I found myself exploring Notion as an Evernote alernative again, yesterday. I looked at it briefly about a year ago, and it didn’t seem like something that was worth switching to at the time. After all, I’ve been using Evernote for years, and given how much I was using Evernote, I wasn’t sure that investing in a new service was worth it.
My prompt to explore Notion originated in my thoughts about my Dungeons and Dragons adventure notes, and my curiosity about it as a possible replacement for my handwritten notes (handwritten notes leave me feeling a little twitchy because there aren’t any backups).
I found a couple great discussions online about the tools that other DMs use for their adventures. Popular options include OneNote, Evernote, a number of services designed for role-playing games, and Google Drive.
I found a couple discussions about Notion as an option, too. One reddit user posted an intriguing Notion page template that they use for their adventure notes.
What I like about Notion
There’s a lot to like about Notion. It uses blocks, much like the WordPress Editor, to insert different types of content into your pages. Evernote supports some options, but my inability to add media from other sources (or even, in some cases, directly), feels somewhat limiting when I want to create richer notes.
For example, my options for adding content in the Evernote Web editor (probably on the leading edge of where the editor is going) look like this:
By contrast, I can embed a YouTube video in Notion much like I can do this in WordPress:
I keep mentioning the WordPress editor. The reason for the comparisons is that I really like using the block editor to add different types of content to my posts and pages. It’s a remarkably flexible editor that gives anyone the ability to create some really interesting, and complex layouts, pretty easily.
Some of the other Notion features that I enjoy, and that I’d love to see in Evernote (or any similar service I use) include –
Support for Markdown;
The ability to link to individual blocks on a page;
The option to create a wide variety of page types, including simpler databases that I could refer back to later in other pages; and
Frankly, Notion is cheaper than Evernote (almost $20 a year cheaper relative to the Evernote Premium plan that I’m on).
I also like how easy it is to import my notebooks from Evernote into Notion. I ran a test import of my DnD notebook, and it generated a really handy index page with links to the individual “notes” (or sub-pages):
Room for improvement
All that said, moving to Notion isn’t an easy decision. For one thing, Notion lacks the powerful search features that Evernote has. Evernote will not only search your notes’ text, it also does OCR-based searches on your note attachments.
I also use the Evernote add-on for Gmail to quickly archive emails that I want to refer to down the line. I don’t see a similar option for Notion, or even an email address that I can forward emails to.
A small issue that I noticed is that I also can’t change the storage location for Notion on my Android device. I made the mistake of buying a phone with 32GB of storage, so space on the device is at a premium.
Not being able to move the app’s storage to the SD card on the phone is a challenge.
Can Notion replace Evernote (for me)?
Currently, I’m not sure. I still want to spend more time experimenting with Notion, and may use it to create my next DnD adventure as a sort of “real life” test.
The search feature limitation is, well, a limitation. I add PDFs to my notes because I want to reference them later. Many of them are already searchable, so not being able to tap into the text that’s there already isn’t ideal.
All of what I’ve explored below is premised on me wanting to migrate away from Evernote and Google Drive. I don’t have a particularly strong desire to move away from either service, although there are reasons for me to have a Plan B in mind if it becomes necessary to make the moves:
Evernote seems to be struggling to maintain momentum, and although recent Behind the Scenes videos show some encouraging directions, I have invested a lot in Evernote and want to make sure I have another option for my data if the company runs into major trouble;
Google is, well, Google. I’m mostly comfortable entrusting Google with my data, and practically everything I do in some form or another, but who knows what lies ahead in the future.
Lastly, and totally superficially, I like cool new things. The new Dropbox looks pretty interesting, and I’ve been using it (albeit passively) for quite some time. Moving to Dropbox would simplify some workflows for me.
How I’ve been using Dropbox and Google Drive
I haven’t actively used Dropbox for managing my files for many years. At the same time, I have a number of background processes, mostly using IFTTT, that capture things like tweets, app data, and so on into my Dropbox folders.
For the most part, I’ve been using Google Drive as my shared file system. I keep various documents there that I share with my wife, and access using various devices. I recently upgraded my personal Drive account to the Google One account where I have just over 200GB of storage space for about $3.50 a month. Before that, I was paying for a 100GB upgrade.
The idea was to make this space available to my family to use, too, but they’re using G Suite addresses on two domains I own, so they can’t join my Google One profile. 😳
Still an Evernote user
I also still use Evernote to capture stuff. “Stuff” is a pretty broad category. I’ve been capturing information that I may want to reference into Evernote for about 11 years, and I have almost 28,500 notes. Most of those notes are containers for documents, photos of interesting things, and other documents.
I don’t really use Evernote for plain text notes. For that I create, well, plain text notes with Markdown syntax, and my personal directory for those notes is a synced folder on Dropbox. I then sync that with another folder on my laptop that I push to GitHub to a private repo. I’m all about the multiple, redundant backups.
I’m using the Evernote Premium plan that costs me $69.90 a year (about $5.84 a month).
The new Dropbox
I saw an announcement that Dropbox has been updated with some interesting collaboration features. Here’s the announcement video:
The event is pretty similar to any other launch event these days (“I’m excited to announce the new <insert name>. It’s the best <insert name> we’ve ever made …”), but it’s worth watching the demos in the second half of the event.
What makes the new Dropbox pretty compelling for me is how I can still use Drive documents, add in integrations with Zoom and Slack, and add shortcuts to other links that may be helpful. It looks like new Dropbox is using a white labelled version of Google Drive to enable users to create Docs, Sheets, and Slides that use the Google Drive apps, but save on Dropbox.
Microsoft Office users will also be able to use the Google Drive apps to view and edit their docs on Dropbox too. In this sense, the experience is probably pretty similar to just using Google Drive natively.
One of the areas in which Evernote has an edge, at least for me, is that I can use Evernote notes to add a combination of text, media, and documents to a single note. This enables me to maintain a coherent context for my information that relates to that particular topic.
You can create a Google Doc, but the format isn’t that easy to use, and there isn’t a convenient Web Clipper like you have with Evernote to capture stuff on the Web into a Google Doc. I poked around in Dropbox Paper, and it’s the closest I’ve seen to what Evernote can do, and surpasses Evernote in some respects. Here’s a demo where I added a couple items to a Dropbox Paper document:
What I didn’t demonstrate here is that you can also add a YouTube preview to your note that plays inline. I was a little disappointed that this isn’t possible with Evernote, and then realised that Evernote needs to take into account offline and mobile screens too. That said, if I view a Dropbox Paper document with embedded videos on my Android phone, the embed is available there.
What I don’t see just yet is something like the Evernote Web Clipper for Dropbox, so capturing stuff from the Web isn’t as easy with Dropbox.
Leaving aside the Evernote Web Clipper, I can see the new Dropbox being a pretty effective replacement for both Google Drive and Evernote (well, you’d still potentially be using the Google Drive apps to access many of your documents, just not on Google Drive itself). The Dropbox Plus plan is $11.99 a month (if you pay monthly), and you receive 2TB of storage space. The equivalent Google One plan costs about $11 (converting from my local currency).
If I compare the costs of a Dropbox Plus plan ($11.99 if I pay monthly) with the combined costs of my Google One and Evernote Premium plans (about $9.34, although this is a blend of annual pricing for Evernote, and monthly for Google One), it’s not far off.
If I paid for an annual Dropbox Plus plan, the monthly breakdown is around $9.99.
Worth switching to Dropbox?
At a fairly high level, it may be worthwhile switching to the new Dropbox from Evernote and Google One. That said, there are a couple challenges to resolve:
Can I coherently migrate my Evernote notes to Dropbox? Sure, I can export all of my content, but how accessible will it all be when exported into HTML documents with attachments in folders?
Can I migrate my Google Drive documents across to Dropbox? More specifically, if I move them across to Dropbox, will they open on Drive, or in Dropbox? I suppose this may not matter as Google Drive documents aren’t factored into Drive storage, as far as I remember. Also, it looks like this type of migration is possible.
Moving away from Evernote means giving up the Web Clipper. Is there an alternative for Dropbox? I’m not sure about that.
Another disadvantage of moving away from Evernote is that you lose OCR for your documents. That option is only available with the Dropbox Professional plan that costs $16.58 a month, if you opt for annual billing (so you’re paying about $198 upfront). Google Drive and Evernote both provide OCR for your documents, in varying degrees.
I’ve been an Evernote user for well over a decade, and I used it daily until a couple years ago. I have almost 29,000 notes (a fair number of these notes are automatically captured using IFTTT workflows).
In recent years, Evernote has been pretty quiet on its blog, and while it’s released updates to the app, I haven’t felt like this is a dynamic company, constantly working to evolve it’s product. This has been a little disconcerting, as I have a lot of data in Evernote that I have been storing there intentionally.
At the moment, there isn’t another service like Evernote that uses this notes and notebook model to capture different content types into a pretty flexible reference system. I use Google Drive to store a lot of my stuff too, but it doesn’t feel as fluid to me.
I’ve also been experimenting with a private WordPress.com site too. I think this option is pretty close to Evernote, and even has some benefits that Evernote lacks because WordPress uses web technology (it is a publishing platform after all), so it opens the door to much richer content embeds, and formatting.
Still, short of an importer from Evernote to WordPress, or another suitable alternative, I’ve stuck with Evernote. It’s the simplest solution, even if Evernote becomes a historical reference service for me.
That being said, it was encouraging to see this video from Evernote’s current CEO about how they’ll be giving us insights into what’s happening behind the scenes, and what they’re working on:
I don’t know what lies ahead for Evernote. My Premium subscription is up for renewal next month, and I’m pretty sure I’ll renew, at least for another year. For now, though, I’m looking forward to see what they have in the pipeline. It might just tempt me back into more regular use.
Write is a curious product. The goal is to take your handwritten notes, and make them editable in a digital format. You have to watch the demo video to really see how this works:
I’m not sure what to think about it. I take handwritten notes quite a bit these days, so the idea of making my handwritten notes more useful to me than a static PDF or image (at the moment, I capture many of my handwritten notes into Evernote where they’re OCR’d – hypothetically).
At the same time, being able to edit my notes almost like I’d edit typed notes seems a little weird. One of the reasons that handwritten notes are helpful is because writing apparently helps improve retention, and because I don’t need to open an app on a device to take notes. I can just open my notebook and start writing.
Bringing those notes into a digital editor seems to remove some of the benefit of writing in the first place. Or perhaps a better way to think about this is to see it as a sort of post-processing stage where you take your raw notes, and finish them off in some way.
The systems the article described seem pretty simple and I thought I’d share some of my processes that I have developed to help me deal with my conflicting tendencies.
I was diagnosed a couple years ago with ADHD. It gave me a way to explain why I struggled to be productive for much of my time at school and working life until then.
I initially resisted the idea and the suggestion that I start medicating myself. Medication like Ritalin always carried a stigma as a child. It was only when I embraced my condition and started taking medication to help me leverage it better (Concerta for me) that my life changed, literally.
I also strongly suspect that I am a bit OCD too although this remains a working theory.
My fascination with productivity systems
I am fascinated by productivity systems primarily because I had been so unproductive for so long. My fascination has often triggered my hyperfocus (ADHD adventurers generally don’t lack the capacity for focus, we just aren’t that good at invoking it at will).
One of my most ironic experiences was losing about 2 days of work researching productivity systems. My next favourite personal irony was taking about four years to finally read David Allen’s terrific book Getting Things Done and start implementing it more effectively.
What works for me (and really doesn’t)
My ongoing productivity challenge is that too much complexity in my system tends to leave me stalled because I can’t decide which tool to use for a particular task or step in my process.
In fact, I strive for a balance between absolute simplicity and the minimum degree of complexity required to create a functional system.
I also find that too many choices is totally counter-productive. This is one of the reasons I started writing in plain text. I have multiple options for rich text editors to use to write. The problem I encountered was that I found myself obsessing about which one to use for each writing project. The result was that I frequently struggled to just begin.
It sounds really silly, I know. Welcome to my world.
My solution was to remove most of my options and impose a series of constraints on myself relating to formats and outcomes. The simplest solution was to write in plain text with MultiMarkdown syntax. I like using other options like Apple Pages, Scrivener and LibreOffice now and then but plain text remains my default (I’m using it to write this post).
Another consideration is the extent to which my productivity tools are cross-platform. I put a lot of time and effort into developing a productivity system that works for me. I don’t mind spending time refining it but I really don’t want to recreate it.
This means that I need to be able to work with my system on as many devices and platforms as I can. Unfortunately there are limits with my current system. OmniFocus is macOS/iOS only and there isn’t a Linux Evernote app yet. This bothers me but the benefits of using these apps outweighs the risk of my losing access to devices to support them.
With that said, here is my system:
A system to encompass just about everything
You can’t really adopt a productivity system unless you are pretty clear about what you want to achieve. My system has to enable me to work the way that I find most effective:
I have a strong preference for digital even though I do a lot of note taking on paper.
I love the GTD methodology (it just makes so much sense to me) so I want a task manager that supports my efforts to manage my projects this way without cluttering my workflows unnecessarily.
Ideally I want to store all my reference documents and information in one, searchable location so I don’t have to think about where everything is.
Given that I do most of my writing in plain text, I want one app that I can use and one place to store my text files.
My productivity system
Keep my projects running with OmniFocus
When it comes to picking a solution to manage my tasks, I went with OmniFocus. It was practically designed for GTD and I can use it on all my devices. It isn’t cheap and it only works on macOS/iOS (the platform limitation bothers me but I can live with it). At the same time, it is excellent software and nothing really comes close to it.
I also like having little features like a notes section attached to each task. I often add links to Evernote notes (more about Evernote below) or even email threads to my tasks so I can quickly find the relevant materials I need for that task.
One of the reasons GTD is so powerful for me is that it breaks projects down into component “next actions”. A next action is the very next tangible step you can take towards completing your project. Being able to focus on the very next step I can take is crucial.
When faced with a step that contains multiple next actions without actually identifying those next actions triggers my tendency to go off track completely. If I don’t have a very clear next action, I procrastinate pretty easily and I find it more difficult to return to the project.
This is particularly a problem when there are so many other bright and shiny things to look at and which I can lose myself in for hours. Next actions are the closest I have come to train tracks for my productivity train. OmniFocus helps me focus on my next action beautifully.
As you can imagine, I have a number of projects and keeping them organised is pretty important too. OmniFocus has the option to create folders than you can use to contain groups of projects.
I recently listened to David Sparks and Katie Floyd’s interview with Mike Williams, President and CEO of the David Allen Company in Mac Power Users, episode 340, about his approach to GTD. He also uses OmniFocus and mentioned a role-based approach to organising his tasks.
I borrowed from his model and reorganised my projects based on what I see as my various roles:
Family guy (home and family stuff);
Work projects for my day job;
Independent writer (this includes personal writing projects);
Individual (personal health stuff and other projects that just involve me);
Lawyer (I have a couple projects relating to my previous career); and
Photographer (pretty self-explanatory).
It’s an interesting way to group your projects and makes a lot of sense given GTD’s emphasis of context as a powerful way to decide which projects and tasks to focus on at a given time. It certainly makes more sense than the more haphazard categorisations I used before.
Evernote is my place for everything
My choice for my “everything” solution is Evernote. I have been an Evernote user for more than 8 years and a Premium user for most of that time.
How I use Evernote
One of the key features of GTD is a reference system. I don’t like having piles of paper documents so I scan as much as I can and store almost all of it in Evernote. Even though I become frustrated with Evernote from time to time, it remains the best solution I have come across that lets me do the following:
I can store a variety of documents, images, rich text notes and clippings from the Web (the Web Clipper is terrific and I use it daily).
I mentioned earlier that I take a lot of handwritten notes. I capture those notes into my Evernote notes when they are complete. I often have other bits of information or documents in those notes which become handy references for when I am working on an article.
When I scan documents, I usually send them to Evernote too. This includes utility bills, letters and other documents I want to retain and reference at a later stage. This makes a lot of documentation totally portable and accessible from multiple devices.
Here is an example of how I use Evernote on an almost daily basis:
I work as an inbound marketing specialist.
I work closely with an account manager in a marketing agency.
He briefs me on an article he needs from me and I capture the brief into a note in a notebook designated for my work projects.
I create rough outlines or take handwritten notes while I do research for my article and add those to the note. The easiest way to capture my handwritten notes is by taking photographs of the pages with the Evernote app on my iPhone. The app will recognise that the pages are part of a document and automatically crop the pages and optimise the page rendering for legibility later.
Much of my research is online and I use the Web Clipper to capture relevant articles and PDFs into a separate Social Marketing notebook (which is my general social marketing reference).
Once my research is done, I create an article outline and send it to my manager to review. Once that is done, I update the version in my Evernote note. I have started adding checkboxes to each line in the outline so it’s easy to track my progress through the outline as I write.
Another benefit of the checkboxes in the outline is that each one is a sort of “next action” which is the atomic unit of a GTD productivity system.
When I write, I often have my project note open on a separate screen or my iPad while I type on my laptop. That way I have my brief, my notes and my research materials on hand and can just write.
I don’t just use Evernote for work. I have notebooks for various interests and for home and family stuff. I capture my kids’ drawings, class schedules and contact details for kids and parents for play dates. Evernote is my general reference for most of my daily activities.
There is a debate about how to use Evernote effectively. Some people prefer using fewer notebooks and tagging everything based on a structured taxonomy. They rely more on tags and Evernote’s search capability to find notes than browsing notebooks and notebook stacks. The benefit of this approach is a much simpler notebook structure and being able to apply multiple, relevant tags to notes based on their relationships to other notes.
Another approach involves a more complex notebook and notebook stack structure where notes are filed under specific notebooks based on some or other criteria. Tags remain useful but are no longer critical categorisation tools.
This becomes somewhat murky territory for me. I have developed a notebook/notebook stack structure as my primary categorisation method. I also tag my notes although I long ago gave up on trying to structure my tags into an organised taxonomy. I just have way too many tags. I’ve thought about reigning them in and creating a hierarchy of tags but it just hasn’t seemed worth it spending the time to do that.
My notebook/notebook stack structure feels a bit too complex and I’m toying with the idea of creating a structure in Evernote that corresponds with the role-based project structure in OmniFocus. I’m not sure that it will be as effective, though.
Evernote is primarily a reference system for me. Sure, it is also a production system too (just consider my example of how I approach and manage work projects) but the majority of my 25,441 (and counting) notes are stored and unstructured data that I reference now and then.
I’m very hesitant to embark on any substantial restructuring exercise when it comes to this stuff because it almost invariably becomes a completely waste of productive time and rarely yields a real enhancement to my overall system.
In fact, one of my most valuable lessons is that the urge to mess with my system without a clear and substantial benefit is to avoided at all costs. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
It’s probably worthwhile simplifying my notebooks to a degree but the current structure is the product of previous refinements and consolidations so I’ll just let that idea simmer for a while.
How to be more productive:
1 keep a to-don't list 2 learn to say no 3 rise early 4 communicate deadlines 5 create space to work 6 start now
When it comes to my writing, Byword is my weapon of choice. It is on my MacBook and my iPhone/iPad and it supports MultiMarkdown. After losing a lot of time trying to fix Microsoft Word styles in documents, I gave up on that odious app and switched to plain text.
Why plain text?
It probably sounds a bit weird that I am so fixated on plain text as my primary writing format. After all, MS Word has been good enough for most people (including many great writers) for so long, right? Well, to begin with, I have a difficult history with Word. I avoid it as much as I possibly can.
Secondly, I have a philosophical preference for plain text. My professional life is based on my writing and I have thought deep thoughts about whether my work will be accessible in the years and decades to come? Not everything I write is particularly good but I believe strongly in developing archives that will endure.
We certainly generate a lot of data and most of it may turn out to be cat gifs. At the same time, everything we create forms part of a collective cultural tapestry that will give our descendants detailed insights into who we are and what was important to us. It also forms part of a growing historical archive that will be all that remains of our generation in the more distant future. I believe that archive has intrinsic value.
In the much shorter term, I want to work in a file format that I’ll be able to access in the next 10, 20 or even 50 years time. Plain text is a fundamental file format. Everything should be able to read it. My text files are my source code and I want them to be accessible going forward.
On the other hand, when was the last time you were able to open your old WordStar files or even early Microsoft Word formats? Fortunately app suites like LibreOffice have impressive backward compatibility but this may not be possible with current MS Word and other proprietary formats like Apple’s .pages format.
I use MultiMarkdown formatting in my text files because it translates into rich formatting when I publish my files and because it is intelligible even in it’s raw format. As Markdown’s creator, John Gruber, pointed out:
The overriding design goal for Markdown’s formatting syntax is to make it as readable as possible. The idea is that a Markdown-formatted document should be publishable as-is, as plain text, without looking like it’s been marked up with tags or formatting instructions. While Markdown’s syntax has been influenced by several existing text-to-HTML filters, the single biggest source of inspiration for Markdown’s syntax is the format of plain text email.
I have a single folder in Dropbox for my text notes and that folder syncs with Byword on my iPhone and iPad to keep all my devices up to date. This also means I can work on my mobile devices too and I can even use another plain text editor. Plain text is truly cross-platform.
Keeping my writing as simple as possible to avoid distractions
A big reason I like MultiMarkdown-formatted text files is that I can just write. Styling is a function of whichever stylesheets are applied to my text in the publication process and the syntax I add as I write. I don’t have to spend hours messing with stylesheet formatting options in Word or some other word processor just to get my text down.
Plain text is perfectly simple and flexible as a production file format. It enables me to really streamline my writing process and that means fewer distractions to derail my productivity.
The one challenge I face at the moment is that the process of moving that text into a file format like .docx for other people to work with takes more time than I’d like.
The converters I have available to me (Byword’s native Word export; Marked 2 and one or two others) are fiddly in their own ways. I inevitably wind up spending time reformatting exported text to prepare it for review.
At the moment, the most efficient process seems to be to write in Byword with MultiMarkdown syntax and then take the exported RTF text into Apple Pages because formatting the text in Pages is easier than other options. If Pages isn’t available, Google Docs also works well enough.
At least the writing part is uncomplicated.
Integration with my other services
One of the reasons I really like Byword is that I can “publish” my documents to Evernote. Evernote notes use rich text formatting and will accept my MultiMarkdown formatted plain text and give me fair representations of that text as formatted rich text in my Evernote notes.
This is really handy for creating things like outlines or short notes that I want to bring into Evernote to form part of a project note or just to capture into my reference system.
Know your daily rhythm
Completely aside from the tools I use, I am increasingly aware of when I am most productive in a given day.
I am definitely more of a morning person and I am more able to focus productively then. A lot of that is due to the fact that I take my daily Concerta pill with breakfast.
Early afternoons are usually dead time for me, creatively. It may be the aftermath of lunch or just a midday lull but the time between lunch and about 15:00 are terrible times for anything that requires sustained focus and creative output.
That time is probably best for admin tasks or even a short nap (where possible). I nap for 15–20 minutes on average and one of those can leave me feeling so much better.
Then, for some reason, I find it easier to slip into my flow from about 15:00 until 16:30 to 17:30 so that is also a good time for me to work.
Late nights are usually particularly unproductive. I don’t think I have ever felt particularly effective working late at night so I usually just park whatever needs to be done for the next morning.
I usually need a minimum of 6 to 7 hours of sleep to be functional in the morning. The nights when I manage 8 hours of sleep often leave me feeling amazing in the morning. It is amazing what a difference the extra hour or two of sleep can have, for me at least.
Many people recommend taking breaks every hour or so but that doesn’t always work for me. There are times when I slip into that hyper focus mode and can work for 3 to 4 hours solidly without looking up. When that happens, I don’t even attempt to break that focus.
On the other hand, on days when I am struggling to focus and staring at my notes doesn’t do any good, I’ll often take a 10 to 15 minute break to let my brain rest. That is just me.
I don’t achieve much when I force myself to do something I find myself resisting. Usually that is a sign that I need to rethink the task or unpack it and identify the real next actions.
Easy to use and fewer distractions
The key for me is to have a productivity system that is easy to use and minimises the opportunity for distractions. I prefer working in quieter spaces (even though I listen to music while I work – it is my onramp to my Flow).
I also want to remove as much friction from my system as I possibly can. Friction exacerbates my ADHD tendencies and kills my productivity.
My system should just be available so I can get on with the work. As soon as I find myself working on the system beyond tweaks and optimisations, the system has failed.
I can open Byword and start typing.
I can open OmniFocus and see what I have to do next.
I open Evernote and I can (usually) find what I need to keep working.
I don’t want to have to work the system just so I can eventually start working. Even though I generally find my work interesting, it doesn’t always trigger that hyperfocus that makes work so much easier so any friction just increases the likelihood I won’t be productive.
For the time being, my productivity system seems to be working. I am more productive than I was for a long time. It isn’t a perfect system and I tweak it now and then. I think my OCD tendencies are really helpful there (mostly).
I’ve also learned that having ADHD is as much an adventure as it can be immensely frustrating at times. It is a part of me and certainly makes my life interesting.
Evernote published a post last week announcing that the Evernote Cloud is going to migrate to the Google Cloud Platform. It probably isn’t going to make a significant difference to the average user (well, except if it means the service is faster and more stable).
In addition to scale, speed, and stability, Google will also give Evernote access to some of the same deep-learning technologies that power services like translation, photo management, and voice search. We look forward to taking advantage of these technologies to help you more easily connect your ideas, search for information in Evernote, and find the right note at the moment you need it. That’s exciting to us, and we’re already exploring some ideas that we think you’ll love.
Whenever I think about the features I’d like to see in Evernote, a couple often come to mind:
better search and discoverability.
I don’t know how Google’s capabilities would be incorporated into Evernote in future versions but I can already see how some sort of Google Translate integration could be enormously useful to me.
I don’t use Evernote for simple text notes. I use it to capture and store information for reference purposes. I have all sorts of data in Evernote including:
Articles on work-related themes that I may want to reference later;
School information for our kids (class schedules, consent forms and so on);
Briefs for work projects that expand as projects develop; and more.
More and more of the stuff I capture into Evernote is in Hebrew because, well, we live in Israel and virtually all of our interactions with our kids’ school, utility providers and government is in Hebrew. My Hebrew is improving, just really slowly.
Unfortunately it doesn’t always keep up with my day-to-day needs so having the ability to translate stuff in Evernote will be really helpful! My wife doesn’t use Evernote so I also keep copies of most of our stuff in shared Google Drive folders and often use Google Docs to translate letters we get from the school. It works for the most part so I can see how this capability would be really useful in Evernote too.
My Evernote notebooks are a little cluttered and I have over 25 000 notes. The search function is usually fine but a bit of machine intelligence could make it a lot easier to find stuff I’ve buried in my notebooks.
The news that Instapaper sold to Pinterest shocked me from my early evening domestic routine. At first, it seemed like a mistake. It didn’t even seem like something that could happen but, sure enough, there was a tweet to confirm it:
The key paragraph was this one, the rest of the post was mostly filed for later analysis:
For you, the Instapaper end user and customer, nothing changes. The Instapaper team will be moving from betaworks in New York City to Pinterest’s headquarters in San Francisco, and we’ll continue to make Instapaper a great place to save and read articles.
Of course, Pinboard’s Maciej Ceglowski was in typical form with a series of sarcastic tweets about the sale that included a hefty dose of “I told you so” (as you would expect). He made a few good points that concerned me more than a little and prompted me to think more about my investment in Instapaper:
To Instapaper users who are sad to see their favorite product die and in no mood for my gloating, rest assured: I feel your hilarious pain
People use Pinterest and Instapaper for similar reasons. The similarity is almost too close for the deal to make sense. Pinterest started out as a way for people to collect content from around the web for themselves and others to check out later. At first, people were mainly saving images, but they’ve also started saving articles, to the point that Pinterest considers that “a core use case.” But saving articles is the same reason people use Instapaper — its “core use case,” if you will. So why would Pinterest buy a company whose product largely duplicates its own?
It’s a fair question and, as Peterson suggests, this could be more about putting two similar services together and using the Instapaper team’s know-how to improve Pinterest. For now, at least, Instapaper doesn’t seem to be at risk of vanishing. According to Peterson:
Instapaper’s service will remain available post-acquisition, and Pinterest has no plans to put ads in Instapaper, according to a Pinterest spokesperson.
Still, so soon after the news I panicked and downloaded Pocket to my iPad. I have an IFTTT recipe running that adds stories I save to Instapaper to my Pocket queue so I wouldn’t lose much if Instapaper inexplicably vanished.
I also created a series of IFTTT recipes that captured my Instapaper notes and highlights into MultiMarkdown-formatted notes after the Great Pinboard Shock of 2016 so I wouldn’t lose too much of that data either.
The big loss, to me, would be the loss of an app that I use daily and really enjoy using. Pocket could be an acceptable replacement (I used Pocket regularly for a while before I decided to switch back to Instapaper). While I’d lose some functionality if I had to switch, switching would be more a matter of installing the various Pocket extensions and apps.
Will Pinterest be a good steward for Instapaper and give the team the tools it needs to keep making Instapaper better? I hope so. Ultimately, if it all goes badly, there are other options. If Pocket doesn’t capture my affection, I could always switch to Evernote even though the reading experience isn’t even close. I’m getting ahead of myself.
For the time being, I don’t need to (or want to) change anything. I pay for my Instapaper subscription for a year at a time and, assuming the service will continue operating as promised, I can keep doing what I’ve been doing (after a quick backup of my links).
I have had my frustrations with Evernote in the past and I’ve shared many on this blog. It works really well, when it works but, when it doesn’t, it is incredibly frustrating. Just the same, I haven’t found a replacement for Evernote that does what I do with Evernote without adding a lot more administrative overhead to my workflows (the closest I’ve come is probably a combination of Google Drive/Keep – especially with the new iOS apps – Instapaper and Pinboard).
Evernote’s strength is in its core: notes, sync, and search
This may just be me but I am hoping this signals a return to the fundamentals and Evernote removing unpopular features like Evernote’s Work Chat feature. I don’t think that feature proved to be quite as popular as Evernote hoped. There are so many other great alternatives and Work Chat would only really be compelling if you and your colleagues did absolutely everything in Evernote.
I’d like to see Work Chat removed and those core features improved. I have been using Evernote for over 5 years and I have a lot of stuff (almost 23 000 mixed media notes) in Evernote which I reference and add to daily. Hopefully, rumours of Evernote’s slow death are greatly exaggerated and this promise of a more focused Evernote will be realised.