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You are here: MacNN Forums > News > Mac News > Opinion: Evernote chose the wrong free feature to mess with

Opinion: Evernote chose the wrong free feature to mess with
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Aug 4, 2015, 12:08 PM
As of July 15, if you use the free version of Evernote you can no longer email into it: you can't forward an email to store in your Evernote account, you can't use any apps that save into Evernote via mail. As of July 27, Evernote has a new CEO, as the company's co-founder Phil Libin has stepped to the left to allow ex-Google manager Chris O'Neill to take the helm. The two things are (possibly) unrelated but they come from the same place: Evernote needs to make some cash.

Of course it does and if anything this focus is probably good because so many internet businesses exist on some peculiar and unsupportable free basis. IFTTT has always been free and isn't making any noises about charging but you have to wonder how long it can keep going and just how dependent you'll become on it before it charges or fails. Evernote has always charged a subscription so it's had a solid amount of money coming in but this premium version rides on the back of a free one. It's a kind of Evernote Lite except that what you could do with the free one was so generous that it's hugely likely many users never even realised there is a paid one.

Evernote lets you create and store as many notes as you want if you just type into Evernote.com or any of its iOS, Mac, Android or PC apps. It's also excellent for storing documents: drag a PDF in there and you've got it in a note that you can retrieve wherever you are. PDFs, Word documents, MP3, JPEGs, just about anything and everything. The limitation is not in the type of note you can save and it's not really on the size of note -- there is a limit but, again, it's generous -- so instead the real constraint is on how much you can upload.

Even the upload limit is better than it sounds: Evernote makes no attempt and has no desire to limit the number of notes you've got. Instead, it solely limited how many you can upload in any one month. If you turn to Evernote, love it and want to store every company PDF you've ever met then you can but after a certain amount it will say enough, hold on, that'll do for this month.

The key selling point of the premium subscription is that you can upload more in any month and your notes can be bigger. Otherwise, Evernote used to push how paying for the service got you better support. That's not a compelling argument in practice because Evernote's support is by far the weakest element in the product. Once we had a case where Evernote just forgot we were premium subscribers and so denied us the fast-turnaround support that premium subscribers get. In fact, when subscribed or not subscribed, the fastest initial response to any problem we've had has been about a week. So when we evangelize about using Evernote, and we do, its support comes up as one of the cautions against the service instead of a reason to buy.

We're subscribers and we warn against this one key benefit and we also struggle to remember what the rest of the benefits are. There are now three Evernotes from Basic through Plus to Premium. As a free, basic user you can upload up to 60MB of notes which does actually now seem rather small. Evernote Plus subscribers get 1GB of uploading per month for $3 a month or $25 for the year while Premium ones get unlimited uploads for $6 a month, or $50 per year. We honestly did not know that it was unlimited now and we've been subscribers for a couple of years.

So the one feature that bangs on your door and says no, you can't do anything more until you upgrade or wait out the month is not significant enough that we even remembered it.

We do remember that the Premium one in theory jumps us to the front of the queue when we add an image or a PDF and it's going to be turned into searchable text with OCR. Maybe that happens, we're no longer sure because we only use the OCR feature when we are searching for a document later on. We thought it would actually OCR an image and let us take the text out, that would've been a fantastic boon in so many jobs and certainly something we'd pay for but no. It is purely there to enable searching such that we can type a word and the right note, the right document will be found if that word is anywhere in the PDF. We've never failed to find something just by the title of the note or some free text in it.

If you go to the official Evernote website and look at one of those comparison tables that try so hard to make you think the most expensive option is terribly cheap for all it does, you'll see a reasonably long list of features that you can only get when you pay. Of them all, there is just one that matters to us – and it's the one that has just gone away from the free version.

At least daily, sometimes closer to hourly, we will get an email and want to save it into Evernote so we do. Just as with OmniFocus's Mail Drop, the application gives you a secret email address and anything you send to that goes straight into your Evernote. It's smarter than OmniFocus's version as you can specify a particular notebook to save it to and it lets you create tags to help you find that note later.

There's no way to see how often we've used this but we can tell that we've taken advantage of OmniFocus's equivalent 2,663 times in the last two years. It's going to be a similar number for Evernote, especially as for the longest time it's been the best way to get articles out of Reeder and into Evernote. Since iOS 8 you've officially been able to Share an article or a website directly into Evernote but for a while that route was too slow so we stuck with emailing it in.

So we like this feature but that's happy for us: we're premium subscribers, we get to keep it. Only, it's so useful that we use it twice. Right alongside our premium account we have a second, free one that we also use this emailing feature with. This must be an edge case, which is a technical term for nutty, but follow: you get a secret email address with each Evernote account. So doing this means we've got two secret email addresses. You can't have too many. Our free account is devoted to one particular job and it contains one single stack of notes but that notebook is shared.

We've invited our selves and our premium account to share this notebook with the free one. If you haven't done this then you're squinting and maybe counting on your fingers while taking a step away from us but the result is that we have two secret addresses going in to the same account, eventually. So when we find something online that we need for this particular job, we email it in there. Anything else we find or want to save, we use our original secret email address.

Or we did. That's over now: we can send five more emails to that free account and then we can whistle for more. Well, whistle or pay another subscription. We are among the eight or nine million who pay a subscription; we're not very likely to buy a second one.

It's just that a feature we heavily used, albeit in a nutty way, has been taken from us. Put that next to the atrocious support and the fact that you regularly need that atrocious support, it all eats away at our regard for Evernote. We may be at the stage where we're so heavily committed to it with thousands upon thousands of notes that we won't readily move. Yet that's why Microsoft stayed on top for so long until people found alternatives and were able to say so long to it.

We're not remotely against Evernote making money, it just feels as if they've chosen something that new users won't try and so will never know how useful it is. Whereas at least some premium subscribers like us will notice a lot. Maybe we're only upset that we had just told someone the solution to a particular problem they have was to subscribe to Evernote and use this email feature. Excuse us, we have to go phone them now.

-William Gallagher (@WGallagher)
( Last edited by NewsPoster; Aug 4, 2015 at 04:22 PM. )
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Aug 5, 2015, 11:52 AM
Cant wait for the updated Apple Notes app so I can abandon it once and for all
Steve Wilkinson
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Aug 5, 2015, 01:54 PM
As attractive as Evernote is (and for how much everyone raves about it), I've resisted the temptation. Over the years, I've tried a bunch of *put all your info in here* type solutions, and they've always failed me at some point. Now, I simply keep most of my info organized into a fairly flat folder and plain-text organization system in Dropbox. It's a bit more effort to keep up, but I think it has far better long-term prospects... and I'm not trapped into a proprietary eco-system. I can use it with just about any app I like.
Steve Wilkinson
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Aug 6, 2015, 08:40 AM
I still love evernote, but I've been a paid subscriber since dinosaurs roamed the Earth. As for the comments the previous poster wrote about it being a proprietary solution, it would take me all of about 15 minutes to export everything I have into a (much less organized) flat file system, and maybe an hour to import it all back into to OneNote. So, I'm not too concerned ... at this time.
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