Tools I use: Evernote

In recent years, a lot of note taking applications (or personal knowledge base tools if you prefer the term) have entered the space. Prominent examples are Roam Research, Obsidian, Notion and countless alternatives and reimplementations of those. On the other hand, there are older ones, and there's one literal elephant in the room, and it's called Evernote.

Evernote is one of the oldest applications in this space. Started as a suite of desktop and mobile applications with a web-based client for accessing your notes, it supports rich formatting and predates popularity of Markdown. As a result, what it provides is more of an old fashioned, WYSIWYG editor, with tables, file attachments, and other quality of life improvements.

Evernote was not in its current form when it started. It took more of an "everything and the kitchen sink" type of approach, more targeted to road warriors of 2000s. The resulting desktop application was something between an office suite and note taking tool. This situation created a big problem: There was no feature parity between platforms and this hurt Evernote big time.

At this stage, while I was ready to abandon Evernote and cancel my subscription, something happened: Company's CEO has changed, and they announced a new direction. I decided to wait longer and give them another chance.

In hindsight, waiting was the correct thing to do, because new Evernote is much better than the first iteration. Yes, it has an Electron based desktop application (and I don't like Electron), yet it's not sluggish and taxing your system in unreasonable amounts.

The new Evernote lacks many of the features of the first iteration, and many of its competitors, however this simplicity and well-roundedness is what makes Evernote enticing. As a result, I'm managing all my knowledge base, collaboration and public tech notes with Evernote.

What it makes Evernote great is the combination of simplicity and feature parity between platforms it runs on, including Web, which allows me to work on any platform. Combined with the new synchronization engine they developed over the years, everything is pretty seamless. I have never lost any data with them, and that's pretty important for me.

The simplicity they provide is reduced set of fonts and headers, a selection of color choices to emphasize things, and text alignment options. The resulting feature set can be called "Markdown+". While a superset of pure Markdown, it can degrade to it gracefully, and they can be converted to each other with relative ease.

Given my love for simplicity and practicality, Evernote's reduced set of options allows me to think less and create more. On top of that, this reduced set of formatting options allows me to create consistent documents with less effort, which is a win in my book.

Another thing I like with Evernote is one-click sharing of notes, which I use for writing technical documents and sharing them (which you can see here).

Like other tools, Evernote supports collaboration over shared notebooks, and the process is pretty smooth since the new Evernote has started its life. I have used it throughout my Ph.D. with my professor for seven years, and it worked. This is enough of a testament for the experience.

Finding what you have written in the past has gotten much easier with Evernote in recent years. Its search engine is revamped and improved greatly. While not all features are available to all tiers, the highest tier membership (which is nowhere expensive here since Evernote does local pricing) allows location based searches. Consider you went somewhere and took notes there. You can search the notes you have taken at that location, which is much more effective than it sounds. For example, I used frequent a Starbucks branch where I met with my professor for my studies. I can list the notes I have taken there and filter further down to find what I was looking for, much faster. That's both impressive and comforting, because that elephant not only can remember what you have told, but can recall these things with accuracy and precision.

Another feature added to Evernote in its recent iterations is task management and calendar integration. It's a set of powerful features centered around tasks and task delegations (even to people outside Evernote), but since I manage my daily tasks elsewhere, I don't use these features much, hence I can't comment on them.

Lastly, while Evernote is a closed source ecosystem, it has great exporting capabilities. It has a file format called .enex, which is an XML based export file. XML is disliked in tech circles (which is a story for another time), but Evernote both documents the format openly, and provides its schema for interoperability. You can read more about it here, and see the schema here. The files you attach to a particular note are even encoded BASE64 and embedded inside the XML, hence you can get your notes as-is and with everything you added.

As a result, the old elephant Evernote is useful, even today. It allows me to create nice looking documents, share them with the world or people I want to collaborate and allows me to get my notes as-is for plethora of purposes via an open and well documented file format. Paired with clients on many platforms with the same features, the result is a winning formula and happy users.

Until next time,

Be kind.