Evernote is Awesome . . . And It’s Not

29 Jul
Evernote is Awesome . . . And It’s Not

I fell across a blog recently regarding the one software application I love–and hate–the most in the whole wide world: Evernote. If you haven’t heard of it, it might be worth a quick Google, especially if you’re thinking of going “paperless”. It seems to be the buzzword lately when it comes to Getting Organized (eek!).

The blog is by Mark Carrigan, who also has problems with Evernote; and he asks the question that got me thinking about my dependency on this most amazing–and frustrating–hunk of software: “What do you actually use Evernote for?“. The question intrigued me enough to write a reply … which I realized had quickly evolved into a blog. So I’ll post it here instead. It goes something like this:

evernoteI was sucked into Evernote for probably the same reason most of us were: it’s just a perfect way to get at things that used to be horrors to keep track of, because they were hiding inaccessibly in file folders (real paper ones or on a hard drive). Without tags to filter what you need to look for, the grouping of the notebooks to filter out what you DON’T want to dig through, as well as searches to pinpoint a specific target, all that information we tend to collect was either useless or just too time consuming to scan through manually to find anything. Eyestrain, paper cuts, paper everywhere! I think this is where Evernote is at it’s finest.

That said, Evernote (to me) seriously sucks at APPLYING that data in any usable way when it comes to relating the individual notes in an organized manner. For example, I’m into writing novels and screenplays. Evernote makes it too awesomely easy to grab whatever device is at hand to jot a random scene or character idea just as it pops into my head. There are no end of ways you can throw an idea at Evernote and they all magically collect in the right place by just tagging the note with the project name. But … once enough of these ideas collect to the point I actually want to start writing, there is absolutely NO way in Evernote to start organizing these notes so that the cards on the screen begin to look like the outline of an actual story. For a brief moment I tried playing with multi-level numbering schemes prefixing my note titles to get them to fall right, but that got old (and insane) very fast.

scrivenerScrivener is my favorite way of organizing these ideas together … all those lovely index cards to drag and drop until a story pops out. It’s amazing! But … getting ideas from Evernote to Scrivener is a major PITA, and disheartening to do one at a time after I’ve taken all that time to collect them in Evernote in the first place. To migrate them piecemeal is like going back to chipping words in stone again (and we all remember that, right?).

And once you do, how do you keep Evernote and Scrivener synced up? If I want to jot another note, Evernote is still the go-to app, because Scrivener seriously sucks for not being on all my devices–they don’t have anything for my lovely little iPad, and its data exports don’t play nice with ANY other app. How do I know which notes are not yet in Scrivener?

So I just stop using Evernote for that project for fear of losing the ideas amongst all the others.

This is where the Evernote fanatics start grumbling and warming up their keyboards to defend their undying love for Evernote and how it “wasn’t designed for anything but to hoard data and find it later, NOT for anything else,” blah blah blah. I’ve never seen people so zealously defend what an application is NOT supposed to do, as if the original posters they’re attacking (and there are bunches of them, just like me) were threatening the American Way of Life or something.

@MiscEvernoteZealot: We’re not going to harm YOUR lovingly hoarded mound of data by asking for a new output feature. Relax. I understand what Evernote wasn’t designed for (I’ve read it enough on their forums). Evernote does what it does very well indeed, thank you very much. I still use it for all that …1200+ notes so far and growing. I’m with you on that.

But I can typically generate 1000+ notes (or twice that) for one story project alone (and I’m gleaning most other writers often do, too). And writers are not exactly a “splinter” crowd (ask any publisher or agent. And although I WISH Evernote would take a moment and add a feature to manually sort our notes, I’m aware they just won’t.

Meanwhile, Scrivener, as awesomely gorgeous and perfect as it is, has been promising an iOS app for over three years now, which must be a record for an iPad app (Guys … hire another developer or three already; the investment will return quickly–just look at your forums). So Scrivener is just about out of the picture for me as a writing tool, as well.gingko

Lately this has become something of a quest … minus the swords, dragons and fair maidens (dammit), but with plenty of wizards! One of them bade me go forth and find an odd yet-little-known creature known as Gingko (mispelling deliberate). This turned out to be a browser-based writing tool that turns Scrivener on its ear, offering an elegantly simple technique to amass almost any genre of writing project. I’m hesitant, having never tried to write a project fully on a browser before, but I love how I can access it from anywhere, and it looks every bit as easy as Scrivener at organizing scenes and ideas into stories. I’ll let you know how this goes! =)

But, alas, it isn’t that lovely data-bucket I can drop notes in randomly from every direction like Evernote is. With all the gadgets Evernote has popped out lately–scanners for business cards, OCR, searchable PDFs, searchable handwriting; you name it . . . you’d think a simple thing like manual note sorting would be a cinch for them.

They’re so focused on the IN, they’re barely looking at the OUT of it at all.

Why bother collecting all this information if we’re not going to actually USE it somehow in an organized fashion? A skeptical side of me is beginning to wonder if they’re collecting all of our data for themselves, instead of for us… just sayin’


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