How to deal with the green elephant in the room?

After I quit using Gmail earlier this year, Evernote has become my biggest silo and single point of failure in my workflow. I have been using it since October 2010 with a premium account, and maintain some 4500 notes, about 25GB total in size. With my move away from Gmail, my use of Evernote has actually increased as well. Part of my e-mail triage process now is forwarding receipts etc to Evernote, before removing them from my mail box.

As with leaving Gmail, there are no immediately visible alternatives to Evernote, that cater to all convenient affordances I have become accustomed to. This was already apparant when I quit Gmail, when Peter Rukavina and I exchanged some thoughts about it. So in order to make the first steps towards ditching Evernote, I will follow the recipe I derived from leaving Gmail, as I presented it at the Koppelting conference in August.

Why do I want to leave?

  • It’s a single point of failure for both private and work related material
  • It’s on US servers, and I would like my own cloud instead
  • It’s not exportable in a general format

What I don’t like about Evernote

  • No easy way to get an overview or visualisation of my notes (although notes are easy to link, those links are not visible as a network)
  • No easy way to mine the total of notes, aside from regular search for specific notes
  • No way to let Evernote use my own cloud / server for storage
  • No reliable way to share with others who are not Evernote users themselves

What I like about Evernote

  • Really everything can be a note
  • It’s cross device (I consult material on my phone, and store e.g. boarding passes there during travel)
  • It has good webclippers for most browsers (allowing choosing the destination notebook, tags, and add remarks)
  • I can easily share to Evernote from most apps on my phone
  • I can e-mail material to it, while indicating destination notebook and adding tags
  • I can automate Evernote stuff with Applescript (I e.g. integrate Evernote with my other core tools Things (todo lists) and Tinderbox (mindmapping)
  • It makes handwritten stuff, images, and scans searchable (even if it doesn’t convert everything to text)

Next steps will be coming up with viable solutions and alternatives for each of those points, and see if I can then integrate those into a coherent whole again. Terry Frazier pointed me to The Brain again today on FB. The Brain is a tool I heavily used from 18 to 13 years ago. It turns out this mindmapping/note taking tool is still around. It currently works cross-device and has Android and iOS apps, and allows attaching files and navigating links in a visual way. It comes at a hefty price though, and still looks like it really is from 1998. Will explore a bit if it might fit my needs enough to give it another try.

[UPDATE 2021-02-27: I have left Evernote. Stopped using it in September 2020 in favor of Obsidian, and exported all the archives in February 2021.]

5 reactions on “How to Leave Evernote?

  1. Wow, was it really that long ago that we all used The Brain? You’re right, it does still have that 1998 “flair” 😉 I am not too put off by that, as I am essentially stuck in the 1990s anyway. My music and motorcycles are from the ’70s, my cars are from the ’80s, and everything else, well…

    As yet, I have not seen any way to email things to The Brain. I suppose that could be a feature hidden somewhere in the new version. There are improvements in integration with gmail et al, google calendar, twitter, etc. So it’s possible. I will let you know if I find something.

    I did like that “mailto” feature of Evernote, though I quit using it when I decided some time back to drop it. Every thing else you note pretty much mirrors my own disappointment with Evernote.

    I am somewhat sanguine about the whole “one ring to rule them all” ‘thing. I don’t expect to get that. But I do hope to rationalize the software wasteland I have now, and hopefully integrate the remaining tools more effectively.

    • Thanks Terry, yeah I was a little bit shocked when I realized how far back it is I used Personal Brain as my main desktop.

      I am certainly not looking for the one ring to rule them all. My Gmail replacement is a combination of tools and techs, that together form a more versatile and robust process (in the sense that losing any one of them is not a big hurdle to fix). As well as places the data involved under my full control.
      For Evernote I suspect it will be similar: storage, linking, visualization, searching and writing may well turn out to be separate elements in a process. Smartness at the edges not at the core, as it should be with internet stuff. In that light I can’t really understand why most of that isn’t part and parcel of Finder / Windows Explorer tools, approaching your entire filesystem as a database, and providing viz / interaction tools on top of it, and allowing me to link from anything to anything within it. That way I could simply revert back to using Notepad.

  2. I get the single-point-of failure issue, but I find it hard to imagine finding a reasonable replacement for some of the more intelligent features of Evernote (search and handwriting recognition).

    The Brain (no longer PersonalBrain) is still alive. I’m using on my Mac and mostly have good experience. It still feels like a Windows application though. Some things don’t work as well in the Mac OS.

    • You are likely to be right. Replacing the smart way EN deals with handwriting, scans and images of text will be very hard. But maybe it simply means it will be the only feature I will use EN for. Or other providers may step in with ML stuff too.

Comments are closed.