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Stefan Timm

Why doesn't Evernote support the paperless life better?

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I've been using Evernote since its beginning and have gone paperless with it. The only documents I still have in paper format are the ones where you are required to keep the original. Everything else goes right into my Fujitsu Scansnap and then straight to the shredder. My library has roughly 6000 documents.

I've always been hoping Evernote would understand its destiny (which is a PDF archive for people who go paperless) and subsequently put an emphasis on features, that support this kind of usage. To name a few improvements that anyone using it in a similar way (and I can't think of much else it could be useful for):

  • some sort of suggestion of tags based on the contents of the document and other already tagged documents in the library
  • making the change of "date created" easier and not harder (which they did some time ago, to my dismay)
  • even maybe automatically capture the creation date from the document
  • identify duplicates (during adding a document and also in the library)

Maybe I'm mistaken and there are actually relevant use cases beyond a PDF archive, but I strongly doubt it. Although, I must admit, even I occasionally enter a note 🙂

So here is my question:

How can Evernote even survive without providing the best thinkable support for people who want to go paperless?

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Improvement on these points would be positive. Just a few remarks:

  • There is the feature to „intelligently“ assist with tagging and notebook picking already. I have tried it and switched it off again, because I am faster with creating these few inputs myself than correcting the system guesses.
  • Picking information like the date printed to a document is a capability of the ScanSnap Software. It works sometimes, but often picks the wrong information. I usually don’t need this, because if I search for an invoice, the name of the company or the article purchased will do.
  • Same with creation date. For me this is a time stamp when the note was created in reality. I think it is not meant to be edited, thus the lack of easy tools to do so.

Some users have created their own way of setting up a standard header text, where search can be restricted by using the <intitle> argument. Maybe this could help you as long as the features mentioned above are not available.

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@PinkElephant thanks for the insights.

Regarding "intelligently" assisting with tags and other metadata:

I hear a lot about AI nowadays. It doesn't seem to be too hard to apply this to "train" the software to extract metadata from the document (scanned or received electronically). This would, however, be based on all documents in the library and therefore couldn't be done by the scanner software.

And this would certainly meet the expectations of the customer who wants to be delighted 🙂

I agree that tagging, creating a good title and adjusting the creation date is not too much work, especially if there are only new documents coming in and you process them regularly (I do it semi-daily).

The reason I'm not relying on full text search too much is that I don't believe in folders (>95 % of my Evernote documents are in one folder) and I do sometimes look for stuff where I don't even remember the name. With my tags I can almost always bring it down to a list that is quickly scanned by the eye. I also use full text search in combination with tags quite a bit. The creation date I adjust because I want to be able to have the results ordered by "real date", but maybe I'm overdoing it here.

 

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1 hour ago, Stefan Timm said:

Maybe I'm mistaken and there are actually relevant use cases beyond a PDF archive

At it's core, Evernote is a tool to store and organize notes/documents
The documents are not restricted to pdfs; I have web pages, images, word processing, spreadsheets,  ...         

My notes also include links to external information sources

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3 minutes ago, DTLow said:

At it's core, Evernote is a tool to store and organize notes/documents
The documents are not restricted to pdfs; I have images, word processing, spreadsheets,  ....

I understand that, but why would anyone want to put a file into Evernote, when the contents isn't even visible?

I think one is way better off keeping word processing and spreadsheets in the file system und maybe dropping a PDF of it into Evernote if needed.

Also, unless you use Evernote for work (and I don't see this is a significant percentage of users) I don't think a relevant portion of documents are word processing or spreadsheets if you go paperless.

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1 hour ago, Stefan Timm said:

I understand that, but why would anyone want to put a file into Evernote, when the contents isn't even visible?

I think one is way better off keeping word processing and spreadsheets in the file system

1879875544_ScreenShot2020-07-30at3_12_26AM.png.81b198d07e6f7e51602a9f0588adbdbb.pngI'm familiar with the "file system"    
Generally, filenames are listed - the contents are not visible   

Evernote provides much better support for organization and retrieval

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First I think the ideas in the initial thread have their merit, and implementation would help users in the „paperless quest“.

Second I think that putting many notes in few notebooks, and do the majority of organizing with tags is the way it should be done. If one notebook or a few, but if using more than that one easily ends in a system that mimics a file system. This is not the way EN works.

About the AI Support: It would be nice, but a few thousand documents are probably not enough to train a self learning software. When the scanner tries to do it, it usually comes with OCR by the scanner (or supporting software, in case of Fujitsu by Nuance). When the scan is imported into EN with OCR data already, currently EN will not OCR it again.

This means to support such an AI, it would have to do it all inside of EN. I do it outside because if done by EN, the OCR is part of the note, not of the attached document. I think it is better to have the OCR data embedded into the file itself.

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As to the original question "are there relevant use cases beyond a PDF archive",  I'd say the answer is a resounding 'yes'.

I totally agree that other apps are sometimes better for processing individual tasks,  and I still use mind maps, post-process digital images, and send emails using other software.  It's a question of using Evernote to the best advantage - which can be a very individual measure.

Forinstance my mind maps are attached to notes because that makes them available wherever I can access the internet,  and have a local mind map client on which to run them. (Outputs to images and PDF files are also possible for purely view usage)

I keep my images on an external hard drive (with backups) but Lightroom is (sorry Adobe) still a huge amorphous blob of menus and capabilities,  complicated by updates.  I clip web pages, blog posts and general interest items about LR processes and workflows to help me better learn how to use it.

And emails - I use Gmail and Outlook mails,  and apart from the spam which gets deleted,  and the newsletters which get read - then deleted,  my email history is in Evernote.  I'll BCC or forward a 'sent' copy of outgoing emails to my database,  and copy or drag-n-drop replies into my notes.  (DnD means I can still open the email in my mail client and then forward or reply to it.)

Evernote also runs my GTD lists,  my reminder system and acts as a library of possibly useful information - like the 'Road trips' notebook where I save clips and forward emails related to (surprise) possible road trips to interesting places.

I think it's a general-purpose tool that users can employ however they wish - including,  obviously,  PDF archive.

The whole question of suggested tags, automatically changing dates and flagging duplicates though fills me with horror. As of today there is no true "AI" - all we have is coders making educated guesses about what we might want to see,  and learning systems using tens of thousands of iterations to see which one(s) work out best.

I wouldn't claim to be smarter than ALL coders,  but some of the ones I have worked with have not impressed.  If there's going to be a 'system' to deal with my saved data,  I'd rather set that up myself thanks.  And I have - I use Filterize to tag and file around 50% of my notes according to rules I chose.  Training systems is pretty pointless,  because the number of transactions on any one account is too small to be useful.

Now Evernote could milk ALL its accounts to see how folks have sorted their data,  and watch in real time so that their system could 'learn' the best way to process new notes.  But that drives a coach and a bunch of horses through any privacy and security concerns,  and the last time that was suggested by Evernote there was almost a riot...

Just sayin'  ;)

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8 hours ago, Stefan Timm said:

I've always been hoping Evernote would understand its destiny (which is a PDF archive for people who go paperless) and subsequently put an emphasis on features, that support this kind of usage. To name a few improvements that anyone using it in a similar way (and I can't think of much else it could be useful for):

  • some sort of suggestion of tags based on the contents of the document and other already tagged documents in the library
  • making the change of "date created" easier and not harder (which they did some time ago, to my dismay)
  • even maybe automatically capture the creation date from the document
  • identify duplicates (during adding a document and also in the library)

I've gone paperless using EN as well.  To date I have 23,865 PDFs out of 48,606 notes.  The bulk of my access is via compound tag search and/or text.  To your points:

  1. I don't really trust auto tagging at this point.  All scans or PDF downloads run though a Scans notebook so I tag them and then move them to the main notebook.  If smart tagging got smarter fine, but too many variables to me.
  2. I don't change this often enough to worry.  If you do this often on windows you can have the date that appears at the top of the note window be created date.  Then it is one click away.
  3. Not sure this one is practical without a template per document type.  Too many dates and none in the same place.
  4. Fine with me if EN developed it.  Though I'm not sure how much benefit or use for me.  Any dupes tend to show up when I do a search and I fix then.  Otherwise not doing enough harm to make it something to worry about.

And EN is useful for things other than storing PDFs.

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9 hours ago, Stefan Timm said:

I've always been hoping Evernote would understand its destiny (which is a PDF archive for people who go paperless) and subsequently put an emphasis on features, that support this kind of usage. To name a few improvements that anyone using it in a similar way (and I can't think of much else it could be useful for):

  • some sort of suggestion of tags based on the contents of the document and other already tagged documents in the library
  • making the change of "date created" easier and not harder (which they did some time ago, to my dismay)
  • even maybe automatically capture the creation date from the document
  • identify duplicates (during adding a document and also in the library)

Maybe I'm mistaken and there are actually relevant use cases beyond a PDF archive, but I strongly doubt it. Although, I must admit, even I occasionally enter a note 🙂

So here is my question:

How can Evernote even survive without providing the best thinkable support for people who want to go paperless?

I think the use of the word destiny is strong language. It implies a singular result  from inception to infinity. Any true system will evolve or change over time to fit the needs of the environment, or in this case its users over time. The only constant is change. 

To your points...

  • tag suggestion system is a touchy area. There are millions of users with their own work flows and styles. Any suggestion system implemented may work for a few, but then generate complaints it doesn't work for everyone else.
  • I don't see any issue with changing the date created on the desktop apps, perhaps more explanation can be provided?
  • capturing the creation date could only support one source, that would be the file creation date from the system OS. Doable, I could see this as a feature.
  • What constitutes a duplicate? Your definition of a duplicate can easily be different from another user. 

Your use of Evernote is different then others. You use it as a document storage and retrieval system.Others user it for notes. And others use it for task management. In all, these are the functions users have designed into Evernote for their needs. Evernote is a framework, and you build on that frame work.

One of the problems with trying to implement features to please everyone is running into the Microsoft syndrome. Microsoft tried to implement features in their office products to try to please everyone. But it became to bloated, it developed a reputation for being slow, clunky, and bug ridden. Microsoft has turned that around. Evernote can't fall for the same trap. 

Honestly its sounds like you need a dedicated document management system you can customize. 

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Thanks for all the valuable responses. And yes, a dedicated document management system might be better. I use Devonthink for work and it is horrible. I doubt there is anything better out there at this time.

Getting back to my initial points:

  • I receive almost ALL my documents digitally as PDFs. I hardly create any documents myself (other than maybe some overviews and notes). So I simply don't understand why it should be so hard to recognize an invoice from the some company based on 10 years monthly invoices already in Evernote, and suggest the appropriate tags. It would even help if "similar" documents with their tags could be presented, making it easier to keep a consistent tag system.
  • About the "date created": I think the only useful way to use it is to change it to the date printed on the PDF (if the content is a PDF, at least). This was made unnecessarily harder last year, now it have to click the three dots, select "Note details" and only then I can adjust the date. The file date or scan date are both completely useless and I want to be able to sort by document date, which (again) is the date printed on the PDF. In the past, I could just click on the date field in the note to change it. While I understand it might be difficult to reliably extract this from the PDF, it should be one click to adjust it manually (and not be victim to some mediocre user interface "improvement")
  • A duplicate is the same PDF attachment in 2 notes (at least if there is no other content in the note, headline is considered metadata in this context)

I hear you, Evernote is much more than a PDF archive, but going paperless for me is mainly one big, easy to search PDF archive. Like I said, most people do not create any significant content themselves (and, to make it even a bit more controversial, there honestly is more than enough content already 🙂 ).

If there was an easy to use, affordable, cloud based PDF archive solution which I can use on all my devices (macOS, iOS) without any syncing, I'd probably move on to that. My hope was certainly that Evernote would cover this use case 99% (at least over time), but I don't see any improvements. Having to click twice before I can change the "create date" is even a move in the opposite direction (luckily a small one).

So, back to my original question: Why doesn't Evernote support the paperless life better? In particular for users who do NOT create any documents, but just receive them as email attachments, downloads and on paper.

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57 minutes ago, Stefan Timm said:

So, back to my original question: Why doesn't Evernote support the paperless life better? In particular for users who do NOT create any documents, but just receive them as email attachments, downloads and on paper.

"Better" is such a personal concept.  Your specifics were addressed by most who responded to the thread, no eureka moments.  IAC, working fine for my paperless life.  🤷‍♂️

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Since there's such a narrow focus on the receipt and storage of documents,  have you looked into academic literature management apps like http://www.docear.org/? It might provide you with some supportive features that Evernote lacks...

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