Evernote isn’t for everything, just yet

Brett Kelley of Bridging the Nerd Gap recently wrote this article: Why I Use Instapaper (and not Evernote) For Reading Stuff Later. In it, he explains in great detail his preference for Instapaper, while at the same time defending Evernote for doing other things incredibly well. It’s an opinion I share, but I can see where it gets thorny. Evernote is good, yes? Evernote has an Instapaper clone called Clearly (and a web clipper), yes? So why do people (at the very least, Kelley and myself) prefer Instapaper? It’s incredibly simple. Evernote may do the thing that Instapaper does, but it doesn’t do it half as well.

The Evernote Web Clipper does two things: it can either save the text from a webpage to an Evernote, or it can save the entire webpage, images, links, ads, and all. To do this, you need to click the button, wait for the clipper to load, change the title, pick a tag, select a notebook, and then decide if you want just the text or the whole website. That’s a lot of clicking. To read an article later in Instapaper, one needs only to click the read later” bookmark once. Kelley noted this in his fourth point, but he’s pretty forgiving of the Evernote web clipper’s overall functionality. For me, the clipper works about 30% of the time. Sometimes it forgets to save a thing. Sometimes it quits halfway. Sometimes it makes me log in over and over only to error out.

Kelley also mentioned syncing and offline reading. Yes, Evernote’s mobile apps generally allow offline storage. They also generally only work about 30% of the time. I’ve never been able to successfully sync new items to an already synced folder on any device. Because of this, I generally only use Evernote on the desktop, where it shines in almost every regard except passive reading. For that, there’s just no beating Instapaper.

Kelley wrestles with a larger point: how can we love Evernote for some things and not others? I think it’s because we think of it as one app, even though it really isn’t. Evernote is a suite of services, each with their strengths and weaknesses. Pardon the somewhat insulting comparison, but I think of Evernote more like Microsoft Office than as a thing by itself; I use half of it all the time and couldn’t live without it, and I’ve never, ever opened up Access and Outlook, and that’s okay. Increasingly, I’m using Evernote as my desktop file system, and its online home’ as remote access for files and resources. I have several IFTTT recipes pushing content (like this blog) into various archival notebooks. I also treat one notebook as a sort of diary. But it’s not even installed on my phone (the Windows Phone app barely works), and the web clipper is not on my browser. I’ve never even checked out Evernote Hello or Evernote Food, and I don’t really have a personal or professional use for Skitch (though it’s great whenever I’ve tried it).

The nice thing about Evernote (and, I suppose, Office), is that it probably serves many different people’s ideas of archiving. It’s still experimenting, growing, and doing fun, strange things. It’s an app I totally love. But I don’t think it’s the best thing for everything, at least not yet.


August 7, 2012