have huge note lists, I also have a ridiculous number of tabs, so I use a tab unloader, and so when I go back to a Dynalist tab that has been unloaded, it loses its place.

Workflowy has its annoyances, but overall is a smoother experience for my use cases. Perhaps I’ll try out Dynalist again after a few more years of polish.

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Not discounting most of the points here, but just wanted to mention a couple of things:

  • If you’re on Android, Quick Dynalist is a fantastic app to quickly capture to your inbox. I use it everyday. It would be great if Dynalist had better quick add to inbox natively, but until then it does the job well.
  • A few months ago they rolled out a “dragging indent” feature which I think addresses the problem you mentioned. You simply drag the item under another item to the right of the item (kind of hard to describe, see this link with an illustrative screen recording: https://blog.dynalist.io/2019-june-update/).
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For quickly adding items to a list on iOS:

I built myself a little PHP script that uses the Dynalist API. That way, I no longer need to open the Dynalist app at all if I just want to add items.

Instead, I open up the App called “Drafts 4”. It opens to a pure text input field. I type my text or dictate it. Then I swipe and can select a number of destiations. Among them are, a couple of Dynalist destinations, like…

  • the shopping list I share with my wife (each new line of text becomes a separate item with a checkmark next to it)
  • my idea journal (multi-line text become multi-line items within Dynalist)
  • etc.

The parts involved to make it work are these:

  1. Drafts 4 App on iOS (captures my text and sends it via email)

  2. Cloudmailin.com - a free email address that can trigger my PHP script

  3. A simple PHP script on my server: If subject is dynalist-shopping, do this. If subject is dynalist-insights, do that. (Uses different target documents and different formats, depending on the type of input. Like I said, for shopping items, I want each line of text become a new item in the list, and have checkboxes added. For insights or quotes, I want multi-line items to be retained as such. And, of course, they all should go to different “inboxes”.)

I love this setup. I can get any thought to the place where it should go, pretty much instantly.

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Was your Quick Dynalist a recent installation? I’ve found recently that newly installed versions cannot sync. There’s an issue with the database that the developer says he will fix some time.

That said, I don’t notice any problematic delay in loading Dynalist in either web or mobile.

This is great, but it should really be much easier to do this. I use Drafts, but can access most apps with a simple URL Scheme or callback. There is no need to set up a free email account and rent a whole separate server to run PHP scripts, etc. Why isn’t this possible with Dynalist?

First, thank you David for sharing your experience. I’d be curious to know what “large” means in your case. How many bullets are we talking about, roughly? I’m asking as “large” can mean 10k, 50k, 100k, 200k, or even more bullets, depending on who you ask.

‑Alex

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That was fun to figure out. ~41k total.

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I’ve had it installed for a while. I had a syncing issue after the Dynalist outage on Monday, but reinstalling the app fixed that. I haven’t had any issues syncing before that incident or since.

How did you figure out how many bullets you have? With the txt backup file? I want to see how many bullets I have :slightly_smiling_face:

Edit: Got it with searching for the “outline” tag in the opml back up file.

I had to stop using Quick Dynalist a few days ago. It kept saying, “Unable to locate your Dynalist Inbox”. There seemed to be no way to fix that, and I got no response from the developer after I emailed him.

So I switched to the Dynawrite app. Works flawlessly on Android for me, and on iPad mini. (I have no iPhone, but I presume it works correctly on iPhone as well.)

Weirdly enough, Dynawrite wasn’t working properly for me on the 10-inch iPad Air and the 13-inch iPad Pro. I discovered that this is because it loads the desktop version of Dynalist instead of the mobile version, on those two larger iPads, and it kept appending the newly submitted Inbox items to the Inbox title, instead of as its (sub)items.

The solution for that was to move my Inbox to the very top of my Dynalist hierarchy, as a separate document, and now it works properly with Dynawrite everywhere.

It was quite a chore to figure this out, but that’s how I address David’s concern of “waiting 3 to 6 seconds before editing”. On mobile, I prefer to put as many edits as possible into my Inbox, sorting it out later (once a day, every evening) on my desktop machine where the work environment is more stable.

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Yes, this seems to be a dilemma with developers who might create a wonderful app but don’t maintain it. I had trouble getting a new installation of Quick Dynalist to sync for months, until it eventually worked for an unknown reason. Dynawrite is good, but I liked the ability to create widgets and filters with Quick Dynalist.

You need to add #primary to at least one inbox, as far as I know.

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In Quick Dynalist, right? I never understood that piece of instruction it was throwing at me. Quick Dynalist just leaves you in the dark when things aren’t working. I got fed up with that, uninstalled it everywhere and just installed Dynawrite instead of it, both on iOS and Android.

I ran into a couple of issues with Dynawrite, too, but when I wrote to the developer, he was very prompt and helpful in his response. (A Japanese developer, it appears.)

#primary can be for any inbox. Whether you add it in Quick Dynalist or Dynalist does not matter.

Thanks. The point for me was, I don’t want to be adding any unnecessary tags anywhere. The app should just do what it claims to be doing: put your note into the Dynalist inbox, and that’s it. I don’t wish to to be annoyed with confusing special tags requirements, etc., so I just dumped Quick Dynalist because it simply wasn’t performing the action for me that’s promised in the app description, and there was no help to resolve that issue either from the app’s interface, help files or from the developer.

hi
i have tried to use quick dynalist but i cannot get past the api token part, do you have any tips on how to do it please.

Make sure you’re logged in, then go to https://dynalist.io/developer and copy the long string of text.

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I’m sorry about the trouble with my Quick Dynalist app @Kevin_Murray @Keith_Pritchard @Jayden_Navarro @Alex_Avenarius

This is a pure hobby project of mine and unfortunately this means I have a lot of time constraints. I have been getting a lot of emails with a variety of issues and I am sorry if I did not answer / address all of them at this point. I will do my best to fix the inbox and sync issues so you can enjoy the full range of features soon hopefully.

In the meanwhile, the inbox issue should be easily fixed by setting your Dynalist inbox in the browser. Open the menu of an item and select ‘Set as inbox’. Alternatively just add the tags #primary #inbox to any item and sync your Quick Dynalist. I will make this whole process easier at some point though.

For the technically interested people:
There have been issues with the database I have been using when a huge number of items is inserted during syncing. The developers of the database have not addressed this yet and I will have to work on a workaround. Furthermore, a new API upgrade now allows to do partial file-based syncing which will make syncing much faster (as long as you have multiple files) but this still needs to be implemented.
The app is also open source and contributions are welcome! https://github.com/timediv/QuickDynalist

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Thanks for persisting Louis. For me Quick Dynalist has become indispensable.

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Thanks again for your contributions! It must be very hard to keep doing as a hobby project. I’m impressed that you persisted until now, bravo!

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@David_Perry, it seems like you already made up your mind, but FWIW, wanted to address a few points.

When opening the [mobile] app, it takes 3-6 seconds to connect/load.

Just tried this on mine after force quitting. Less than 3 seconds on iOS 13.3, but I can see how this would vary by hardware and content size. Switching back to app once open is instantaneous.

You can’t indent an item under another item which has no children while dragging

As someone pointed out, that is not true. If you drag the item towards the bottom right of the item you want to be the parent, the dragged item will be indented there. This has been there for a while, and I use it regularly.

Dynalist tabs in the same browser seem sync to the view opened in the most recently used tab

Again, not the case for me. I always have 2 tabs open as part of my Dynalist workflow, and they sync to their respective pages when the browser is opened, because they each have a unique URL. I’m not sure what’s going on with your setup, whether it’s perhaps a browser issue, but it’s not a general product one. I think you would’ve been better off writing a new report about just this in bugs forum.

I haven’t gone back recently, but last year I fired up Workflowy just for fun. I really forgot how much stuff I take for granted in DL that’s still missing there, like numbered lists, dates, item links, code formatting, etc. DL is not a perfect product and like all of us I wish more of my pet peeves were addressed, but no way I’m switching back.

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