Evernote dumbed down

This is a quick note, really for the benefit of Google, to point out that Evernote, which is growing more and more popular, was in important respects much better in version 2, now neither sold nor supported, than in the various versions three that are now available on all sorts of platforms. In fact the software changed so much between the two versions, both in what it does and what it’s trying to do, that it’s best to think of them as almost entirely different.

There are two things of interest only to people who use it as I do, and two which are much more generally worrying. So to start with the trivial ones: Evernote’s system for organising information is basically that you dump everything in there, from cameraphone photos to web clips, and then tag it or use a free text search to find it again. In EN3.x, the emphasis has moved right away from tagging and onto simple google-type searching. So tags are no longer hierarchical, which is a real nuisance: an even bigger nuisance is that you can’t easily combine tag searches. It’s possible, but not nearly as easy and elegant as it was in 2.x, where it was at most a couple of mouse clicks to find everything tagged “Might write” but not “For blog” and similar lists. That’s a genuine loss of functionality. The new interface is also uglier and takes more space, but that’s a really trivial point.

The two serious problems arise from the fact that it has been repurposed as a cloud app. In some ways and for some people this is great. If you are an iPhone junkie recreational user, EN3 lets you photograph stuff and upload it to the database; also to look at your notes on the iPhone. But this comes with a considerable loss of control and ownership. Everything now goes thrugh the cloud. EN2 can sync across a network,1 or using a USB stick. This means that my data stays on my servers. It also has an export to xml function, which allows me to get all the data out and into other programs if I want to. EN3 won’t do either of those things.

I object to this on privacy grounds, but above all because it is far more expensive than the old system. Any heavy user of EN3 will end up paying $45 a year for the premium upload service. That’s not in itself a ripoff. But the more you put into the program the more dependent you become on it. If Evernote becomes your ubiquitous memory, that’s $45 a year, every year, for the rest of your life, to access your own memory.

No thanks.

I have enough trouble with ten years of Ecco Pro notes being hard to access, and I only paid once for that program. EN2, which I paid for without hesitation, is mine for life, and so is the data I put in it.

The answer, I suppose, is to use EN3 only for stuff you know is trivial, and you don’t mind losing. But for a journalist, nothing is guaranteed to stay trivial forever. The archive of memories and notes you build up over 20 years or more is far more valuable than your cuttings. So I really don’t want to trust mine to a third party, unless there is some reliable, guaranteed way of getting them out again.

1 The trick (hi, google) is to sync both desktop and laptop to the same location on a network drive. But this won’t happen by default because the ability to see network drives is turned off. Within the sync dialogue box for each database there is a setting concealed under “more” which switches network drives to visible. Then everything works. It’s meant to break with files bigger than 250mb. I wouldn’t know.

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5 Responses to Evernote dumbed down

  1. Rupert says:

    One of the things Google is doing that if any other company were doing it would clearly be marketing spin is the Data Liberation Front – http://www.dataliberation.org/ (*). It exists to make sure that all Google products will give you back your data as quickly as possible, as easily as possible, when you want.

    I don’t think it is marketing, because it’s being presented in such a naive fashion that no marketeer has clearly been near the thing – although that could be evilly good marketing, of course — and because Eric Schmidt has repeatedly referenced it in public as a key part of being Google. And, of course, no other company is doing it.


    • What is the best way to end a sentence with a URL? A full stop breaks the URL syntax, but a space and a full stop looks ugly and is bad grammar. It’s not always possible to add a footnote, and proscribing the practice altogether chafes.
  2. Here be the rub about the whole cloud thing, surely. On one level I have seen the logic of doing far more way beyond the blue since Larry Ellison’s prognostications about the overcomplexity of desktop PC’s back in the mid nineties. But how does one protect information, who owns it, who gets to see it? Without utter clarity, I think I’ll stay on earth.

  3. acb says:

    Rupert, on this blog, the easiest way to end a sentence with a url is to use [“textile”:http://bit.ly/46s1g2%5D.

    Alan, I know. I make a partial exception for google, because they are so big that governments should be able to push them around. But otherwise, I don’t put in the cloud anything I am not prepared both to lose and to share with the world.

  4. acb says:

    I type better when not on a train. The good url syntax is textile without “the brackets in the wrong places”:http://bit.ly/46s1g2. I can’t remember now what the brackets are for. There is some disambiguation, but you don’t need it for that.

  5. Rupert says:

    Oh, there are various ways to be nice about terminal URLs on various platforms. But in general?

    As for the cloud, it’s inevitable. There are actually quite a lot of compliance issues that do help impose a semblance of protection (I’ve been in on some of our commercial discussions about the business of multiple databases in multiple countries sharing information, and it’s taken very seriously. We have a big direct marketing operation, which works across more countries than even I believe…) and in any case, all that personal data in government and companies’ hands…

    Just written up Google’s Chrome OS. That’s got no local persistent storage for data and apps at all (well, it does do some caching) – and as a result, is so much better than Windows you wouldn’t believe it. You could run your netbook over with a hippopotamus, pick up another (netbook, not hippopotamus), type in your password and be back where you were in seconds. No viruses, no configuration, no updates. And Google is going to pay manufacturers to use it by ad revenue split.

    None of which means terrible things can’t happen. They will, of course. But that’s the way it’s going.

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