Spotlight: Evernote

We continue this series of looking at examples of various sharing and archiving websites. In this post, we look at Evernote.


Founded by Azerbaijan-born Stepan Pachikov, Evernote open-beta was launched in June, 2008. The current CEO is Phil Libin, whose activities largely contributed to what Evernote is today. He started up several companies before selling both. He started thinking about a third venture, using the experience from the first two. He knew two things: He didn’t want to be bored, and he didn’t want to merely make money. ‘What’s cool is impacting a billion people. Whatever I ended up doing, I wanted people to get excited about it. I wanted long lines forming for it.’

The earliest form of what would become ‘Evernote’ started out as a back-of-the-mind question: How do we remember something, like the name of a restaurant? The human brain is a complex thing, but does still have limited memory capacity.  And that’s a growing problem in an age in which information in all forms comes flying at us at ever-faster rates and you’re not sure which of it will prove useful.

Laptops and smartphones can compensate for this issue, yet only if people take the time to input the information in the right place, file and format. This is not fail safe. Is the name of that restaurant on my laptop or phone? Libin began to think about what a better electronic memory would be like. You could put in information in any form, and you could instantly get the information into any of your devices on the fly without worrying about how to organise it.More important, you would be able to find whatever it is whenever you need it, as effortlessly and intuitively as we now dig up stuff via Google.

In 2006, he pulled a crew (the same from his previous companies) to start a new company called Ribbon. They very quickly discovered, in Silicon Valley, an almost obscure start-up called Evernote. This version was created to extract text tools from photos so that you could take pictures of notes and make them searchable.  It was led by a brilliant techie named Stepan Pachikov. Liking the idea, Libin was obliged to meet with Pachikov, and an agreement was set that rather than compete, it would be beneficial to both parties if they merged. Libin became CEO of the company; Pachikov became the founder, although he gradually shifted his focus to other projects.

In 2008, they released a ‘private beta’ version for the Silicon Valley insiders. Word started to get around pockets of Silicon Valley about this cool new app that helped you remember stuff. It worked more or less as Libin had envisioned. Most types of information can be added to Evernote in a few seconds, from any computer or smartphone, and most formats. The software takes it from there, sucking the data into Evernote’s servers, as well as storing it on your computer. The system also labels the incoming data with any information that could come in handy, including when it was added and where you were when you added it. Any visible text in a photo becomes searchable. ‘Before I go to the supermarket, I take a snapshot of the list my wife has on the refrigerator,’ says Daniel Kuperman, CEO of Aprix Solutions, a Silicon Valley Web start-up, and an early user of Evernote.

However, there was a big concern. Evernote was being pitched as a so-called ‘freemium’ service; people could either use it for free or upgrade to a paid premium version, which is how the company would make money. The problem was that Libin refused to ‘downgrade’ the free version. The free version was full featured, rendering the point of upgrading void. ‘The more stuff you put in Evernote, the more important the service would be to you. Who would begrudge $5 a month to a company that was storing your memories and helping you retrieve them?’  He argued the danger was that they wouldn’t try the service in the first place or wouldn’t stick with it because the free version failed to impress. This fell on deaf ears. As more and more people opted for the complete free version, profits began to decline rapidly. A potential investment of $10 million with a firm collapse at the last minute and Libin consider shutting down.

In mid-2009, Libin met with Gary Little of Morganthaler Ventures, who had becomes interested after hearing about Evernote from a friend. Libin stunned the group with a series of slides that Little calls ‘one of best analytical dissections of a business I’ve ever seen.’ Libin showed that Evernote users became more likely to upgrade over time. The upgrade rate was an impressive 8 percent. He also showed how often an average user was actually using Evernote. Most people who try an app abandon it pretty quickly or use it less frequently as time goes on. But for Evernote, the curve was a smile – not only because active users were finding the service more and more useful, but also because those who had stopped using the service were returning to it.

Morgenthaler invested. So did Sequoia Capital, another top Silicon Valley VC firm. Altogether, Evernote has raised $95 million in a short period. ‘We didn’t need most of the money,’ says Libin. Evernote didn’t need it because the company became profitable early in 2011, hitting 10 million users and reaching annual sales of about $16 million. Evernote doesn’t do anything to encourage people to pay it, which is one of the reasons it’s so popular. The irony and genius of that nonsales strategy, of course, are that so far, at least, it has resulted in terrific sales. The long-term conversion rate can now be tracked out to three years, and it turns out to be more than 15 percent.

The challenge is to make Evernote into something that is beyond a ‘new fad.’  Part of the answer, Libin believes, is to expand the company beyond simply being a way to remember stuff. ‘We want to go from being one app to being a family of apps, all of which have something to do with memory.’ In the long term, Libin wants to figure out how to do more to help people remember, learn, understand, and communicate. He would like to see Evernote be able to recognize objects and faces in photographs, and perhaps one day even recognize smells. ‘Your own brain,’ says Libin, ‘might end up being the last place you search for information.’

Most of the information came from the article ‘Evernote: 2011 Company of the Year’ by David H Freedman. To see the article:

What is Evernote?

As stated above, Evernote is software designed for notetaking and archiving lots of information, such as lifelong memories and vital information to daily reminders and to-do lists. Everything stored within your Evernote account is automatically synced across all of your devices, making it easy to capture, browse, search and edit your notes everywhere you have Evernote, including smartphones, tablets, computers and on the Web. Its success stems from a combination of sophisticated note taking software, ‘Dropbox-like’ cloud storage and a intuitive universal search function.

On supported operating systems, Evernote stores and edits the user’s notes on their local machine. Your work can be accessed on every device/computer that are used, meaning you can work at home and in a library for instance. This allows easier storage and accessibility, as well as making it easier to ‘remember things you like,’ which was a theme of Libin’s that started Evernote.

You can also save entire webpages to your Evernote account with nifty ‘web clipper’ browser extensions. You get the whole page: text, images and links, as per your preference. Collect information from anywhere into a single place, from text notes to web pages to files to snapshots. Also share your notes and collaborate with friends, colleagues and classmates on larger projects. A ‘note,’ as you can imagine, can be anything as a piece of formatted text, full webpages or excerpt, photographs or voice recordings. These notes can be sorted into folders, then tagged, annotated, edited, given comments, searched and exported as part of a notebook.

Evernote Capabilities

After a series of updates, Evernote has been refined to be more streamlined and easier to use. Evernote 5.0 brings beautiful, more intuitive UI to the experience. Now you can save, sync, search and share your memories easier than ever. A new Sidebar feature gives you quick access to everything in an account, like a navigational tool. Shortcuts can be added quickly to the Sidebar, so that the notes and notebooks you use most are always at-hand. Its search capabilities, one of Evernote’s strong points, has been upgraded. Now Type Ahead search makes finding notes even easier by suggesting keywords and phrases, searching all Shared Notebooks, and offering advanced search filtering options.

evernote 1

Evernote Home Page

In terms of creating new notes, users click the ‘+ New Note’ button, which will create a note in the default notebook. Once created, the note will automatically be saved to Evernote and synced across all used devices. When created, just about anything can be added to theses notes as attachments, such as files, images and audio. Adding attachments means users need either dragging and droping it into the body of the note, or use any of the following buttons in the Note Editor: audio, snapshot, file.

An important issue is that when users makes changes to their work, they would also want to applied across all their devices. The Sync feature ensures that everything in an Evernote account is always available to view, edit and search everywhere, including smartphones, tablets, computers and on the Web. Synchronization is automatic, although there is an option to make this manual.

So once you have a collection of notes, there are different ways to go about searching for them. You may browse notes easily by note, notebook, tag, location, and more using the Sidebar. Click ‘Notes’ to browse all notes in an account at once.

‘Notebooks’ are a selection of relevant notes kept together in notebooks (like a diary of sorts). Essentially these are notes within notes. These are the most common ways people organise notes, which is useful when they can be separated by category, location or purpose. Your private notebooks will show the notebook name and the number of notes they contain. For example, you might create one notebook called ‘Work Notes’ and one called ‘Personal Notes’ to keep these types of notes separate and easier to find. A ‘Share Notebook’ feature allows contents of a notebook to be seen and edited by others; useful if working on a collaborative project. ‘Notebook Stacks’ is an optional way to organise multiple notebooks, which groups them into sets. Notebook Stacks are commonly used for grouping notebooks that have a similar broad topic or relating themes. All Evernote accounts have one default notebook that is automatically created when the account is created.

evernote notebook

The ‘Notebook’ Classification

You can also view using ‘tags’ and selecting the appropriate Tag button from the Sidebar. Please note that if there are no tagged notes in your Evernote account this option will not be visible in the Sidebar. To view all of the notes associated with a tag, double-click the tag. The notes will be shown in the Note List. Tags are an optional way to associate keywords to notes and improve searchability. One or more tags can be added when a note is created or at a later time. Common uses for tags include associating notes with categories, memories or locations. ‘Shortcuts’ are also used as the easy way to navigate directly to the items, like a…shortcut. You can create Shortcuts for notes, notebooks, Notebook Stacks and Tags, with up to 250 maximum.

Once you have organised your work, you can also search for them. Everything in Evernote can be fully searched. There are different search parameters you can try depending on your query. The most common is to use the ‘Type Ahead’ search. Just start typing in the Search notes field, and a drop-down will display search suggestions based on the contents of your Evernote account, including keywords, notebooks, tags and shortcuts. Users can also use the ‘Adding Search’ option, allowing searches to be limited to what and where in an account. Search Options are great if you have hundreds or thousands of notes in your Evernote account, but can be useful for anyone.

Criticisms of the System

The big issue for Phil Libin and his team when Evernote was starting up, was the differences between the ‘free’ and ‘premium’ accounts. His insistence that the free version be kept the same as the premium version on grounds of keeping first impressions excellent, was a pitfall that also sank the company. With a fully-stocked free version, there would be little point in upgrading to the paid account and the company started losing money.

That’s changed now. The free online service has monthly usage limitations (60 MB/month as of 2013), and displays a “usage” meter. A premium service is also available at $5 per month or $45 per year for 1,024 MB/month usage as of 2013.Premium features faster word recognition in images, greater security, and text searching within PDF files. Another advantage of the premium service is more options in the sharing process. Both free and premium Evernote users can share notebooks privately with other Evernote users. However, notebooks shared by premium users have the added benefit of allowing the premium user to give even non-premium users the permissions to edit the contents of the shared notebook. Non-premium users can share notebooks, but cannot give others permission to also edit the notebooks.

The most glaring absence from the free version is the ability to password protect your notes. This may be a ‘game changer’ for clinicians or researchers, who often keep notes that need to be secured. This, perhaps, should be implement across the whole model as no-one likes to have their work corrupted or lost. This issue was highlighted in March 2013 when Evernote was ‘hacked.’ The attackers gained access to their network and also the personal information of their user base including passwords, email address and usernames. Evernote urged users to quickly reset their passwords and stated it would investigate and reinforce security protocols. The other issue is that the free version does not allow offline access to your notes. Given that some places have poor signals, access to your work can be difficult or impossible.


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