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GrumpyMonkey

(Archived) Feature Requests for Shared / Joined Notebooks

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In general, I think the learning curve is too steep for shared notebooks, and I would like to see changes that make it possible for people unfamiliar with Evernote to use them. I like the shared notebooks a lot as a concept, but the current implementation makes them rather difficult to use. Again, I am not talking about technologically savvy folks, or Evernoters here, but people who get an email with a link to a shared note or notebook in it and click on it to see Evernote for the first time. What does it mean to "join" a notebook or "view" it? Why do PDFs take ages to download? These sorts of things become immediate barriers to use. Here are a few things that would probably have the biggest impact on usability.

(1) Sort Order

The ability to designate a sort order would enable us to arrange the notes in a logical order. Unfortunately, we no longer have control over this, so when we share a notebook, we have no idea what the other person will see (here is what it ought to look like http://blog.evernote.com/files/2011/06/web_fb.png). If the other person is not familiar with Evernote already, it just looks like a jumble of notes, and depending on their patience or technological proficiency, they may just give up on it. I don't think it is immediately obvious to users on the Web, for example, that they need to go to the bottom of the screen and change something called a "sort." Honestly, I'd like to see the ability to attach sort orders to notebooks in my own account as well, so this is something that would benefit everyone.

(2) Stacks

I am not a big fan of stacks, and rarely use notebooks myself, but unless people are intimately familiar with Evernote and its tags, there is really no other way to convey structure to others. Even if we get the sort order (#1), we have to use note links to create some sort of hierarchy for others, and these pose their own problems. Users unfamiliar with the program don't know to click on them (they are green, not blue), they don't know how to make them, and they don't know how to edit them.

(3) Updates

The ability to have a notification that notes have been updated. Yes, we have the satellite dish on a few clients, but not on mobile, and only if you are logged in. Yes, we have the sort by updated, but see #1. Collaborative work with users who are unfamiliar with Evernote is difficult with the current implementation.

(4) Parity and Consistency

The clients lack parity, and seemingly simple tasks become very difficult to explain or even attempt on some platforms. For example, if someone wants to change the color of text, this is a simple matter on the desktop, but impossible on mobile. If someone wants to create note links, this is relatively easy on the desktop, though not especially intuitive, but impossible on mobile. If someone wants to highlight, this is possible on iOS, but impossible everywhere else. And, then there is the terminology, which is inconsistent across clients. It isn't even clear to users if they should call these notebooks joined or shared, if they should delete them or leave them, etc.

(5) Pinned Notes

There is something to be said for a note that appears at the top no matter how someone has their account set up. There have been lots of discussions about this. In my own account, I can live without it, but when sharing, this kind of basic feature (you already have it with the pop up tutorial thing in Mac) would help a lot.

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+1 here on each point - shared note users who are not familiar with Evernote can find it very hard to use this unfamiliar and apparently unfriendly interface to access information.

I'd add the question of tags, too - my account has over 1,000 tags (not good, and due for serious review once I get time) but only 10 or so relate in each case to the notebooks that I've shared, which are necessarily on more specialised topics than my grab-all default notebook. New users tend want to add their own tags once they get active, but if I share a notebook my entire tag structure - including messy stuff that I've hidden in stacks - swamps their account. We need better ways to achieve consistent tagging options and some controls over the tags you pass on with a share.

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(6) Basic Control and Information Please

- We could use more control over what is happening in our accounts, and the dearth of information on the user interface makes it difficult to use. Video games like Halo than I do in my Evernote account. Why is that? If kids can handle the HUD ("heads up display") mode in a game, then adults can deal with it in their professional lives as well. A toggle in the menu (as we have for lots of things in Windows) would be nice to keep people from getting overwhelmed while supplying us with the tools we need to get stuff done.

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Why am I so grumpy about this today?

- Today I sent out a reminder to three people that I had made updates in my shared notebook. Or, maybe I didn't, because the interface didn't do anything after I pressed the send button. Of course, we receive no notifications in our account or by email that an action was performed, so how do I know? As it turns out, this is an especially important notebook for a time-sensitive matter, so this is especially vexing.

- I had to invite myself from another email address so that I could receive an email and see that everything got sent properly. Is this really how we are supposed to use the notebooks?

- Reading the email, I discovered that most of the message had been cut off. There was no explanation anywhere about a limit to the comments I could include, and no warning. So, now I have sent out one partial message, and maybe another one. Time to spam people with a third reminder!?

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By the way, why am I copy/pasting content into the comment field in the first place? Because the Mac adds at least one, and sometimes three or four lines after each carriage return, so I have to edit everything in a text editor before I can send it anywhere; hence, the copy/paste. This is a longstanding issue :(

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If anyone is interested in following a recent discussion related to this including disagreement with my uber brilliant suggestions, see http://discussion.ev...ed/#entry185617

However Evernote decides to improve stuff, I think the shared notebooks have lots of potential, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with them in the future :)

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UPDATE:

For those of you who are following this suggestion thread with intense interest, I can say that I have discovered a workaround for #1.

★ Every time someone clicks on a link that takes them to a shared notebook, the sort is automatically set for "Date Created (newest first)" no matter what your personal settings are. This means that if you edit the created date and put something like 2050 into the date, then that note will always appear at the top when initially viewed.

Give it a try in my shared notebooks below, and you should see the welcome note at the top. This may not matter to most people, but as someone who wants to make more use of these shared notebooks, especially in educational environments, this is a hugely important feature to me!

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2050 huh? :P

Yeah, when I created my notebook, I had the option to choose. I ended up (rather wisely I guess) choosing the created option so that the newest notes were shown first. I had then edited a couple of notes so that they will show in the top of the list. Though I have since passed the date that I set them, so I will need to watch out for them the next time that I add a note to it ;)

Increased control how others view the notebook is something that I wish for, not necessarily in EN itself, but when just viewing the page.

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Yeah - I knew about the created date / 2050 idea, tend to use that with note links to create a sort of index page for the rest of a shared notebook. I know Evernote have lots of plans - including the ones we think we know about - and don't tend to talk about delivery intentions (pun avoidance on full alert there :P) but anything they can do to improve the sharing experience will be great...

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Aargh...I didn't realize folks could see my full tag structure when I share a notebook. I just recently shared my first notebook with a work colleague and there are personal tags I wouldnt have shared. Guess I should have done my homework before jumping in with both feet! If I unshare now, does that all go away from his computer or am I too late?

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2050? Guess you don't believe in the 100 year company line, eh? :)

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2050? Guess you don't believe in the 100 year company line, eh? :)

No, silly. I just wanted to avoid the Y3K bug :)

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Thanks for suggesting this GrumpyMonkey.

I had put together a notebook for an upcoming workshop I was teaching. I had careful to name each note Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. It looked great in Evernote, but I was appalled when I shared it and the chapters were all mixed up.

I even paid for premium on Evernote to get support for this, but to no avail so I did the notes in Microsoft Word instead and exported to .pdf to share.

Not sure if I will do my notes in Evernote sharing as I may just want to send them to my workshop registrants. But for free sessions I do, Evernote may be back in the running for this kind of sharing.

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Thanks for suggesting this GrumpyMonkey.

I had put together a notebook for an upcoming workshop I was teaching. I had careful to name each note Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. It looked great in Evernote, but I was appalled when I shared it and the chapters were all mixed up.

I even paid for premium on Evernote to get support for this, but to no avail so I did the notes in Microsoft Word instead and exported to .pdf to share.

Not sure if I will do my notes in Evernote sharing as I may just want to send them to my workshop registrants. But for free sessions I do, Evernote may be back in the running for this kind of sharing.

I share your pain! Well, knowing that we (kind of) have #1 (the created date), and knowing that #3 is on the way (podcast #35 http://blog.evernote...gentsy-episode/ 44:33-45:30), it makes shared notebooks somewhat more useful in the coming days. I think educators, in particular, could really use some of these features.

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In general, I think the learning curve is too steep for shared notebooks, and I would like to see changes that make it possible for people unfamiliar with Evernote to use them. I like the shared notebooks a lot as a concept, but the current implementation makes them rather difficult to use. Again, I am not talking about technologically savvy folks, or Evernoters here, but people who get an email with a link to a shared note or notebook in it and click on it to see Evernote for the first time. What does it mean to "join" a notebook or "view" it? Why do PDFs take ages to download? These sorts of things become immediate barriers to use. Here are a few things that would probably have the biggest impact on usability.

I alluded to learning curve in the other thread; I think that Evernote is not so terribly complex that a lot of explanation is required, but having some links to basic information (including describing the sharing/viewing distinction) in the sharing notification email would be helpful. Short of that, I don't see much here that would make the sharing experience easier that wouldn't also make the normal use of Evernote easier, except for the Update issue, and possibly the first-viewing issue (see below; as you know, I am not convinced that this is important).

I'm not sure what you mean with the PDF reference -- they don't seem to take any longer than other notes of the same size. If they do, then that's a general Evernote problem.

(1) Sort Order

The ability to designate a sort order would enable us to arrange the notes in a logical order. Unfortunately, we no longer have control over this, so when we share a notebook, we have no idea what the other person will see (here is what it ought to look like http://blog.evernote...1/06/web_fb.png). If the other person is not familiar with Evernote already, it just looks like a jumble of notes, and depending on their patience or technological proficiency, they may just give up on it. I don't think it is immediately obvious to users on the Web, for example, that they need to go to the bottom of the screen and change something called a "sort." Honestly, I'd like to see the ability to attach sort orders to notebooks in my own account as well, so this is something that would benefit everyone.

I've been on about this for some time, as noted else-forum -- I think that being able to specify sort order in the search grammar would be great.

The first-viewing issue might be solved by forcing sort order, but let's face it, all it takes is one click somewhere in the interface and that sort order could be lost, or filtering applied so that notes seem to vanish. Every user starts fresh with some piece of software sometime; we are not born Word/PhotoShop/whatever users, and something as superficial as sort order isn't going to give people what's really important -- the conceptual idea of how to use Evernote.

Having sort orders associated with notebooks is problematic due to the fact that you can view multiple notebooks at a time. If the sort orders differ, then which one wins?

(2) Stacks

I am not a big fan of stacks, and rarely use notebooks myself, but unless people are intimately familiar with Evernote and its tags, there is really no other way to convey structure to others. Even if we get the sort order (#1), we have to use note links to create some sort of hierarchy for others, and these pose their own problems. Users unfamiliar with the program don't know to click on them (they are green, not blue), they don't know how to make them, and they don't know how to edit them.

I'm not sure what is being recommended/requested here. If you're sharing Evernote content with someone, then stacks don't come into it, since you cannot share stacks. I don't see how learning to use note links is special to the sharing scenario. One problem with stacks is that they are not presented identically across different platforms: I can make a stack of mixed personal and joined notebooks on the Windows that "loses" notebooks on the Android and Web clients because all joined notebooks are maintained in their own branch of the main notebook tree.

(3) Updates

The ability to have a notification that notes have been updated. Yes, we have the satellite dish on a few clients, but not on mobile, and only if you are logged in. Yes, we have the sort by updated, but see #1. Collaborative work with users who are unfamiliar with Evernote is difficult with the current implementation.

Definitely something like this would be helpful -- noticed this when playing in the little Business notebook that we are both a part of.

(4) Parity and Consistency

The clients lack parity, and seemingly simple tasks become very difficult to explain or even attempt on some platforms. For example, if someone wants to change the color of text, this is a simple matter on the desktop, but impossible on mobile. If someone wants to create note links, this is relatively easy on the desktop, though not especially intuitive, but impossible on mobile. If someone wants to highlight, this is possible on iOS, but impossible everywhere else. And, then there is the terminology, which is inconsistent across clients. It isn't even clear to users if they should call these notebooks joined or shared, if they should delete them or leave them, etc.

Nothing special here -- it's still a general goal, I believe, and a worthwhile one (to a point; due consideration to host OS must be observed, particularly in The Land of Apple), but it affects loads of regular Evernote users, many of whom use multiple clients. The terminology needs to be straightened out for all users, for sure -- I struggled with that trying to describe what I saw as bugs in some of the recent Windows betas.

(5) Pinned Notes

There is something to be said for a note that appears at the top no matter how someone has their account set up. There have been lots of discussions about this. In my own account, I can live without it, but when sharing, this kind of basic feature (you already have it with the pop up tutorial thing in Mac) would help a lot.

No parity here, unfortunately -- Android client doesn't have pinned notes, neither does the web (I'm not saying that they shouldn't). A downside: if I as an experienced Evernote user had stuff forced into my Favorites when I joined a notebook, I would probably be annoyed. Pop-up tutorials for new users? Sure, but that goes to the general problem if learning to use and understand Evernote that everyone faces.

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Thanks for the comments, but I think we'll have to agree to disagree about most of these. I am, of course, not asking for clumsy implementations of these ideas, but I do think they have the potential to make sharing a more pleasant experience for novice users who join a notebook.

1. Sort Order: I think the learning curve is way too steep (here I think we'll just have to agree to disagree), and sharing notebooks with tech savvy, but busy colleagues has shown that people simply are not interested in learning to use the Evernote interface just to read what I sent. I sympathize with them, but now that we have determined there exists a fixed sort order (date created), I can at least present them with the information in some kind of intelligible order. I would prefer to set it myself, and this is a feature we used to have, but I'll work with what we've got. I'm fine if they change the sort order later (they have to know what a "sort" is and how to do it, and that already points to a certain level of familiarity with the interface), but I want to determine the initial experience.

2. Stacks: I'd like to be able to share them, because that would go a long way towards supplying an organizational system (folders) with which people are familiar. It's a feature request. The notebooks wandering out of their stacks (I work across Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and the Web) is something I have criticized elsewhere, and I agree that it is a problem. I certainly am not requesting to have that behavior "shared" with others :)

4. Parity: No. Nothing special in my request. However, I am talking about introducing someone to Evernote via a notebook. When you are sharing notebooks with someone (a potentially great way to introduce Evernote to others), it would be nice if we could describe it / explain it in a way that they would understand. For example, we cannot download shared notebooks offline in iOS (makes them much less useful to share with business travelers, or to rely upon as a teacher standing in front of a class of students and having poor Internet access in some buildings on campus), but we apparently can in Android (I haven't tried this, because I didn't even think to look until recently). These are major differences that I hope will be addressed sooner rather than later.

5. Pinned Notes: Just a suggestion. If someone wants to join a shared notebook, then I think they ought to be willing to accept some intervention by the owners -- pinning notes to the top and so forth, but of course, if it is implemented so that 20 shared notebooks can throw 20 pinned notes into my account, then I would also not like it. The devil, as always, is in the details. Joined notebooks have already hobbled all of the sorts for me on the desktop (iOS, thankfully, in some respects, does not handle shared notebooks the same way as OSX), and I have had to leave all but one of the dozens of shared notebooks I had joined, but that is a whole other thread full of many more ideas / criticisms with which I have already harassed the developers :)

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Thanks for the comments, but I think we'll have to agree to disagree about most of these. I am, of course, not asking for clumsy implementations of these ideas, but I do think they have the potential to make sharing a more pleasant experience for novice users who join a notebook.

I don't think that we're all that far apart, somewhere in the realm of respectful disagreement. I think that novice users, however they come to Evernote need better resources.

However... (you just knew there was gonna be a 'however' :))...

If someone wants to join a shared notebook, then I think they ought to be willing to accept some intervention by the owners -- pinning notes to the top and so forth

...this I have a strong disagreement to. Just because "you're" sharing a notebook with me doesn't give you rights to muck with "my" user settings. This would irk me in the same way that Evernote settings get reset on reinstallation (I'm looking at you, "Launch Evernote at Windows login"). There's gotta be a better way than pinning notes on my Favorites bar.

but of course, if it is implemented so that 20 shared notebooks can throw 20 pinned notes into my account, then I would also not like it.

Nice try for a save there :), but this is how simple little ideas can get out of hand (see The Sorcerer's Apprentice :)).

The devil, as always, is in the details. Joined notebooks have already hobbled all of the sorts for me on the desktop (iOS, thankfully, in some respects, does not handle shared notebooks the same way as OSX), and I have had to leave all but one of the dozens of shared notebooks I had joined, but that is a whole other thread full of many more ideas / criticisms with which I have already harassed the developers :)

I think that all of the finer details about joined/business notebooks and their various interactions with personal notebooks haven't quite been nailed down yet. When those are stable, then we can build on that.

So we disagree some, that's ok -- keep 'em coming though!

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We're not so far apart, it is true, but I think that something needs to be done. If the developers could run ideas by people who are deeply invested in the shared notebooks before they roll them out (yes, I am volunteering to be an alpha tester -- or perhaps pre-alpha), then that would be great. The current situation is less than ideal, but at least one of these isn't even new -- it is just a request for what we already had.

As for giving the sharer power over their notebooks -- we already have it! I'd be perfectly happy if Evernote gave joiners the option to override anything (pinned notes, forced sort orders, or even deletions of notes), just as we can turn off the tutorials. I'm all for customizability, but I think the default interface could allow the sharers to "guide" joiners through the notebooks in some manner.

By the way, I can already reach into your account and send you into pinwheels of death if I'd like :)

At least, that is what one of our users did to me in a past version of the OSX app by deleting all the notes in a shared notebook, syncing, and then moving them back into the notebook. I haven't given this a try / experienced this in recent months, but, then again, I have also left most of my notebooks (for a complete list of the fabulous resources I've come across, see http://www.princeton.edu/~cmayo/sharednotebooks.html).

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What I'm saying is that even though we might share notebooks, that doesn't mean that I'm into sharing my UI with you. Just because I invite you to share a meal with me doesn't mean that you can paint my kitchen whatever color you want. :) That's a bit of a different story than having a bug that triggers a problem on my end as a result of your actions.

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What I'm saying is that even though we might share notebooks, that doesn't mean that I'm into sharing my UI with you. Just because I invite you to share a meal with me doesn't mean that you can paint my kitchen whatever color you want. :) That's a bit of a different story than having a bug that triggers a problem on my end as a result of your actions.

I know what you are saying, of course. I was just kidding around. As always, I'd like whatever Evernote implements to have a toggle -- on/off -- so that we have control. I am totally cool with someone on their end having a toggle that allows them to turn off (for example) all notifications (including pinned notes) from joined notebooks. As we are talking about toggles now, if I could just have a toggle in the menu that turned off all my shared / joined notebook -- totally hid them from view, did not allow me to accidentally post in them, did not allow me to search them, did not show me their tags mixed in with mine, etc. -- then I could shut off the firehose of information pouring in from other people's external brains and deal with my own account. That would be a nice toggle to have. I'm not saying they have to clutter the interface with this stuff and bombard all users with these toggles, but I am happy to go into the menu and set all of this up to customize my experience.

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