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Fix "conflicting changes" by implementing something like 'diff'



The other day I got an email from Evenote with a poll about yet another collaborative platform they're working on. There was a super-long list of questions that I gave up on when it was asking me to choose multiple times between pricing tiers, because I felt it was ignoring the elephant in the room:

Collaborating via Evernote is incredibly painful because of the utter lack of any help in dealing with two different versions of a note.

Seriously, I've been trying to use it for bits of collaboration, and it's a nightmare. Every time two people poke at the same note at once you end up with either a new "Conflicting Changes [some date]" notebook with a copy of the note in it, or get a "Conflicting Changes [some date]" banner jammed between two copies of the note's content. (For a while I was only getting the banner thing, I though the notebook thing was gone, but last week I got a new Conflicting Changes notebook for the first time in ages, I have no idea why one or the other happens.) Hell, you can generate them all by yourself by just accidentally having the same note open on a couple of devices at once.

And then the only thing to do is to manually open two windows on my computer and slowly scroll through them, looking for all the changes, and making one good note via cut and paste. If I'm on my phone or tablet I can't even do that, I just have to pick one to edit and make things even worse.

I mean, look, that was fine when sharing notes was a brand new feature. You don't expect to have every detail of a big change like that worked out the first time. But Evernote has had collaboration for years and we still have to manually look for and merge changes.

And to be quite honest, I'm starting to move into managing projects, and Evernote's hell of conflicting changes is the last damn thing I want to inflict on the team I'm building.

There are tools to deal with this sort of problem. There have been tools to deal with this sort of problem for decades. Evernote's programmers probably rely on tools like this to fix this sort of problem when merging their changes into the source tree. There's a programmer tool called "diff" designed to make this sort of thing much easier that's been around since 1970. There's a rich field of modern graphical diff clients that very clearly show the user which file is the 'original', which is the 'conflicting version', and what the additions/subtractions were. There's a lot of publicly documented algorithms for figuring out what's added/removed/changed/moved. There's a ton of prior art to play with and take inspiration from.


I mean this is interesting, albiet a little opaque without the manual to explain it.


This is super visual. Red is probably deletions, green is probably additions, not sure what blue is.


Apple's tool is surprisingly difficult to look at. I guess it's Good Enough For Programmers. And that's just a few examples plucked from the first page of an image search for 'diff client'.

Just, like, put a few interns on a skunkworks project of "diff-inspired conflicting changes UI" for a few weeks, see what happens, start playing with it, give it a grey/green skin, fix this thing that is broken at the center of this tool I've put all my notes into for the past seven years, and been a paid user of for most of those. Because thinking about this just made me go ask all my friends "what else is out there".

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46 minutes ago, egypturnash said:

Collaborating via Evernote is incredibly painful because of the utter lack of any help in dealing with two different versions of a note.

I use my own tools to reconcile differences, but I don't have a lot of collaboration on the same note.  In fact, I would try to avoid this situation

As you pointed out, there's diff software; another example, website https://www.diffchecker.com/ compares text side by side

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"Use your own tools" works fine for people who know these things exist. And for people who only create plaintext notes. I'm the former but not the latter, cutting and pasting notes with images into a web form just isn't gonna happen. Especially when I'm away from the computer. 

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