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Why I left Evernote

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

I have been an Evernote user since September 26 2008 (8 years 5 months 8 days). Many of those years were spent as a paying premium customer, but at the end of 2016, I decided it was time to leave. I wanted to share why I am leaving and my plans to replace it.

The Evernote I loved

From the very beginning, Evernote was a wonderful company to support. It was this scrappy upstart that was committed to building a "100 year company" (link) and was incredibly committed to its customers. It believed in openness and came to market with original ideas. It was unlike anything else being offered at the time.

The original founding leaders had this crazy open-dialog podcast that gave listeners an inside look into the company. The freemium model Evernote pioneered worked like a charm. Evernote constantly moved premium features into the free tear and was constantly challenged to make newer & better features for the 5% of their paying premium customer-base. 

Every platform I tested had an Evernote client that worked relatively well and within minutes of setting up a new device, everything I had captured was there waiting for me. It was a wonderful time.

The app was lightning fast and reliable. Sync was blazing and worked every time. Text recognition (even in images and attachments) was super accurate. I was happy.

Even though I didn't need most of the premium features, I started paying a premium membership to support the company. It was my one key app. I used it as my reference folder, as my to do manager (GTD), my list making application, etc. It become an extension to my brain. 

I was an Evernote ambassador, talking about it every chance I had and bringing more and more people into the fold. Everyone that joined Evernote thanked me. Everyone loved it, even those on the free tier. It offered incredible value to everyone that took the time to use it. Search Amazon for Evernote and you get 1,145 products from Moleskin notebooks to books to help organize your life using Evernote. 

Then July 20th 2015, they announced via a blog post that Phil Libin would be leaving the company and his replacement was this polished executive named Chris O'Neill. Other executives also left (such as Max Levchin). Little did we know O'Neill had plans to dramatically change the service we had come to love and depend on.

The Bad Changes

The new Evernote price

The first major shock was the change in pricing. My beloved Premium membership almost doubled in price and the functionality of the free/plus service dropped. 

When prices increase, consumers will evaluate all possible alternatives and determine if the new price is still the best choice for him/her.

For $10 more a year, I can buy an Office 365 home subscription shareable with 5 family members. Everyone on my accounts is entitled to all of the Microsoft Office apps (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc), plus each user receives 1TB of online OneDrive storage and of course Microsoft made it's OneNote app free for everyone on all platforms.

As a customer of Evernote, I was asking myself if spending an extra $10 and moving to Office 365 home made sense. For most consumers, it will.

The second was the downgrade if you chose not to pay these new higher prices. You were limited to sync on only 2 devices and your free monthly upload allowance was 60MB which meant it become unusable (for free) for most users.

The junkening

Over the years, Evernote lost its way and tried to become the everything app for everyone (a swiss Army knife). It had a food memories app.

The Evernote Food app allowed you to capture memories of great food you had enjoyed in restaurants (logging pictures, location, friends with you, etc). 

It bought a screen-capture and markup tool called Skitch and after a couple of updates, killed it (moving some of its features into its already bloated core Evernote app).

It had and killed many other apps (A contact app, a meeting app, Flash cards, etc).

Over the years it's main app, the Evernote Client (Mac, Windows), became a bloated mess of slowness and crashing. They migrated from their own data center to the Google Cloud platform ( earloier this year) promising faster and better service. The blog post on February 8 2017 mentions :

Rather than pouring resources into the day-to-day maintenance of equipment and software required for running the Evernote service, we can now focus more of our time and energy into responding to customer needs.

All good sentiments but I haven't seen any benefits as a customer. Evernote is still an expensive bloated mess. 

Breaking their own rules

In 2011, Evernote published the 3 laws of data protection:

  1. Your Data is Yours
  2. Your Data is Protected
  3. Your Data is Portable

The fist rule is clear, my data is mine and the only thing Evernote was going to do to it was normal operational tasks the ensure they can deliver the services I was expecting. The new Evernote wanted to add a machine learning function for its premium users and as part of that change tried to update its Terms of Service. This change was so viciously attacked by its users that in December 2016, they were forced to roll-it back and tried to reframe the conversation.

The worry was that the changed language gave Evernote employees the right to "read" your notes as they attempted to spot check and validate their new Machine Learning tools. The reversal meant the change would now be opt-in. This never should have happened the way it did. It showed clear gap in their change management and product management processes.

The second rules stated that :

Everything you put into Evernote is private by default. We never look at it, analyze it, share it, use it to target ads, data mine it, etc.–unless you specifically ask us to do one of these things.

This seems to conflict with their unilateral attempt to change the privacy language to enable their Machine Learning feature but.... The next part of this rule is:

we take many precautions to protect your data from accidental loss and theft. Everything you put into an Evernote synchronized notebook is stored in our secure data center with multiple redundant servers, storage devices and off-site backups.

Evernote had a couple of issues with data availability but the biggest was one that affected "some Mac users" and caused attachments to get deleted (article here). 

certain sequences of events can cause an image or other attachments to be deleted from notes without warning, but text is not affected.

So far, Evernote has failed on the first 2 of their data protection laws. The third law was about data portability. The law said:

There is no data-lock in Evernote. We are committed to making it easy for you to get all of your data into, and out of, Evernote at any time.

Ask anyone that has a large collection of notes with tags and dozens of folders, there is no graceful way to export your data in a usable format. Attachments are exported with their original file names (not the note name) and all structure is lost (tags and folder are lost).

I as one of the people that asked for Evernote to make a better export feature to ensure they met their own portability commitment. I wasn't sure how it should work, but knew it needed something better.

As you added more and more notes, this feature became more important and the lack of it became a glaring issue. As much as they say you can export in HTML, the exported data is useless. 

So they failed to meet their own 3 rules of data protection. 

No Markdown Support

As a technical Evernote user, I was part of their forums, UserVoice feature request system and always answered their user surveys. A feature I have wanted for years was Markdown formatting support (which would improve note compatibility). Their standard response was always that this was not part of their road-map. I wasn't the only one clamoring for Markdown support. Their forums listed thousands of users asking for it. 

Unfortunately Evernote was clearly not interested. 

Less consumer more business 

In an interview with The Verge,  Chris mentions the wants a more balanced customer base (less consumer and more corporate. This clearly shows in the steps they have taken and ancillary services they have killed.

Consumer services have been killed (Food, Flash Cards, etc) while corporate ones have been maintained (Evernote Work Chat a slack competitor and Presentation mode a Powerpoint competitor).

Changing competitive landscape

As Evernote continues to squeeze its free tier customers and makes paid tiers more expensive, it's primary competitor, Microsoft OneNote, has gone free for everyone on every platform. Additionally Google has its Keep/Google Docs combo and Apple its's Pages/Apple Notes combo. All of its chief competitors are offering more and more functions for free.

Others like Dropbox have launched services like Dropbox paper offering their existing subscribers cool new Evernote competing features. 

When I started using Evernote, it was the defacto standard integration partner for every app or service that I used. Almost every app I had on my Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone or iPad integrated with Evernote. As Evernote alienates its customers and more competitors enter the market, this is becoming less and less true. There was a huge benefit to knowing everything you had would work with Evernote, as this slowly disappears, that advantage also disappears. 

The Best Evernote Alternative

Having tested dozens of services, there isn't a really good alternative an Evernote power user will like but you have to accept this reality and move on. Evernote has clearly shown disdain for its consumer users and so the search for an alternative is ongoing.

The closest to Evernote has been Microsoft OneNote. OneNote is now free for everyone, getting more polished and feature rich with every update and they are clearly targeting Evernote users. It will definitely take some getting use to but it is a close enough alternative that most users will be extremely satisfied.

Microsoft OneNote works on most platforms, even on an Apple watch. 

In my quest to free my notes, I will be testing Clevernote.io more on that in coming weeks. 

I have gone through the period of grief and have accepted the fact that there is no "perfect" migration tool or strategy. I will lose some functionality and context around my Evernote notes but that's the cost of admission.

We are also seeing new companies pop up and try to fill the new Evernote void. One such startup service is called Bear

Bear is a beautiful simple note taking app that reminds me of Evernote's beginnings. It only works on iPhone, iPad and Mac today but who knows what the future will hold. A Bear Pro subscription is $15. 

Conclusion

I don't think the ship has yet sailed for Evernote and they can recapture their glory days if management does the right things but I am doubtful. Many have called Evernote the "broken Unicorn" and I agree. Most companies will stick with the good and trustworthy Microsoft and won't fork over hundreds of thousands a year to Evernote.

And unless Evernote changes course quickly, it will lose its core base of users (those who have been unofficial ambassadors over the years). 

So my recommendation is start the grieving process now and looking at alternatives.