Searching for Note Taking with Less Friction

This is my first post of 2023 and also my contribution to #bringbackblogging, wherein I’ve pledged to post at least three times in January. (Goodness, I remember posting three time a day, some two decades ago). The effort is largely a response to a infantile billionaire’s acquisition of Twitter, and the overall effects of dominant social media platforms consolidated in the hands of a few plutocrats.

Evernote Should Be Renamed Ever-NOT, amirite?

But the real point is to share my journey in migrating away from Evernote after about a decade of use. You see, I was, until last year, a relatively satisfied user of Evernote. I’m not a power user, and my demands really aren’t demanding. I just want an app where I can take quick notes, and especially grab web content, and have it easily searchable and synchronized across all my devices. Evernote pretty much met the bill well enough for a long time, such that I was willing to pay the annual subscription to have notes synch on more than two devices, as well as get more prioritized OCR of PDFs and images I upload.

However, somewhere in 2020 into 2021 the platform just got slow and buggy. No matter what mobile device I used, an Android phone, an iPad or an iPhone, the app was slow to start up, and often unreliable in syncing. I don’t expect perfection in apps or software, but I always understood one of Evernote’s key selling points to be that it was a quick and easy way to take a quick note. I’m actually pretty patient, so I can wait even a minute every so often – just not every time. Moreover, increasingly the app just wouldn’t open at all, or would open and immediately crash.

Even more annoyingly, all too often I’d take a note, and find later it never synced up, despite having the app open for quite some time. Or, if I was editing an existing note, I’d find Evernote created a new version rather than an edited one.

The same frustrations carried over to the desktop. On MacOS I found every version to be both a resource hog and a crash-a-holic, on top of taking even longer to start up than the mobile app. Simple searches would cause the whole thing to go down, often taking the most recent note with it. In desperation I tried the web app, hoping that would be quicker, only to find the start-up time to be worse, even lasting several minutes on occasion. Utterly useless for taking a quick note.

In Search of Note Taking Lubricant

So more than a year ago I set out on trying to find an Evernote replacement. At first I was hoping to find an open source equivalent. There are many candidates, chief among them is Joplin. I kicked the tires back in 2021, but found the app experience underwhelming. Instead of being server based, it relies on web storage like WebDAV or OneDrive. In theory I’m fine with that, but also found syncing to be inconsistent. I fully accept that it may have improved in the last two years, but my initial experience doesn’t fill me with desire to give it another go.

There are plenty of other note platforms I looked at – too few to mention, and only Zoho Notebook standing out at all in my mind. Honestly, if I was giving up Evernote I kind of also wanted to give up being tied to a single platform, preferring to maybe roll my own server. That’s why Joplin initially was attractive.

Ultimately, I found the choices both under- and over-whelming, and so did nothing until December, 2022.

An Unlikely Solution

The more I read up on Evernote alternatives, the more I found Microsoft OneNote to be the most recommended. Now, I’ve been a Mac user since 2006, with my non-Mac systems all running some flavor of Linux. In that time I studiously tried to avoid Microsoft Office, especially Word. But corporate life and the need to rely on Excel and PowerPoint – both for functionality and interoperability – softened my stance in the last half-decade.

So, I took a more serious look at OneNote. It’s free (as in beer) to use, so I decided to take the plunge. The only additional cost is for storage beyond the free allotment. I found the OneDrive $2 / month plan for 200 GB to be plenty to accommodate all my Evernote files I moved over. That wasn’t the easiest process, but that’s a story for another day. $2 a month sure beats $80 a year for Evernote – plus, the OneDrive storage isn’t only for OneNote.

Then, as a result of leaving my corporate job, I found myself without access to Microsoft Office (365), but needing the apps for professional reasons. Then I also realized I could get access along with 2 TB of storage for ten dollars less than just Evernote alone. Was this really going to push me over the edge back into the arms of borg from Redmond?

Why yes, it did.

Is the end of the story that I have arrived at note-taking nirvana?

No, it is not. And that is to be covered in my next entry.