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(Archived) Transparency & Consistency

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I really love Evernote. Recently upgraded to a Premium account. Until very recently, was heavily evangelizing Evernote to friends & family. My opinion has changed a bit with recent updates, however. I'm still a user, but I'm looking at alternatives, and I'm careful about recommending Evernote.

Really, my hesitation comes from two fronts: lack of consistency in the Evernote experience, and lack of transparency from Evernote generally.

My experience (and my sense from discussions is that this isn't unique) is that "remember everything" is a pretty great thing, but then you start to want to do something with all that information you remember. File it. Visualize certain pieces of it. Make it appear in the order you want. Act on it. Bottom line - remember everything is a step in the process. But once I'm remembering all of these things, I'm next building searches, tags, notebooks, etc. to make it appear useful. And I'm building hacks into my system, like prefixing important tags in my system with special characters, in order to make those hacks work.

And, increasingly, I'm discovering that the hacks don't work consistently across platforms. Never mind differences between Mac & PC, I'd expect searches & display order to be consistent across two iOS devices. (or, alternately, in the "function follows form" theory, I'd expect that there would be differences between iPhone & iPad, but that my desktop experience would be remarkably similar). Not the case.

Recent updates have shown that the interface doesn't even remain consistent in the same platform across versions ... never mind not following the common conventions of the specific OS. (insert rant here that you should probably figure out the general contours of how you want your software to look before you get as deep into the weeds as Evernote has)

Bottom line - the more I use Evernote, the more I realize that it's AMAZING & I'm becoming increasingly dependent on it, but I also start to realize that some of the tricks I'm using to make it usable may be taken away from me at any time. And that makes me start thinking about a new service.

Which brings me to part 2 of my complaint - I read the forums, check out the blog & listen to the podcast, but I have very little sense of the direction Evernote is taking. I have heard encouraging statements about wanting the EN experience to be similar across devices (I think), but forever and always the disclaimer is "soon", said with a grin that makes it utterly meaningless. I'd commit to Evernote with its quirks if I knew what the design philosophy was & how the company plans to get there (broad strokes & with the understanding this can change at any time - I work in the software industry, I'm not asking for commitments on features).

I don't know whether EN is interested in communicating this to the community & don't even know how I'd find out ... I was thinking this a few weeks ago when gbarry's position was announced. Since then, I've heard that there's a new better use forum coming "soon" ... not exactly waiting with bated breath.

So -

Is consistency in experience an important guiding principle for Evernote?

How does Evernote communicate it's priorities & goals to the community? If that needs improvement, how & when is that anticipated?

Open question. I love the software, I really do. If I didn't love it quite so much, I wouldn't care because I wouldn't mind adjusting things. But I'm planning to depend on EN for the rest of my life. And that means I don't want a rug yanked out of one of the beautiful hacks I'm cobbling together to make it *my* EN.

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I'm positive that I've heard them specifically talk about their philosophy regarding consistency. They are well aware of the number of ways in which people could conceivably use their tags and search algorithm, because, while everyone has their precise "hacks" that seem obscure and original, if you break down the possible uses of the tags and searches to an information level it's very basic and simple.

You won't wake up to find that they have broken your way of organizing (but if it did happen it would break for nearly everybody).

Regarding your thoughts on transparency I agree with you that they need to be more open about their vision of bringing the Evernote's together so that you could get any device that might be available now or in the future and immediately see your data in the way you have configured it. Right now, for example, the iPhone client does not have the tag nesting information which is important to me on the desktop, and there is no word yet on when this will be fixed.

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I've definitely heard them talk about consistency. My fear is that I'm increasingly seeing a gap between what's said & what's done. Not sure if you use an iPhone/iPad, but the iOS forums are revealing the host of unintended consequences that Rich Text Edit brought to those devices. So like you, I've heard them talk about consistency. But there is still a large gap between different devices, and generally the updates seem to widen that gap as frequently as closing it.

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  • 1 year later...

I'm a premium user - I pay for Evernote's services. I use Evernote on my Mac, iPad, and iPhone. I have many great things to say about Evernote and I know the development teams work hard, but this post is going to focus on some constructive criticism I'd like to offer. Evernote is great for many things, but it does have some annoying user interface 'quirks'.

  • One of these is the habit of putting frequently used buttons nearly on top of each other (iOS). I know the screen is small, but do the 'view options' and favorites buttons really have to be squeezed up under the top left button? Especially on the iPad in landscape mode; there's a solid inch of empty space just to the right of it. If I were a real estate person, I'd buy that land and wait for those buttons to lust after a little breathing room.

  • Also, can anyone tell me the secret on the Mac to expanding the sidebar list for viewing longer notebook/tag/saved search names? Sure, I know how. But getting Evernote to actually let me drag it wider is a ridiculous game of switching views and trying to drag from different parts of the line. Every time I open Evernote, I have to play. It's not fun.

Another user interface issue is the lack of congruence between the apps. It's frustrating because, since the workflows can't be the same, it makes it difficult for me to run on autopilot. Sometimes I can't help but wonder if the development teams ever use each others platforms.

  • Favorites on iPhone but not iPad. No, offline notebooks don't make it unnecessary. I don't want to download the entire filing cabinet (notebook), just certain files.

  • Notebooks listed by stack or name on the iPhone / only by stack on the mac / and only as a screen of icons on the iPad (stacks nonexistent, so are notebooks and tags in an easy to read list). Some people like lists, some like icons, some like clouds. Whatever. To each his or her own. Software companies could save themselves a ton of Advil if they'd stop trying to convert people. For example; if you offer the list view on the Mac and iPhone, don't take the option away on the iPad unless you really have to. Same for icons and sorting orders. When I go looking for my cat, it's definitely going to slow me down if he changes shape and color depending on what room he's in.

  • You can select a tag on the iPhone or iPad and sort by notebook. On the mac? Nope. At least you can do it manually by clicking on the notebooks, but why can't it just be in the same darn dropdown as the other devices? Also, I can have notebooks set to view by stack (iphone only), but when sorting a tag by notebook they view by name only. Why isn't it the same setting? I have no idea.

  • Evernote Hello and Food. <sigh> Great concepts for sure. Great marketing too; push push. Except…. they don't interface with the Mac at all! You can see but you can't touch. No editing what..so..ever. Sitting at your desk, using a full size keyboard and looking at your big screen there's that nice note you made about running into Joe Shmoe the other day. You decide to clean it up and add some more info to the note. Sure. Just pull your phone out of your pocket, find the note and edit it on the tiny screen and keyboard. I'm not kidding. They'll get it integrated later? Great. Then it should have been released later. I know new stuff can be exciting, but credibility matters. If your add-on program doesn't work with your flagship program, then it just isn't ready to be released yet.

Evernote wants to make my life easier with their products. That's why I'm a customer. In many ways they are very successful at it, but when it comes to workflow across platforms they make me work... and sometime sweat.

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  • Level 5*

If I had my druthers, I would hold the Windows version up as the gold standard, and every client on Evernote would be working towards the functionality found there. Some could potentially achieve it (the Mac desktop), others would never quite get there because of device/operating system limitations (iOS and Android), but they ought to all at least have the core elements (tags, notebooks, stacks, search, etc.), and hopefully more of the other nice features (lots of sort options). Concretely speaking, Android would look like an Android app (squarish), the Apple iOS app would look like an iOS app (roundish), and the Mac would look pretty (easily the best-looking interface out there, and judging by the screenshots shown during Phil Libin's keynote speech last month, it is going to get even better-looking), but we could do all the main stuff the same.


However, this is my only my vision, and I don't know what Evernote wants to do. Is it lack of transparency when Windows doesn't tell us what they plan to do with the Surface Tablet, Google fiddles with their search algorithms, or Ford doesn't tell us what kind of cars they are going to make next year? No. I don't think so. To a certain extent, Evernote needs to control the message (only a few people in the company get to talk about future directions) and they need to protect their intellectual property / innovations from competitors. That's life. If you carefully read / listen / watch what they say, then you can at least get some idea of where the company is headed -- they are actually VERY transparent about a lot of things (their business model) most companies (like Amazon) consider to be top-secret information. From my perspective, knowing they have a believable business model that can get them from here to there (100 years down the road) is a big deal, and it is one thing that makes me so enthusiastic about the service. If you want to know what Evernote is saying about itself, see some of these links (http://www.princeton...multimedia.html).


Is it inconsistency when the Evernote app works differently across different clients. Yes. Definitely. Concretely speaking, we have "Linked Notebooks" only on the Web, "Offline sync" only on Android, and highlighting only on iOS. This is confusing in terms of nomenclature and functionality, and you'll see plenty of people on this forum frustrated when they find that their organizational system doesn't fare well across clients (stacks on the iPad). I imagine we will gain a more consistent experience over time, but it may take months or years instead of hours or days to get there. As users, I think the best thing we can do is make the case for those elements of the apps that we really care about having consistent across platforms.


There is so much that is undocumented. Evernote needs to have every client, and every app thoroughly documented in a readable style (I like what Brett Kelly has done with the API documentation, but of course, we'll need something written at the level of regular folk), and this needs to be updated on a daily / weekly basis, because the products are constantly iterating. In addition, there needs to be tables that show what features are available on what clients, and what the difference is between Premium and Free users. The fact that this doesn't exist yet doesn't indicate opacity, but rather is a result of rapid growth (in my opinion), and I think they now have someone in charge of this kind of thing, so we ought to see changes soon.

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