Evernote and OneNote are useful. But, can you get your data out of them if you have to? Consider the scenario where you would like to store your notes in a set of text files. How would you get your existing notes out of the cloud and into these files?

Syncing Evernote

Evernote is supported by an online service called CloudHQ. This service promises to synchronize data across a number of cloud providers. For example, it can synchronize Evernote notes to a GDrive folder, which is what we’re going to use.

Once you’ve logged into CloudHQ, it lets you set up synchronization pairs. For my pair, I choose Google Drive as the first service. CloudHQ prompts me to log in to my Google account and authorize the access. Then, it allows me to select a folder to use for the synchronization.

The second end of the synchronization pair is Evernote. Again, CloudHQ prompts me to log in to Evernote and authorize the access. I can also select which notebooks to sync.

Once the endpoints are set up, I can choose a number of options. The most important ones specify the export format. I can choose between a Google doc, a Word or LibreOffice doc, a plain text file, PDF, HTML, or Evernote’s ENEX format. Documents and plain text files can be synced back to Evernote, whereas PDF or HTML are export-only formats.

Syncing OneNote

The process is a bit more complex for OneNote, because it is not (yet) supported by CloudHQ. However, OneNote does have an experimental REST API that lets you access the notes.

For non-technical readers: a REST API is a wonderful thing. It is a way to access data that is easy for programs to navigate. In the case of OneNote, the API provides a way to fetch a list of pages, and to get the title, notebook name, section name, and content for every page.

I’ve written a small program that accesses the API, downloads all the notes, and stores them in a folder hierarchy that mimics your notebooks and sections.

It’s open-source, and suggestions are welcome. One known limitation is that the program does not handle attachments. If your notes contain images, PDF files, or other additional data, they will not be fetched. Let me know if you use the program and would like to have this feature.

Where To Go From Here

Once you have your notes as a set of local files, Pandoc is a fantastic tool to convert them to the format of your choice. It generates very readable output (e.g., in the Markdown format) from a variety of inputs (including HTML and Word documents).

Conclusion

All these cloud services sometimes make you wonder: “Am I loosing control over my data?” I guess we do, indeed. But sometimes, there is an API that allows you to access your data in a programmatic way, and re-gain some of the control. If you’re a user, looking for such APIs and knowing how to use them can be very helpful. If you’re a developer, remember to build a public API for your services; communities will form around them, people will start building plugins, and your service won’t be an isolated cloud, but part of the web.