We need to talk about Evernote

Those who know me in real life know I’m something of an Evernote fan. An Evernote evangelist, even. I’ve used the app for years and spent quite some time singing its praises on this blog and elsewhere.

Over the years, Evernote has helped me get more organised when traveling for business; it has helped me complete my doctorate in psychology; it has even helped me get more reading done. It’s just an incredibly flexible and useful application.

But recent developments have me worried.

Evernote seemed to venture out into unconnected areas of app development (an app to track your meals?) and launched a bunch of physical items like bags and desktop organisers. It’s all very well to diversify like that when your core product is working (and selling) like a dream.

Evernote, however, is still a work in progress and is far from perfect.

Recently, they lost their CEO Phil Libin and his replacement fired over 10% of the workforce and seems to have put in place some cost-saving measures, including office closures. Talent is apparently leaving the business in droves and while the app is wildly popular, only a minority of users are actually paying for it.

It’s not all bad news, however. The new CEO, Chris O’Neill, has written about his plans for the company and it sounds like they’re planning a return to their core focus:

I joined Evernote as CEO two months ago because I saw the rare opportunity to help transform a product I rely on into a world class business. Since starting, I’ve gotten to know the amazing people here and have met many of our loyal users. This team has achieved three incredible feats: they’ve created one of the most important productivity tools in history, established one of the strongest personal success brands, and built a real revenue-driven business. My goal is to dramatically increase the impact of this solid foundation.

Evernote’s strength is in its core: notes, sync, and search. That’s where we’re going to focus. Achieving that focus means making some difficult decisions. Today we let go of 47 people from the Evernote team and announced the closure of three of our global offices. We are grateful for the immense contributions of each and every affected person.
I believe that a smaller, more focused team today will set us up for growth and expansion tomorrow. Here are two things that you can expect from us over the next several months: we will launch major foundational product improvements around the core features that you care about most, and we will pull back on initiatives that fail to support our mission.

Sad job losses aside, there’s a glimmer of hope in that message. A return to focus on what made them great and planned improvements to the app across platforms.

Why such passion and anxiety for a computer app? I suppose it’s because I use it so much and it’s become so central to how I organise my life. Knowing “stuff” is in Evernote reduces my stress, allows me to keep on top of work and really (I’ve said it before) serves as my “outboard brain”.

For someone whose epilepsy has left me with a less than perfect memory, an app like Evernote is more than handy. It’s crucial.

When Apple announced the massive upgrade to their own Notes app, my first thought was “that’s nice… but it’s no Evernote”. Maybe in time, it’ll become a realistic alternative to Evernote, but I suspect it’ll always remain on the Mac and iOS platforms. Evernote is basically platform agnostic and therein lies a good chunk of its flexibility.

As someone who organisations pay to advise their employees on personal productivity, I can attest to the difference an app like Evernote has made to employees’ ability to keep on top of workload and the psychological release it gives people. Yes, maybe a well-organised list on paper would have the same effect, but I’ve yet to see it.

My plea? Well, I hope Evernote follow through on their CEO’s promise and work hard to improve the stability and functionality of their core note-taking and information-organising app. All of that should come before new apps and any other diversification. I also hope that all of you who find Evernote to be useful think about upgrading your account to pay for the tool.

That will make Evernote the sustainable business it needs to be, for some time to come.

  1. Hear-hear; I agree. As a fan of Evernote, I have in the past wondered why they were working so hard on all these satellite projects where there were still some fundamental design / GUI issues to be addressed. I don’t like to hear of redundancies, but if they stop and refocus on the app’s core, it will hopefully be positive in the long term.
    Still, as a paying customer, I’d be concerned enough to start thinking about an alternative.

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    1. Yep. It’s nowhere near as well developed, but I’ve been playing around with the Apple Notes app this afternoon. Nicely integrated with the share sheet from various apps I use a lot. Simple, but effective. I’m not planning on abandoning Evernote any time soon, but as you say, it’s probably a good idea to have a “Plan B” in mind just in case.

      Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that…

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  2. I also have EN on all devices (droid & Mac) and consider it the life-saver that got me the job interviews that I’ve landed (on the fly, can scan and markup documents to share via fax in a world where I don’t own a fax or internet except mobile phone).

    Mostly, I use it for storing important clippings that would otherwise be scattered.

    I’ve found the branding branch-out to this and that confusing.

    I did hate to read what the CEO said (exact wording), which is PAT for somebody who has listened to that speech that apparently is lock-step for all CEOs. So hollow.

    I do hope that they continue to make the things they do (software) stronger, faster, perhaps more options (no specific suggestions) because it’s still the best I use.

    I’ll use OmniFocus for tasks but I still find Notes and Reminders superfluously inadequate, if that can even make sense.

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    1. Yep. Notes and Reminders are nice apps, but pale in comparison to apps like OmniFocus, ToDoist and Evernote. Great for a shopping list, but not much more than that – especially if you have several projects on the go or like to assign priorities to your tasks.

      Your use-case for Evernote is exactly the reason so many people find it useful – more than useful! I’ve been able to check my medical records using it, been able to check insurance policies using it and been able to check very old purchase receipts… all from my iPhone.

      Let’s hope they’re in it for the long haul!

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  3. Yes indeed! Why sell Evernote socks and t-shirts when the core product still needs refining? I use Evernote (Premium user) because Apple won’t let third party developers integrate with Notes. My “must have” app is Informant. It is my agenda, daily focus, contacts, notes and task lists all in one. It synchonronises seamlessly with Evernote and the price I pay for the sync service (£11 pa) is well worthwhile. With no synch to Notes, it couldn’t replace Evernote for me.

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    1. I can’t help but wonder if the latest updates to Notes on iOS and MacOS represent the start of something significant there..? They may well open up the API in due course, but right now, it’s Evernote or nothing for me.

      In fact, the more I’ve thought (and written) about this, the more uncomfortable I am that I rely on this single app so much!!

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