Entries in evernote advice (1)


Please, Evernote, wake up. I wanted you to win.

Today I happily downloaded the latest Evernote client for Windows.

You see, I've got a secret crush on Evernote and have been waiting for it to catch up to Microsoft's OneNote so I could switch to it exclusively.

When I first tried Evernote, I was super excited. The back-end features, clipping, OCR, and web support were impressive enough for me to consider switching. The problem was that their client support was pretty bad for day-to-day to usage with poor hotkey support, poor formatting features, etc. On Windows it feels like a glorified WordPad for text notes.

My first thought was "Wow, Evernote is really close to beating OneNote... All they need to do is tweak their client usability and they've got a slam dunk."

My assumption was that Evernote would be able to make those client-side tweaks and "catch-up" to OneNote much faster than OneNote could ever refactor to support better network sharing, tagging, and other capabilities. I saw Evernote as disruptive and it could use its "notes rethought in Web 2.0" advantage to overtake a solid Office application.

I misjudged. Not only has Evernote neglected to add very many client-side features to replace OneNote, but Microsoft clearly had the same thought that I did and worked hard not to be overtaken. They've recently added major modern sharing features to OneNote 2010 and some better mobile support. They've still got a little ways to go, but sadly (for Evernote), they're in this game to win-- something I didn't expect from Microsoft given the lack of major expansion for OneNote in its 2007 version.

Evernote 3.5 for Windows is completely new. We rewrote it from the ground up to make it faster, more reliable, and just plain better than Evernote for Windows has ever been. Our goal was to use everything we've learned since our launch to make a great Evernote experience on Windows.

So my hopes were that the latest Windows client for Evernote would put Evernote back in front simply by catching up on usability improvements that are just a no-brainer for making their note-taking app a staple for every student and professional.

I put it through the simple acid test that works in Word, Outlook, and OneNote. It's a sign that someone really groks "making note-taking simple" and this is how it's supposed to go:

  1. Type in an asterisk
  2. Hit space
  3. Start typing
  4. Magically the asterisk is replaced by a bullet and you're editing a bullet list

Evernote somehow is still requiring Ctrl-Shift-B to turn on bullets. Try typing Ctrl-Shift-B a lot and then imagine how unnatural that is to be used as a core hotkey for a note-taking application. Not the end of the world, but why would I ever choose to do that when it's made drop-dead simple in OneNote?

I'm hoping Evernote wakes up, assigns at least one developer full-time to analyze what OneNote did right in usability, run their own usability tests with students, and get Evernote to be the best client-side note-taking experience in the world.

Sadly, it's two years now and they still haven't been able to change their game much. The rewrite of the Windows app does appear to be less "clunky" in some ways, but it's still a good bit away from key OneNote note-taking efficiencies like:

  • Auto-creation of bullets
  • Tab and shift-tab for quick indention of bullets    (Best improvement I've found already present in Evernote 3.5)
  • Quick to-do checkboxes (Ctrl-Shift-C? OneNote: Ctrl-1)
  • Per-character Undo support (I don't want to erase the last few sentences on Ctrl-Z)
  • Collapsible bullet trees
  • Quick table creation with tabs (genius OneNote feature)
  • Multiple text boxes in the same note (probably not an easy feature to add, but would be helpful)
  • Per-line tagging of ideas, "schedule a meeting", etc. (i.e. think beyond the checkbox)

Obviously not all of these are essential, but they should be on the roadmap to victory with major chunks already finished a year ago.

No typical company has the resources to throw at features like Microsoft does, but a little efficiency gain will go a long way in gaining you marketshare on desktops. I feel like you had fast-tracked your way into being a OneNote killer with clever, fresh ideas and a re-focus on mobile, but I think you may be assuming those initial ideas will win the day without making improvements in other areas.

I want you to win. Open source your Windows client and I could even toss in a feature or two. Add extension support and I'll write my own tweaks (you might also get the extendable disruption factor that Firefox enjoyed).

Whatever you do, just get on your game with regards to usability.

Good luck.