I expect negative comments on every video or article I publish about Evernote now. Sadly, talking about it makes me feel anxious.

I don’t think Evernote is doomed, but there is a profound shift in perception going on. It used to be that going to the Evernote Conference was the most important moment I looked forward to every year. It was great to see my friends, clients, developers, and the Evernote team.

Furthermore, sharing news from the conference or anything else Evernote released throughout the year had such positive vibes. Now, it’s hard to ignore all the negativity out there.

But the mood didn’t shift at once; it rarely does.

It all started many years ago

In July 2015, Phil Libin stepped down as CEO, and Chris O’Neill initiated a series of changes that made many of us, myself included, uneasy with the future of the company, or, in other words, our notes.

Evernote had a family of companion apps, and the new CEO gradually discontinued most of them, making many of us unhappy. But moving Evernote’s database to Google Cloud and the layoffs kicked off the first negative wave I’ve ever seen. At least, I do not recall anything similar during the Libin years.

I have to believe that from a financial standpoint, moving to Google servers was the best course of action. Even Apple used Google’s service in the early stages of iCloud. And I think they still do. However, the public’s perception was distorted by the way the media covered all the other CEO decisions.

For instance, I recall reading articles that referred to Evernote’s headquarters as a “ghost town.” I was furious about that; it made no sense. Back when Libin was CEO, or, in other words, before the layoffs, I visited the company and can attest that the building was not fully occupied. As far as memory serves, floors one and two were completely empty. Not even desks! The idea was to have enough room to grow in the future.

October 10, 2014. Redwood City, California

Nevertheless, I can relate to the anger and frustration people felt. The way the story was told made it hard to tell the difference between noise and reality, which leads me to the topic of communication. I’ve always found Evernote to be terrible at conveying decisions to its users. And the problem is still present. For instance, I believe that transferring operations to Europe was an excellent decision, but again, the public perception was different.

When you are hosting people’s memories, you don’t have the luxury of being as secretive as Apple or carless as a cable TV announcing the new version of its app. Every decision has to be over communicated.

I’m not sure why, but one thing that made me upset was the end of Evernote Market. Possibly because some of the products made it easier to organize things in real life, like we were used to doing in Evernote. Anyway, I was sad to see that go.

Over the past few years, more than 800,000 Evernote Moleskine notebooks and 300,000 Jot Script styluses were sold worldwide. Through Market’s website alone, we sold nearly 20,000 ScanSnap Evernote Edition scanners.

Market gave us the opportunity to illustrate the true value of Evernote to folks who hadn’t yet considered a Premium subscription. In fact, nearly half of the folks who shopped the Evernote Market were paying us for the first time.

Ultimately though, Evernote is a software company.

Communication, communication, communication. I don’t have all the facts, and I believe all of us try to make the best decisions based on the information we have available at the moment. But the way the official blog post was written suggests that the Market was successful, “but we are ending it anyway.”

As for:

Instead of selling and fulfilling orders ourselves, on February 3rd [2016], we will transition the Market to promote Evernote-integrated products made and sold by our partners at Adonit, Moleskine, and PFU. We plan to continue adding partners and integrations that strongly and elegantly complement Evernote to that list.

The transition lasted for a brief moment. It didn’t take long before everything stopped being sold. I have a lot of items in my collection, but the Evernote Market was much bigger.

Recently, I learned in an interview with Libin that when he was the CEO, the Market was profitable, but its benefits went way beyond that. I messaged O’Neill on LinkedIn months ago, inviting him to an interview on my channel to talk about his time as CEO, but I never heard back.

The last thing I remember from O’Neill’s tenure as CEO was the fervor the company generated on social media to unveil a “fresh brand identity”. Once again, the issue of communication was affecting Evernote. There was a lot of criticism about spending time and money on a logo instead of addressing the problems with the app.

Regarding the old logo, did you know that the elephant trunk is hiding the letter e?

A frustrating web client

If you are a subscriber to my YouTube channel, you know that I try crazy experiments all the time. Well, back in 2018, I tried to run my entire consulting business on a Chromebook. The Chromebook paired with Google Workspace and Trello performed exceptionally well, but the Evernote web* client, which was limited at the time, ended up being a major drawback in my plan.

* It should be noted that the decision to oversimplify the web client was taken when Phil Libin was CEO.

My experiment and what was going on with Evernote (the company) at that time made me think about switching to a different app for the first time. My consulting business is about helping companies build mindful Kanban workflows using tools like Trello, so I thought Notion would be a perfect fit for my notes and Kanban workflows.

I moved some of them, played with Notion for a while, and made couple videos for my YouTube channel in Portuguese, but even though I love all the cool stuff Notion has to offer, the database vibe doesn’t appeal to me. If I were to switch to a different app, note-taking would have to be its main feature. Perhaps that is the reason why I am currently enjoying Obsidian.

Ahead of its time?

Sometimes I catch myself thinking about Evernote’s series of managerial missteps along the way, but analyzing events in hindsight is always unfair. Other times, I believe the problem was timing. It is possible that Evernote was too ahead of its time and didn’t find a way to use this advantage in its favor.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to test the Obsidian Map View plugin, and I couldn’t stop wondering why Evernote removed the fantastic map feature the app had back in the day.

Most people don’t even know this, but when we create a note, the app always attempts to save the coordinates of where the note was created. Evernote map view would simply show all notes with coordinates on a map. That’s it. We didn’t have to deal with any configuration.

It was a great feature, as were many others that were discontinued. In contrast, the Obsidian Map View plugin is difficult to set up, but at least it exists for people like me who want to see their notes on a map. Why? Well, you should watch the video below to be amazed by how many interesting use cases people can come up with this feature.

Evernote even had AI back in 2014, but the “A” stood for augmented. Features like context and handwriting OCR were among the many innovations the company came up with. To learn more about the challenges and the ideas they had for the future, I encourage you to watch my interview with Phil Libin on this topic.

Even today, with so many of these marvels gone, it’s still hard to find an app that’s both easy for non-tech-savvy people to use and that also packs in so many useful features.

But when a company stops innovating, others will take over. Steve Jobs famously said that if Apple hadn’t taken the iPod’s market share with the iPhone, other companies probably would have.

Do you remember?

Did you know that back in 1999, in the days of dial-up and DSL Internet, there was a service called Yahoo Briefcase that would create a ‘Y’ drive in our computers and allow us to synchronize files to the cloud?

That’s correct; Yahoo had it many years before Dropbox. But I bet that young people believe that Google and other companies invented services pioneered by Yahoo. The book “Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!” has some chapters about how Yahoo missed the chance to be even bigger than today’s version of Google. Instead, it ended up as a Verizon subsidiary with a financial channel on YouTube.

Palm’s path was much harder than Yahoo’s. They were inventing a new market, and if that wasn’t tough enough for the team to deal with, the company went through numerous ownership changes and never found its way to a stable future. It’s mind-boggling to me that an entire generation is unaware of the remarkable products this company invented.

If you believe that the idea of having a personal assistant in your pocket was created by Apple with the iPhone, here is a good book for you: “Piloting Palm: The Inside Story of Palm, Handspring, and the Birth of the Billion-Dollar Handheld Industry.

The Apple II was the first computer I owned as a teenager, but my Palm PDA and Yahoo services were tools I used professionally for a long time, and I still miss some of Palm’s features. I wish these companies had continued to evolve, but, as I mentioned before, market forces cannot be controlled.

A bright future?

The year is 2018, and here we go again. Evernote has a new CEO, Ian Small. I’d say his main accomplishment was solving a problem that no one else had the courage to deal with before him.

Evernote had apps for Android, iOS, Mac, Web, and Windows, but I always referred to them as “versions” because they were so different from each other. The original management team had a reason for this approach, but in retrospect, it never worked well for us, the users. For instance, formatting a note using one of these “versions” would, more often than not, break it in another. However, I believe the worst consequence was that it slowed down innovation.

Evernote 10 was a necessary evil that created so many complications for the end user. It had to be done. It was a long-overdue project. Furthermore, it took longer than expected, and it was hit by COVID-19. And, again, more features were removed from the app.

Can you see a pattern here? From a user’s perspective, Evernote is constantly removing features and working to fix new bugs.

But for the first time, Evernote established an astonishing channel of communication with its users. The behind-the-scenes videos with the CEO, the blog posts, and many other projects created a new kind of collaboration between us and the company.

Small’s courage to rewrite all the clients was both bold and necessary. But it also means that from a technical standpoint, Evernote 10 was an entirely new app, and like every new piece of software, there may be several unknown bugs.

The good news is that 10 opened the doors to innovation. Evernote Home and its great widgets, such as the calendar and filtered notes, tasks, notes filters, and backlinks, came after 10 was introduced. Even the Real-Time Editing feature was being worked on by Ian’s team for many, many months before the Bending Spoons acquisition.

There are frequent complaints about bugs, but the way I see it, Evernote had no other options. They had to deal with the multiple apps that were incompatible with each other. It was either no more innovation or dealing with some bugs for a while

However, my concern is somewhat distinct. I think Small’s decision to move development towards the “Accomplish Anything” vision was a great idea. The new features his team created brought our notes to the next level, and the way he spoke about Evernote was a clear indication that many more similar features would be coming. Unfortunately, I have no idea what Bending Spoons plans are for Evernote.

I am a fan of Small and his accomplishments, but what I hope to understand one day is why the company was sold. Was it his decision? The board’s? Was it an offer? What happened?

The Bending Spoons era

I have no doubt that Bending Spoons is working hard to fix all the problems they inherited, but they may be running out of time. The bugs, along with the layoffs, price increases, and other unpopular decisions, may be hurting Evernote credibility too quickly. To add more salt to the injury, the connection Small’s team built with the community by being so transparent is slowly disappearing.

I believe Bending Spoons has everything it takes to make it right, but only time will tell if they will be able to replace the iPod with the iPhone or end up like Palm, Yahoo, and so many other fascinating companies that are long gone.