The first time I heard about Evernote, a friend was showing me how you could take a picture of a receipt and it would scan all of the text and make it searchable. It was, at the time, amazing. It was 2010, and very few apps were capable of the optical character recognition (OCR) that Evernote had in an app that only cost a few dollars a month. I was sold.
I used it for what seemed like everything. I wrote articles, gathered research, saved documents and PDFs, and took notes. It became an "extension of my brain," which the company's CEO, Ian Small, says is the mission of Evernote.
Over time, however, Evernote tried to do too much, and it got to a point where it no longer did anything particularly well. Honestly, it confused my brain. Then came dozens, if not hundreds, of competitors in the decade since. Many of Evernote's power users moved on.
Now, however, Evernote is making a serious effort to again become the tool you use to organize, plan, remember, and discover the things that are important to the way you work. I interviewed Small this week for The 29 Steps Podcast, and the thing that struck me the most is that his plan just might work.
Small describes himself as a product guy -- an engineer. He's also pretty honest about the job he took on. "I think at the end of the day, it's fair to say we lost our way," he told me.
It started a few years ago with a complete revamp of the software's code. Small arrived in 2018, and as he admits to me, the company was in a bit of a "stalled situation." Still, making the decision to press pause on everything until they fixed what was wrong was what he called an "incredibly easy decision."
That's because you can't continue to build layer upon layer on a broken foundation. "You really can't significantly deliver new capabilities in your software, because of all your accumulated tech debt," Small said. "At some point, you realize all you're doing is polishing around the edges. You're not actually able to do anything fundamental anymore with your software."
During the pandemic, the company doubled down on building the features that it thinks will help it become the default productivity tool, and not just for people who take a lot of notes. Earlier this year, the company introduced "Home," a sort of dashboard view of your information that makes it easier to quickly find what you need. It lets you add widgets to view your recent notes, tags, shortcuts, and now, your Google Calendar.
Today, the company is announcing its Calendar integration, making it available along with the release of the Tasks feature that has been in early access since June. You can read about the features over on Evernote's website or download the app and give them a try. I want to try and paint for you a picture of how you might use them and why you should care.
Evernote has always been pretty good as a note-taking app. At its core, it's a place where you can put down thoughts and organize them so that you can easily locate them later. Now, by connecting your Google Calendar, your appointments show up in the Home view of Evernote.
Considering how much time most of us spend living by our calendar, that's actually a really useful feature. Especially since next to each meeting is the ability to create a new note for keeping track of what you talk about or, more importantly, action items.
That's where Tasks come in. As you take notes, you can easily add tasks, or simply convert your existing notes into a task, which then show up in the Tasks section. You can even assign tasks to other members of your team. Of course, as you plan your day, you can easily click on a task to return to the note where you created it for context.
Small describes it like this:
"We believe that these connections enable us to really help people navigate their day and accomplish what is important to them. Of course, Evernote will be at the heart of your taking notes and managing to-dos. But our goal will be to present your content back to you in the moment when you need it, assembling curated views of your information that match whatever context you need. Our users decide what information goes into Evernote; our job is to give it back to them, in exactly the right way, at exactly the right time. When done well, we think it's a magical experience."
I'm not sure I'd call it magical, at least not yet. Still, I get it -- Evernote has paid off its technical debt and is trying to pay off its reputational debt and win back skeptical users who have long since moved on to other tools. It seems that Evernote understands that as well.
"For a while, we weren't really clear on who our target market was and who we were going after," Small admitted. "We have returned to our roots. We are trying to become an extension of your brain. What that meant 10 years ago is very different than what it could mean today." If these features are any indication, Small might be able to pull it off.