Sundered Peak

through the mind of kyle tolle

Evernote: The Elephant That Forgets

I have used and paid for Evernote for years. I use it virtually every day, and I have amassed 1,970 notes to date. But it makes me nervous.

Data Obliteration

Evernote’s iOS app periodically obliterates the contents of notes. Once in a while, I’ll open a note just to find that all the content is gone. I have no idea why this happens. It appears infrequent and random, but happens just often enough to be annoying.

Had I experienced this before I paid for Evernote, I would have been pissed that my data was permanently lost, and never upgraded. My confidence would be shot. Fortunately, I only experienced this after I upgraded. Note history is a feature of Evernote Premium, so there was a backup. Unfortunately, it’s not something you can do from the mobile app. In order to get my note’s content back, I have to use the desktop application, and pull out the text from the version history. I’ve been able to get these notes back, but it doesn’t inspire confidence. The mobile app still ruined everything in the first place.

Nebulous Versioning

Additionally, the versioning is inconsistent. According to Evernote:

Several times each day, Evernote makes a copy of any notes in your account that have changed since the last time the system checked.

Several times each day sounds great, but that’s completely nebulous. When do versions get made? If I make a change and then sync it, do I get a new version? If not, at what point will it become a version?

Through experience, I’ve found I’m most likely to need a prior version when I’m actively editing a piece. Copying, pasting, rearranging, and reworking text are when I make mistakes. That’s when I’ll need a backup to help recover. Making versions, on the server, only a few times daily doesn’t give me much assurance that I’ll be able to recover when I need it most.

The imprecision around versioning is the exact opposite of what I would expect out of such a feature. It should be deterministic, predictable, and frequent. Not hand-wavy and whenever-we-get-around-to-it.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that the iOS app doesn’t allow you to undo or avoid saving accidental changes. Technically, it lets you undo one-character-at-a-time, but, come on, that’s the same as not allowing undo at all.

Combine non-deterministic versioning, no undo on mobile, and periodic data obliteration, and it is only a matter of time until you lose a note you’ve entrusted to them.

Lackluster Conflict Resolution

Another thorn in the foot is that Evernote barely handles note conflicts. If you edit the same note on multiple devices, this will happen at some point. They plop one version of a note in some new notebook, and leave another in the original note. But they don’t give you any indication of what caused the conflict. Resolving that conflict is a completely manual exercise. Good luck if the note is lengthy.

Shaken Trust

After being burnt a few times, I’m not confident that Evernote is good at preserving my content. But Google also has problems. And Apple is known to suck at cloud services.

I’ll continue to use Evernote, but I hope to phase it out some day. There’s a possibility they could turn things around and change my mind. But who knows what’s on their roadmap? Them destroying my notes is completely unacceptable. I’ve reported this issue to them, so I hope it gets fixed. But there’s still that fear that something like this could happen again, and there’d be no recovering from it. It shakes my trust in their abilities. A more rigorous versioning scheme would be wonderful. As would an ability to back up my notes to other services like CrashPlan or Dropbox.

Software’s hard, I know that well. But it’s disconcerting that the most powerful tech companies in the world can’t get it right, especially when it involves data loss.