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The Absolute Competitive Minimum: How Evernote can Compete and Thrive Against Notion, Mem, Obsidian, etc.


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Evernote is content with the humble note-centric view of the world. This, by itself, is not a problem. While its competitors are increasingly diversifying into wikis, kanban boards, spreadsheet engines, full on databases, graph networks, and AI-assisted creation spaces, Evernote keeps things straightforward and therefore achieves a very low-friction file-cabinet like experience. But, in addition to expanding into other features, Evernote's competitors are refining and perfecting the text editing and note navigation experience. As such, while it is easy and it feels great to get content into Evernote, it is not so great to write/edit/use Evernote.

Evernote leads or is on par with competitors in the following areas:

  • Low-friction content creation (the main reason why I have not switched)

  • Webclipping

Evernote is now competent at:

  • To Do's / Tasks

But Evernote sorely lacks in the critical areas of text editing and note navigation, which are the absolute competitive minimum that a player in this space needs to get right.

More specifically, a note should be easily navigated (internal links), the note-space should be easily traversed (better linking between notes), and the text editing needs to be top notch (better markdown support, math and equation support, and better code blocks with syntax highlighting).

Here is a list of feature requests that, if implemented, would dramatically raise Evernote's competitive standing:

Easily Navigated

Easily Traversed / Better Connected:

Top Notch Text Editing / Viewing:

BONUS 1 (not part of the absolute competitive minimum)

Evernote loses ground because it lacks a calculation engine of any kind. How can Evernote claim to be useful for people managing personal finance or doing any simple tracking in general without the ability to do summations and other simple arithmetic. Having sorting and filtering functionality, and rudimentary auto-filling (such as dates) would also be quite useful.

BONUS 2 (not part of the absolute competitive minimum)

The mobile apps need to be more performant (fast and responsive). They do not need to replicate the desktop experience and should prioritize text and task features above all else. Scrolling through a table will never be great on a mobile-sized screen, so these features are less important.

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Thank you so much for such a thoughtful and rational exposition. On thinking how Evernote can reach these minimum, I think Evernote should not try to reinvent the wheels but rather be open and pick the right priority. For examples, two way links between Evernote task and Google (or other) task/calendar should be implemented asap. The one current strength of searching should be enhanced further in terms of searching for backlinks etc. 

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It might be worthwhile going back and reading all the posts here about Evernote adding a Tasks function when obviously no one needed that. (That's what they said, not what I'm saying.) What is minimal for some is superfluous to others. The navigation ideas have been suggested here so often that Evernote must be aware of them. Read-only viewing would be a big plus. But otherwise, I think the text editing in Evernote is quite good. Math, symbols, and code blocks are not a feature of my life. I don't need Evernote to do everything; I prefer it to do a limited set of things well, and I'll use other software for other purposes, e.g., finance management. This, in fact, is a debate I've seen years ago on these forums: should we expect to use Evernote for everything, simplifying our tool kit, or should we accept the need for a diverse tool kit composed of programs that do specific things well?

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1 hour ago, Dave-in-Decatur said:

It might be worthwhile going back and reading all the posts here about Evernote adding a Tasks function when obviously no one needed that. (That's what they said, not what I'm saying.) What is minimal for some is superfluous to others. The navigation ideas have been suggested here so often that Evernote must be aware of them. Read-only viewing would be a big plus. But otherwise, I think the text editing in Evernote is quite good. Math, symbols, and code blocks are not a feature of my life. I don't need Evernote to do everything; I prefer it to do a limited set of things well, and I'll use other software for other purposes, e.g., finance management. This, in fact, is a debate I've seen years ago on these forums: should we expect to use Evernote for everything, simplifying our tool kit, or should we accept the need for a diverse tool kit composed of programs that do specific things well?

I agree with you in principle (re the text I bolded in your post). The situation, however, is that many of the biggest kids on the block (e.g., Notion and Obsidian) have implemented all of the text features I mentioned (as well as the note navigation + note traversal features), on top of their very impressive unique/distinctive feature-sets. In other words, it is becoming increasingly common for a service to offer these features (and as more challengers emerge, they will seek to emulate the frontrunners and perpetuate these features --- which become cemented as expectations). And while better code blocks and support for math symbols may not be useful to you, they certainly wouldn't compromise the way you use Evernote (or change your interaction with it in any way), and may very well be useful to thousands (if not more) of others. In a former life, I never thought I would need code blocks or math symbols (I have a Masters in English). But as I finish up a Masters in Computer Science, I am realizing that I want my text editors to be versatile and competent for any discipline / use case. Dedicated WYSIWYG editors like Typora (huge fan) have completely ruined me on text editing, and seeing Notion and Obsidian with essentially the same editing feature set makes me green with envy as I stick with my trusty and simple pal Evernote.

I don't want or expect Evernote to be an "everything" tool. But I don't want it to just be a repository of content that I've created elsewhere using external/outside software, which is the reality it is increasingly becoming for me. And my argument is that a modern text editing experience can and should be expected to involve the features I include as part of my "competitive minimum" list.

Cheers.

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15 hours ago, KAGS said:

BONUS 2 (not part of the absolute competitive minimum)

The mobile apps need to be more performant (fast and responsive). They do not need to replicate the desktop experience and should prioritize text and task features above all else. Scrolling through a table will never be great on a mobile-sized screen, so these features are less important.

This is not just a bonus, it is the most important requirement! 

What is the purpose of new fancy features if the (mobile) clients are unstable? And this promise from Ian Small is still missing:  "And most importantly, over the course of 2022, we will complete our multi-year journey to a more reliable, faster, and more modern sync architecture—the very backbone of the Evernote experience."

So, please fix first the core evernote bugs before adding even more complexity !

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16 hours ago, KAGS said:

Evernote is content with the humble note-centric view of the world. This, by itself, is not a problem.

As a long term Evernote Legacy user; I can work with "note centric"  
Sometimes, I need to store a single file, for example a PDF; I can store it as a note attachment file    
Sometimes I need a document or a spreadsheet; I use an external editor, and again store it as a note attachment file 

My point is that I use an external editor when I need features beyond simple note editing     
I agree with @Dave-in-Decatur's comment, "What is minimal for some is superfluous to others."

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I tend to apply the Rasczak Principle with apps "I'll use this until it either dies or I find something better". 

I'm still using Evernote (mostly) v10 because it's adequate for my needs,  and it works.  I use separate apps for things like email, word processing, 3D CAD, mind maps, image editing, relational databasing, VPN,  plus Workflowy for listing - all of which refer back and/ or are linked to and from Evernote as necessary for working files,  notes and background information.

I try to use Evernote for as much as I can,  but where it just doesn't (yet?) have the functionality I need,  I'll find an app that does, and use it alongside,  or instead of EN.  

I'm also of the general view that Evernote doesn't need to add (m)any more bells and whistles - it mainly just needs to do what it already does,  only better and faster.

We all have our own pet feature that we'd like to see as part of the package,  but the problem with being so successful around the world is that thousands of features are being suggested for development.  They have to prioritise so as not to have to recode the same part of the app again and again - or ignore any specific area.

If you do need a feature that's not part of the current plan,  it's likely that - sooner or later - Evernote will get around to it.  But it's pointless throwing around offers of extra subscriptions or threatening to abandon ship - suggest by all means;  explain why this feature is important to you - but find another app to work around its absence and stop with the "it's been 3 years..." comments. 

Evernote are a business,  and they'll do whatever they think is best to advance their take up.  That will probably include most of the requested features in time,  but they don't usually commit to specifics,  and you'll find out that something is available when it's released and not before.

Meantime find a work around.  Again I know it's a pain to use a different third party software;  it interrupts workflows and adds keystrokes. 

But the choices are:

  1. get the job done by any means - use a different app.
  2. wait (indefinitely) for Evernote to (maybe) add that feature
  3. give up

- which means there are no real choices.  Just get on with it!

Sorry for the rant,  which is not aimed at any of the comments here particularly.  I'm just sayin'!

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3 hours ago, eric99 said:

This is not just a bonus, it is the most important requirement! 

I think comment sums up this discussion. (NB I agree that the mobile apps need to perform better). But each of the points made is entirely personal. If I didn't use the mobile app I wouldn't need attention on mobile performance. Who needs internal links? Not me. I don't care if they exist but I do care if they get attention which stops the things that are important to me getting the attention that everyone knows that they need.

All emphasis with tongue in cheek.

As it happens I think that there are developments in the wind that will please some and infuriate others. Nobody will mind that they are provided but they won't be enough or won't be the thing that is most important for those that are upset.

 

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4 hours ago, agsteele said:

But each of the points made is entirely personal

This is very true. My post is entirely an opinion piece. If it reads as objective, then it is my fault for presenting them as such (i.e., too bluntly). 

My argument can be boiled down to the very simple statement: Evernote does not need to be a database, spreadsheet, Kanban board, ect., but should have its fundamentals leveled up to match its competition. What counts as "fundamental" is highly subjective, and I have staked my point on the fundamentals being text editing and note navigation.

It does seem like the power users / long timers (who have seen competiton come and go) still using Evernote have a best-of-breed (use the tool that is best for the job) mindset. And I currently have this approach as well, using Evernote mostly as a

19 hours ago, KAGS said:

repository of content that I've created elsewhere using external/outside software

And best-of-breed vs. all-in-one (or many-in-one) underlies many of these "Evernote should do this" discussions. This debate will always be a matter of personal opinion. But ultimately, user-base and profitability will be the practical deciding factor which philosophy "is better." And I have worries there in the long run as the competition is feature-rich and highly competent.

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On 11/12/2022 at 9:28 PM, KAGS said:

This is very true. My post is entirely an opinion piece. If it reads as objective, then it is my fault for presenting them as such (i.e., too bluntly). 

My argument can be boiled down to the very simple statement: Evernote does not need to be a database, spreadsheet, Kanban board, ect., but should have its fundamentals leveled up to match its competition. What counts as "fundamental" is highly subjective, and I have staked my point on the fundamentals being text editing and note navigation.

It does seem like the power users / long timers (who have seen competiton come and go) still using Evernote have a best-of-breed (use the tool that is best for the job) mindset. And I currently have this approach as well, using Evernote mostly as a

And best-of-breed vs. all-in-one (or many-in-one) underlies many of these "Evernote should do this" discussions. This debate will always be a matter of personal opinion. But ultimately, user-base and profitability will be the practical deciding factor which philosophy "is better." And I have worries there in the long run as the competition is feature-rich and highly competent.

Evernote offers an API so that theoretically someone could roll their own kanban board and store the data on the evernote servers. Practically speaking there aren't that many such things available because programming stuff like that is not so easy 😕

 

btw, have a look here: https://www.kanbanote.com/

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After trying every alternative I could find I have stuck with evernote for three main reasons.

1. Longevity- I will not use a tool for critical work thats only just been developed by a one man band.

2. Evernote search WITHIN Pdfs and images. I often take notes in a paper note book because it's all I have at hand then photograph and send to evernote= searchable. Correct me if I am wrong but nothing else does these two things.

3. The web clipper.

The " we know better" approach from EN management is often at times infuriating, despite their claims, they do not listen to paying customers however you have to pick your fights and if for example I can't write Longform in EN because it will not allow manual sorting of notes within a notebook I simply use Drafts and Ulysses.

With this approach I find I actually get work done rather than "testing" alternatives.

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My needs are not complex: multi platform online storage of web articles grouped in topics. The web clipper is basically good, but it's bad capability to automatically recognize in what folder a clip will fit best bothers me every time. The suggestions have been abysmal for many years. And yes, I would welcome really new useful functions in Evernote, a true evolution, not just cosmetic GUI changes that I would have to pay for with an upgrade. Which I will not do. Try to open the iPad app without getting harrassed by never ending suggestions to change the surface BUT ONLY if I upgrade my "Plus" subscription.

Evernote was a good approach from the beginning, but it has been lacking real evolution over the years. Stagnating more or less... Systems like Notion are way over- complex for me, it is like spending more time with organizing everything rather then just doing everything. Not for me.

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4 horas atrás, alba63 disse:

como gastar mais tempo organizando tudo em vez de apenas fazer tudo

I agree. This was one of the main reasons I gave up on Notion and other apps of this type. It's true that there are features in Evernote that I lack. But many features have been implemented in the last few months that have been very useful to me.

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6 hours ago, alba63 said:

And yes, I would welcome really new useful functions in Evernote, a true evolution, not just cosmetic GUI changes that I would have to pay for with an upgrade. Which I will not do. Try to open the iPad app without getting harrassed by never ending suggestions to change the surface BUT ONLY if I upgrade my "Plus" subscription.

Evernote was a good approach from the beginning, but it has been lacking real evolution over the years. Stagnating more or less.

Can you say something about what you would consider truly evolutionary and not just cosmetic?

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As an avid paid user since 2008 Evernote seems to be the only app I have used that has gotten worse and worse over the past 6 years specifically, they had a good run for several years. I cringe every time I have to update because I fear what tools I will be losing, what tools will be moved somewhere, what simply will stop working… and all of this is magnified by Evernote seemingly having only 1 or 2 programmers who seem 2 years backlogged. Unfortunately several of the items you suggest are worthy to leave Evernote, however over 14 years most of my brain is captured on here. As soon as I can find a viable way to export all my notes to another service I’m out!

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The definition of 'improvement' will vary from user to user, and their needs.  I've come back to EN from OneNote (couple of years ago) because EN's note-centric nature and some other features were better.  In that time also, EN has been consistently improving. It's the reason I'm sticking with them (for now) even though I really need improved navigation within notes and tasks (e.g. internal links) and outlook integration.  The time committment of learning a new tool and workflow encourages me to have patience with EN's development timeline. 
That being said, I have no idea what will happen now that they've sold.  New ownership by a business that doesn't appear to have any experience in an EN type of tool could be great if they let EN chart its own path, but that seems to be a rarity in mergers and acquisitions.  time will tell.

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3 minutes ago, lost_gweedo said:

That being said, I have no idea what will happen now that they've sold.  New ownership by a business that doesn't appear to have any experience in an EN type of tool could be great if they let EN chart its own path, but that seems to be a rarity in mergers and acquisitions.  time will tell.

Wait: what??  Who says Evernote has been sold?  To whom?  More information please!!

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On 11/12/2022 at 12:54 PM, eric99 said:

What is the purpose of new fancy features if the (mobile) clients are unstable? And this promise from Ian Small is still missing:  "And most importantly, over the course of 2022, we will complete our multi-year journey to a more reliable, faster, and more modern sync architecture—the very backbone of the Evernote experience."

So, please fix first the core evernote bugs before adding even more complexity !

 Hopefull news from Ian Small: "As I write this blog post, our new collaborative editing capability, which allows multiple people to edit the same note simultaneously, and individuals to edit the same note on multiple devices without note conflicts, is in early days of beta testing around the world. " https://evernote.com/blog/evernote-next-move-joining-bending-spoons/

 

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1 minute ago, PinkElephant said:

Short term the features now in beta are relevant. Long term the impact of the new ownership will be more relevant.

Lets wait how it evolves. Maybe an injection of AI capabilities will take search to a next level.

Since BendingSpoons activity is mainly on mobile, there is hope that the mobile clients will get the attention they deserve. Also they have much more experience in developing performant apps (video editing). Maybe, the native apps will come back at last 😉

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3 minutes ago, PinkElephant said:

Maybe an injection of AI capabilities will take search to a next level

<Groan>  Everything has an "AI" tag these days,  and all it means is that someone applied a glorified machine learning algorythm to most tasks so the device can offer you a bunch of partially irrelevant options you probably didn't need in the first place.  But it's a big organisation with lots of existing resources - here's hoping they know what they're doing,  because we're about to find out!  As usual - my continuing test is going to be:  is this app doing what I need?  If not,  I'll be elsewhere...

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Search is always about guessing - or you make it hard coded, like the classical boolean search. One little mistake in setting up the search string - and you get nothing. So making searches „fuzzy“ is older than the AI approach to reach that goal.

When I look at the chips driving the new Macs, the AI neural engine takes up more surface than the classical CPU cores. This is a lot of computing power waiting to be utilized.

x86 is behind on this, which is one reason why the sales of the new Macs are growing strongly against the market trend.

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On 11/14/2022 at 5:06 PM, RobertJLee said:

Drafts and Ulysses.

Actually I have just moved over to Obsidian for long form writing. Utilising the outline plugin you can write long prose in one document and use headers ie ### to split the document up and move sections easily with the outliner. That combined with Tags and searches fulfils my needs without paying 39.99 a year. I use drafts to send any ideas or writing directly into this document from phone.

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