Evernote is about 3 features away from being the best note-taking app again. But without at least the first two of these features, it will remain behind. It will slowly fade away. I’ve been an Evernote use since 2008. For the last 13 years I’ve been using Evernote on and off. But with Obsidian and Roam around, there isn’t much need for Evernote.
I checked the Evernote subreddit today to see how it was and the top post is someone saying that they are moving on. They just can’t use Evernote anymore. Several people in the comments were agreeing.
So why care about any of this? Why still talk about Evernote if Craft, Obsidian and Roam exist?
Because Evernote has one of the best note-taking foundations of any app. It still has a great webclipper, audio notes, templates, pdf storage, offline notebooks, Readwise integration, attachment support, scans, and a new Tasks feature that is better than Roam, Craft, Obsidian, and Notion. Many of these features it pioneered.
It’s so close, yet so far away! It has a great UI that is very customizable and a great looking dark mode. But without these new features, it’s all for nought.
So here are the three features that I think Evernote should add that would make it insanely exciting again. Honestly, if it added these three features I would ditch Roam, Obsidian, and Craft. That’s saying a lot coming from a guy who is obsessed with note taking apps.
Evernote was so very close to this feature years ago when they introduced something called “context”. It would pull in relevant notes and then what they thought were relevant content from the web. Pulling content from the web was good in theory, but no one wanted it.
What people want, is to find relevant notes. This is what bi-directional linking does. I know, in Evernote you can copy a link to a note and paste it in another note. But that’s still what I call a “dumb link.” The orignial note doesn’t let me know where I linked it to. And that process is tedious. It’s not organic and it causes you to leave your current note to do it.
Roam has popularized backlinking to the point where if an app doesn’t have this feature, I don’t want to use it. This feature is that important.
What this does is allow you to link to other notes as you write. Here’s an example:
Suppose I type out the phrase: > Dr. Dorothy Andersen discovered Cystic Fibrosis in 1938 with her paper, “Cystic Fibrosis of the Pancreas and its Relation to Celiac Disease”.
If I was using Evernote the way to link this to other notes would be to add a tag at the top of the note to maybe Cystic Fibrosis, 1938, and Dr. Dorothy Andersen. But there are two major problems with tags. 1. When you get too many of them, it becomes cumbersome to organize and filter through. 2. You can’t view or use tags in your notes as you write.
Now let’s write this same sentence using bi-directional linking:
Now, within my document I’ve created new notes for Cystic Fibrosis, the year 1938, and Dr. Dorothy Anderson without having to leave my note. And I don’t have to worry about organizing tags and I’ve created new notes that I can jump to in my note.
So if I click on the link over Cystic Fibrosis, if I had bi-directional linking, it would show me all the notes that mention Cystic Fibrosis.
This is what Nick Milo calls “linking your thinking”. This allows you to see your connections in your notes. Instead of having a thousand notes with hundreds of unmanageable tags, you now have organic links within your notes. You can find connections between your notes just by simply creating links with important names or keywords within your notes.
Here’s a screenshot of Craft on macOS that shows my page on Cystic Fibrosis and the links at the bottom of the page. There’s even a link to Dorothy Andersen’s page that I can click on and jump to. I can even hover over the link and it gives me a preview of the note.
If Evernote added this feature, it would make Evernote 10x more useful and exciting. It would be talked about again with apps like Roam and Notion. Guaranteed.
One of my favorite new features that note-taking apps have now is Daily Notes. I never knew I needed this until I started using it in Roam.
What makes the Daily Note so great is the idea that you don’t have to create an entire page for just a thought. So if I just wanted to write something like, “Just met with Johnny Appleseed. He needs the TPS Report by tomorrow.” I don’t need an entire note dedicated to that. I just want to make a quick note of it.
That’s where the Daily Note comes in. It’s allows you to make micro-notes throughout the day in one place instead of making a bunch of separate notes.
Evernote is so close to having this. In the new Home feature, they have a scratch pad to take some quick notes. It’s not true Daily Notes, but it easily could be. They have the right idea, they just don’t have the right implentation.
Again, using Craft as an example on iOS, here’s what theirs looks like:
This is an unbelievably useful tool that allows you to write more and create more notes. It lowers the friction to creating a note.
The last feature is folding text. Again, Roam made it so that I can’t live without this feature. This allows you to clean up your page if you have a lot of text or lots of different sections.
Here’s an example on iOS again with Craft. Look at my Cystic Fibrosis page with the sections collapsed.
Now here they are expanded.
This allows you to focus on only what you want to focus on and can make your note much easier to navigate if you have a lot of sections. It also allows you to deep dive into a topic by creating layers of folding text diving down until you get to the core idea of a topic. This is what RemNote does a lot. They call it “concepts and descriptors”.
Again, Evernote has a solid base. It’s got some great features. But without at least bi-directional linking, it will always remain out of the race. Always. Bi-directional linking is here to stay and it’s the biggest evolution in note-taking since the implementation of tags. It’s tags on steiroids. It’s creating your own Wiki. It truly allows you to make your notes more useful by connecting them. You can still have tags as well. That’s what Obsidian does. It still has tags, but it also has bi-directional linking.
If you, Evernote, added this feature, you would see large amounts of people picking up Evernote again to start linking all their old notes and start adding new notes. Evernote would be exciting again.
You have a good base, but you have to take the next big jump. Come join the rest of us in 2021. I still believe in you!