Sunsetting a beloved tool: Evernote

Sunsetting a beloved tool: Evernote
Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

I’m in the process of sunsetting Evernote from my digital life. Looking back, it’s been in my toolkit for 15 years. This year’s toolkit post marks the first time the Green Elephant hasn’t been there since the 2008 global economic crisis.**

To mark the occasion, I’m going to take a walk through some of my history with the product and close with a few lessons I took away from my time using the service.

My fast friendship with Evernote (2008-2015)

I started using Evernote in the late 2000’s. It became a digital brain, constantly fed by the Evernote Web Clipper, desktop app, and iOS app.

In 2010, Evernote became my first paid-premium (consumer) SaaS app. As I said in an old blog post, “It's the first time I was wooed by a freemium service and I have been extremely happy with my investment!”. Truly, I was happy to opt into the paid version.

So much value for me…I used a lot of the capabilities:

  • Evernote Windows app - home base
  • Evernote web clipper - used this to capture stuff from all over the web (especially tutorials)
  • Evernote mobile app - loved the home screen shortcuts to do quick text and audio notes
  • Evernote web app - especially when the dedicated apps got buggy
  • Evernote food - at least I tried it…
  • Skitch - loved this for marking up PDFs, before it was assimilated into the main app

Evernote wasn’t just a set of features, it had become a natural extension of my daily workflow by 2011.

The product floundered for a while. Competitors added new capabilities and concepts. Evernote features came more slowly, but I was still eager to try them out. Evernote was feeling dated and more clunky. Even still, leadership promised updates, I endured despite some skepticism.

Spiking frustrations (2016-2017)

Trouble started when they went from a 2-tier model to a 3-tier model. They bumped the price of the top tier (Premium) to make room for the middle tier, but in doing so they cannibalized some great feature/price point and left a weaker middle tier (Plus). Effectively saying If you want the features you’ve been using…you can have them using this new higher tier. Which also carried a higher price. No grandfathering or option for loyal customers.

A picture of the basic, Plus, and Premium tier features of Evernote
A picture of the 3 tiers that I snagged back in 2016.

Unfortunately, the new Premium features that were added were of no value to me. Adding insult to injury, the app got slower and more buggy, largely because of the feature bloat of the Premium features.

In late 2016, Evernote announced an intent to update their privacy policy, granting access to “select employees” as part of their trying to improve their machine learning. They were caught in the backlash. With a free service, I understand I’m the product. But I was paying for their top tier and seemed to be offered no way to deny consent for them to have employees access my notes. I was glad they caved but it left me very concerned from a privacy perspective.

I continued with premium, but then in 2017 they released a new mobile app, but delayed the Android version of the app. Crap, I’d moved from iOS to Android in 2012. While the iOS first approach made sense when they were a startup, they were a well established company who for some reason left Android users with a buggy, slow app, while shining a spotlight on the features of the new iOS app. It was infuriating to be paying for their top tier service and be left waiting and wondering when I’d have an improved experience on Android.

In late 2017, I declined to renew Premium (which would then lapse back to Basic/free in early 2018). Later in 2018, the ended the middle-tier (Plus), but at least this time they grandfathered any existing users. I was glad that I’d already cancelled.

Lame duck period 2018-2023

I didn’t have something immediate to move to, but there wasn’t a great export option, so my account basically sat frozen in time for years.

I have had access and have occasionally looked things up there, but it became more painful to do so each time. There seem to be more hoops to jump through to access the content in my now-free account.

Evernote has continued to add bloated features and further restrict the value of the free service. I understand that the free version shouldn’t be as easy or valuable as the premium service. Frankly I want there to be things behind the paywall that people will want to pay for. This helps to ensure the long-term viability of the company whose product I’m using.

Lessons learned

There are a few things that I filed away from this journey, including:

  • It’s really frustrating to have paid features cannibalized from one price tier and moved to a higher tier in a subscription product.
  • Features are great, but stuffing a bunch into your app at the cost of usability of core functionality is a huge mistake. Don’t do this.
  • Think long and hard about changing your privacy policy in a way that permits “select” employees unrestricted access to customer data without clear purpose.
  • Pick a direction and go that way, instead of trying to go five different directions at once. This lesson echoes well beyond computer software!

While I’m moving away, Evernote will still hold a special place in my history. Farewell!

*** Though it’s completely coincidence and didn’t influence my decision, the bookends of:*

  • The 2008 financial crisis following the Lehman Brothers collapse
  • The 2023 economic headwinds and recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank