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Moving from Evernote - An Open Letter to Developers


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I have been an Evernote user for many years now, I've been a paid premium user for most of that time.  I've been telling my friends and coworkers about how amazing a product it is, especially considering that most of its features are free.  I've tried to stick with the software through the years, even through software glitches and bugs, problems on mobile, and when I had to have a Linux installation at work and was forced to only use the web interface during that time since there is no Linux platform.

I'm writing this because I'd like the developers to know what turned a very loyal customer of the company into someone who has now successfully moved over to Microsoft OneNote.  First off, it isn't the cost, the premium subscription fee is minor and I have been happy to pay it to support development of the platform.  Why then?  Well, over the years Evernote has had it's issues.  Most of the issues I've had with it are the troubles in controlling the format of the notes.  I've spent many hours trying to copy and paste text in a way that makes it readable on my devices.  Formatting on my iPhone doesn't often look right on the Desktop, the same for the web interface, each interface seems to interpret the format differently and occasionally in annoying ways.

My second issue is the lack of support for mathematical typesetting.  I'm personally studying to be a math teacher and as such I've been a lot of time taking notes on paper in class and then moving those notes into Evernote, I have to use 3 different software tools and have had to learn to use Latex in order to create rich equations to put into my notes.  That wouldn't be so bad, except Evernote still has no support for SVG or other vector formats.  There are a number of tools which Evernote could use (Latex itself is free for everyone) but there is also MathML and some Java solutions to rendering equations and such things into images fairly quickly.  This means that Evernote could use something like Latex and just provide a mode to insert Latex code directly into the note and then Evernote calls out to have it rendered, much like the Mediawiki software does, storing then the text and a rendered image with the note.

Perhaps one of the most niggling (though least intrusive) issues is the Evernote's premium feature of "Context", which sounds like an amazing idea but doesn't work for me.  I have issues with paying to use a feature that doesn't work for me.  Of course I don't suggest that the cost be lowered or any other such strangeness, it is a feature that I would have preferred to actually work.  So why doesn't it work for me?  Often, it pulls up unrelated articles from the Wall Street Journal or some such.  I'm not sure about how the technical aspect of the feature works, how it chooses articles and the like.  However, if I'm writing a note about (and this is a true example) oil usage in the United States, I would expect context to bring up articles about oil usage in the United States.  If I google "Wall Street Journal" and "oil usage in the United States", I get a lot of articles with very helpful information listed.  If I broaden my search out to just "oil usage in the United States", I get articles from Wikipedia, Department of Energy, Politico, the New York Times, and many other respected sources.  So what does Evernote bring up?  It brought me an article on child labor in Africa.  I was so curious that I looked and the article had nothing to do with oil.

I get the keyword searching is difficult, at best, and taking a hunk of text and distilling it into things to search for is also difficult.  However, I take issue with the fact that Wikipedia isn't a source and neither are The New York Times, Huffington Post, Washington Post, the BBC, or Al Jazeera.  All of those are major sources of information, but then there is also Wolfram Alpha and other players in the business of aggregating knowledge, not to mention Google's knowledge graph.  I just really expected more, given the excessive hype about how great it would be.

Finally, my last problem with Evernote is in security.  There is no facility to secure an entire note or notebook.  I should be able to right click on a notebook or note and select that I would like this note to have the contents encrypted and only decrypted on the device which they are being viewed or edited on.  This may be an issue for syncing but in the modern day of high level devices, I don't see why I don't have the ability to do this.  Any sensitive information I want to put in Evernote, I have to encrypt myself and paste into a note.  This is just not a workable solution, there is the option to protect text within a note but it is clunky and does not work on mobile at all.  Again, there's no reason for this.

As a side-note, as icing on the cake of all this, I have found Evernote's support system to be lackluster at the best of times.  There is no facility for users to vote on new features to be added, there is no use of a public area for users to comment about bugs being reported or other issues, and the forums here certainly feel as if no employee of Evernote actually looks at them, as if this was thrown up to reduce support costs and nothing more.  I'm hoping that's wrong.  I wrote this up so that developers can understand why at least one customer moved, in hopes that the product will get improved and some of these problems may be eventually fixed.

Thank you.

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13 minutes ago, titanshadow said:

...controlling the format of the notes...support for mathematical typesetting

I find the Evernote editor/format adequate for basic notes; for serious writing I use a dedicated editor app
I use Word/Pages for word processing, Numbers/Pages for spreadsheets, Notability on my iPad, ...
I store the documents as file attachments to a note.  Evernote works well with pdfs, images, office/iworks documents

>>my last problem with Evernote is in security

I'm also concerned with the security for my data.  Evernote has a text encryption feature, and I use the native encryption for my document  attachments

>>There is no facility for users to vote on new features to be added

Feature requests in the Feature Request and Feedback forums each have voting buttons in the top left corner of the discussion

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@titanshadow, just a couple of quick points, in addition to those made by @DTLow. I'm assuming from what you say that OneNote provides native support for mathematical formulas and equations. If so, kudos to them, and it does sound like it would be a superior tool to Evernote for those in math, science, or engineering fields.

Secondly, WRT the "context" feature, there is some control over it. In the Windows program, Options > Note > Context options allows it to be turned off completely, or restricted to one's own notes rather than the outside sources, which I agree are limited and not very well functioning.

At any rate, best wishes. Evernote is a fairly basic note-taking tool in many ways, and can't meet the needs of some fields.

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Thanks for sharing. I think detailed comments like these will make Evernote better and help improve. Of course, there will be situations that Evernote may not be the solution to a person. 

I agree with the Context comments above, I do not get any use out of it but I also have zero expectations for me from that feature. I create my cross references among notes or web page links etc. I am hoping there would be a better way to connect notes than finding the other note, copying the link to it etc. I would like to see an interface where you can almost "spread" your cards/notes on a canvas and move them, work with them as you fit. mohiomap web app is close to what I envision.

As far as MS OneNote goes, I used to take Meeting Notes with it and there were benefits to the app for sure. The biggest problem I had was treating every note as a letter size page which visually held me back from making one sentence notes.  In Evernote, I sometimes make a short notice and the display of the notes visually does not bother me. Like any software or app, there are sometimes preferences that does not make sense to others but it works for you, that is the most important thing.

As discussed above, anything that needs advanced formatting, I either put a hyperlink in Evernote to that file (eg Excel file or a PPT etc.) or keep that file within Evernote and make notes about the file in that note which works nicely for me.

Good luck with the OneNote, keep us posted on how it goes and what it does better.

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