Are you a long time user of Evernote?
How do you feel about its current state and the near future?
From the early ’80s, well into the new millennium, we only drove Mercedes-Benz. No, we weren’t rich; we just discovered how to buy and sell, so they were the best value. We bought three-year-old cars from a trusted dealer who bought cars coming off lease. They were serviced to like-new condition. We kept them for a few years and repeated the process.
They were great cars, and we thought we would drive them forever. Then, in 1998, Daimler bought Chrysler. Maybe Daimler improved Chryslers, but I can guarantee you, Chrysler ruined Mercedes, at least for a while. They weren’t the cars they once were. Plastic replaced steel. Things broke and wore out that shouldn’t have.
We went back to Toyota.
That’s how I feel about Evernote today.
In 2000, Stepan Pachikov created Evernote. It was a simple concept well executed. I began using it casually around 2004 but didn’t get serious with it until 2010. At that point, I went all in, paid for a premium subscription, storing everything in it, admittedly, too much stuff. It was a fantastic product.
Between 2015 and 2018, the company became fairly rocky, with many people coming and going starting with Phil Libin, one of the co-founders. The company took off in many different directions, most of which did not resonate with its user base. It was then that I started evaluating the competition. I had lost faith in the company and needed an exit strategy in case it failed.
Most of the same competitors were around then, but I encountered the same problems as now. Nobody had the same feature set. There were things that Evernote did better than anyone else and a couple of things that no one else did. So, I still kept one foot in a few of these other products, just in case. Notion, Nimbus, and OneNote led that pack, although OneNote was a distant third. Microsoft is an even bigger elephant than Evernote.
But I stayed (somewhat) loyal to Evernote.
Then in 2018, Ian Small came on board. He began communicating openly with the user base. He told us he knew the company had screwed up and promised he was going to fix this. And those promises kept coming for two years with a lot of back-end stuff apparently going on that we, as users, didn’t really see the results of.
Sometime in mid-2020, the new platform went into beta and open beta in August. There were a lot of complaints and suggestions made during this period. In October, they released version 10 to the public, ignoring most of the beta users.
It was not well received, to put it mildly. Buried deep in the announcement below all the hype and fanfare was the warning that should have set off alarm bells.
“But please be aware that there are a handful of features — such as AppleScript, import folders, and the ability to edit note creation dates — that are not yet available. If your workflow depends on these features, you can continue to use our legacy apps.”
Opinions on the new version varied from those that thought it was great to those that thought it was pure garbage. The ones that thought it was great admittedly used a reduced feature set than most of us. Many sat in the middle of those extremes and felt that the product was still in beta testing or that it was “a work in progress.” But isn’t all software a work in progress? When it’s released to the public, it should be ready for public consumption. You’re always working on improving it and rolling out the next version, but the release is ready and working correctly.
And based on the fact that installing the new version wiped out the old version, tells me that Ian Small and the rest of the Evernote team thought it was ready for public consumption.
But they were wrong. Or lying. Or both.
I am also a beta tester of Adobe Lightroom. As with Evernote, I signed an NDA, so I can’t discuss specifics, but I can tell you that their rollout is totally different, although there are many hiccups. Each .x release comes with the caveat that it is not ready for your production work. You are told to test it alongside your production version, and they make it very easy to do so.
Once they have ironed out the kinks, they release the final version in that series, telling you that you can replace your old version with this one. They don’t force you to. They don’t delete the old one. It’s just a suggestion. Then the cycle starts over with another incremental version.
That’s not what Evernote did. Despite the caveat they buried in the press release, they said, Hey, save your work, we will delete your existing version and replace it with this. That tells me that it is good enough to use on an everyday basis.
One of the things that Ian Small said was his biggest challenge was all of the different versions that existed for each platform. In other words, the Apple version was different from the PC version, and so on. But isn’t that true of most software? When I watch tutorials for Photoshop or Lightroom, they are frequently shown on a Mac. I have to translate that to my PC. Things are different. Things are in different places. One platform has things the other doesn’t due to differences in the OS. It’s been that way since I moved from an Apple IIe to an IBM PC.
So, they had to level the playing field. They built it on a platform that would work across all operating systems. Sort of. Not really.
To do that, they had to strip the program down to a set of least common denominators, least being the operative word. They took away most of the stuff that made Evernote unique. That made it the best. When I tested those other apps, I returned to Evernote because they didn’t have this thing or that feature.
Now Evernote didn’t have them either.
So, after the Internet blew up with complaints, Evernote finally came back with, yeah, but you can use the ‘legacy’ app (read: the one that works) alongside the new one as you test it, and we bring it back up to speed.
But here’s the thing. Most of the users didn’t sign on to be beta testers. And those of us that did were told testing was over. Thanks for your suggestions. We are going to ignore them and release the product as is. Go away now; we don’t need you anymore.
Because now, every user is a beta tester.
I don’t mind being a beta tester at Adobe because, first, they aren’t removing features. They haven’t come to us and said, “we’re having trouble making this exposure adjustment work, so we’re going to take it out.” And second, there may be glitches, but every release is ‘good enough.’ I can still get my work done. It has many more moving parts than Evernote and works across at least as many platforms. And I spend a lot more time in Lightroom than Evernote. So, I know it can be done.
But I need Evernote to do what it does. And right now, it doesn’t. And I really don’t get this mentality of running two versions side by side. Why? How? I’m in an airport, and I need to bring up a document, so I run v10. Whoops, I can’t find it. Hang on a minute and let me crank up the legacy version (one that works).
Evernote is heralded as ‘a note-taking app,’ but I have always taken exception at that. Notepad is a note-taking app. Evernote is an archival document storage and retrieval database. Pretty simple, really. But both the storage and retrieval has been better than anyone else for years. Its web clipper is unparalleled. Its search ability renders the whole tag vs. notebook debate moot. The input folder, a feature unique to Evernote, allows me to add documents from my computer or scanner quickly. The ability to search text in images and PDF files is also unique.
So, let’s cripple all that so the platforms are all the same.
Why? Nobody outside of Evernote cares. I know from reading forums that the Mac version didn’t have the input folder capability. I never tossed and turned at night worrying about them. Hey, sucks to be you. I didn’t one day rise up and cast off the shackles of tyranny and oppression and shout, “If they can’t have it, I don’t want it either!”
And neither did anyone else. No one uses a PC and Mac. Nobody has an Android and an iPhone. (I know I’m going to hear from the six of you that do but work with me here.) We have what we have, and we want to keep working with it the way we have been.
And the fact of the matter is if they want a platform that works across all devices, that already exists. It’s been around for about thirty years. It’s called the World Wide Web. But here’s another thing Evernote should have taken note of. Many people didn’t use the web version unless it was the only one that worked in a given situation. Why? Because it lacked all the features that the native apps had. It was the least common denominator. And that’s what version 10 was. As a matter of fact, it looked and felt a great deal like the web version most had been avoiding.
Here’s another problem I see with this new common platform. People are using it on all of the same devices they did before, Web, PC, Mac, iPhone, Android. But each of these platforms seems to have different problems. People have different complaints. If you look at the forums, you can see that what each user is complaining about seems dependent on the device on which they use it. So, how is that common platform working out? Not very well, it seems.
But, you say, you are not forced to use the new version. You can stick with the legacy app. (The one that works). But how about this. Why didn’t Evernote stick with the legacy version? Until the new one worked. Until it was out of beta. Or, do like Adobe. Here’s the latest version. I hope you like it and please give us your feedback. Meanwhile, we will leave your old version in place because, you know, IT’S THE ONE THAT WORKS!
Now, it’s a couple of months down the road. Evernote has released a lot of updates; I’ll give them that. Some have solved some problems and put some things back. They seem to be trying really hard. We are up to 10.4.4 something as of today. I don’t know how many individual releases there have been because I’ve only looked at a couple of them. I got tired of them wiping out my version and making me reinstall it, setting my preferences all over again. They have since fixed that problem, which is another admission that the new version isn’t ready for prime time.
A few days ago, Ian Small released this in his blog. You should read it as it is the best one of these he has done IMO. But the TL;DR version is, we screwed up, but we are going to fix it. That has renewed my faith and hope in the future of the product. But we should remember one thing. It’s pretty much the same thing he said two years ago.
I’m still testing and using the other guys. But I’m also still relying on Evernote for my day to day work. Of course, that means I am using the legacy version. (You know). I’m keeping a close eye on the forums and hoping they can right this ship. They will need to replace the features I rely on, such as an import folder, before coming back to v10. There are also many annoying glitches or features, I’m not sure which, that I hope they iron out.
The larger challenge for them will be retaining their user base. And by that, I mean us premium users. The ones that are footing the bill for all of this. A lot have left if you believe the forum posts. At least we should be footing the bills. As we know, most of their working capital has come from VCs. There have been several vast infusions of money over the last ten years or so. But those guys aren’t going to keep ponying up if the user base dwindles. Too big to fail is bullshit.
I want to say I’m excited over Evernote’s future, but that’s the product’s problem. It’s not exciting. It’s a utility. You put stuff in, and you get stuff out. Neither of those things is as good as they were six months ago. If they can fix that, I’ll stick around. I may even renew my premium sub.
But they have to show me something first.
The ball’s in your court, Ian.