Evernote Still Sucks

Soon it will be two years since I wrote this about Evernote moving to the Google Cloud. I sounded hopeful. In my head the move was just the start of the beginning of the resurgence of Evernote. Instead it has continued to stagnate. I can’t remember any new features being added – other than a few UI tweaks – and both the Mac and iOS apps remain buggy and terribly slow. Oh and the browser extension on Safari is still awful.

Right now I all my notes, stored locally on my machine, are fucking buffering.

Notes. Buffering.

I still use Evernote everyday. It’s still my digital brain. But man do I hate it at times.

Productivity Technology

Overly Organised Tags

I have two digital brains for storing stuff: Pinboard and Evernote. Pinboard is a bookmarking site, so I use it store anything at a web URL that I may want later. Evernote is a notetaking application and is for anything that I will probably want later, including personal data like receipts, notes, and book excerpts. Both of these services fill up with information very quickly, so rely heavily on efficient tagging. But until recently I had been using tags anything but efficiently.

Tags are great because it’s metadata you chose. Take the Evernote note of a painting above. The only metadata that was automatically added was the painting title, artist and the source URL. Is this enough for me to find this note in a years time? Probably not. But by adding the tags cosy painting shovel snow I will have a much greater chance. It’s personal metadata, so I am more likely to recall it later.

In the past however I would of just tagged that note as photo:painting. Which is better than nothing, and I would of probably found the note again, but that tag may have hundreds of notes in it and I would need to browse through them all to find this particular note. It’s slow and ineffecient. I was severaly hindering myself by being picky with my tags and keeping them overly organised. I’ve now learnt that tags work best when used heavily and without mercy.1

Equally stupid was how I used nested tags, so ended up with loads of crazy long ones like travel:england:resource:walking. There’s simply no need for that as both Evernote and Pinboard allow me to search multiple tags at once.2 And I had to remember the nesting order. That tag was often written like travel:resource:walking:england in error. Tags work much better alone. Context can be added later.

And it wasn’t just overly neat tags that was an issue. It was also my bad habit of spending multiple hours a week ‘cleaning’ the contents and tags of these services. I had to keep them tidy and was often too keen to delete stuff, especially tags with only one item. I’ve learnt to let go now, and the majority of my tags are only being used by one or two entries. And that’s okay. It’s not my real life brain, it’s my digital one, it doesn’t have to be perfectly organised. It’s just a place to store stuff that I might want later that needs to be low maintenance and not take over my life with too much filing. And I think my new way of using these services fits that definition. They’re easier to manage and more competent at finding my data.

  1. And as Evernote supports up to 100,000 tags in an account, and 100 per note, I’m unlikely to hit any tag limits. 
  2. In Evernote, by searching for tag:england tag:walking for example. And on Pinboard related tags show up to the right of a tag search page – highlighted here in red – and can be added to the search by clicking ⊕. Pinboard also supports tag ‘bundles‘. 

Evernote in the Cloud

As I type this Evernote is on my second monitor to my left. It’s been there all day during which it’s been referred and added to many times. I live in Evernote. But despite that I don’t love it. In fact it seems during the eight years I’ve been using it, I like it less and less each year.

Well this may start to change soon as Evernote recently announced that they are moving from their own servers to the Google Cloud Platform and this paragraph caught my eye:

In addition to scale, speed, and stability, Google will also give Evernote access to some of the same deep-learning technologies that power services like translation, photo management, and voice search. We look forward to taking advantage of these technologies to help you more easily connect your ideas, search for information in Evernote, and find the right note at the moment you need it.

This is fantastic news. The main issue I have with Evernote is that it’s a digital brain that’s stuck in 2008. It is a prime candidate for, and in desperate need of, some ‘deep-learning technologies’, as well as being on a modern cloud platform.

I’m hoping these issues I have will be improved:

  1. Search. It’s just not quite good enough, and you need to tag and organise your notes efficiently as well as know advanced search syntax to find anything in a large Evernote account.
  2. Sync. A sync every 5 minutes is a joke in this day of age. It needs to be close to realtime, especially for business users who collaborate.
  3. Related notes. Premium users can see ‘related notes’ below notes. These results aren’t actually too bad, but improvement is needed (For example there’s one Nicholas Cage note I have which Evernote thinks is related to every other note for some reason).
  4. Server speeds. Evernote’s servers are obviously somewhere in the US which isn’t good for European users like me. I reach a whooping 150KB/s when downloading from Evernote. I shouldn’t have to watch a 3MB image in my Evernote slowly load when I’m on a 200 Mbit connection. Just the use of Google’s Cloud CDN should solve this.
  5. Audio transcribe. I use Evernote to store many little voice recordings. Getting these transcribed would be fantastic. Cloud Speech needs to be put to good use (Though at $1.44 per hour, this would obviously be for Premium users and have a time limit).

That would be a good start to making me love Evernote again. Then they just need to sort out some bugs. Such as how images sent from my iPhone are in the wrong orientation and stretched when I view them in the Mac client and how PDFs never seem to work in the iPhone app.