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Evernote Throws in the Towel and Heads to the Elephant Graveyard

Evernote FailureRemember Evernote?

In the early 2000s it enjoyed a first-mover advantage in the emerging field of note-taking apps.  It was pretty cool in its day: enter your notes anywhere and they were synced with a grand repo in the sky.  You can create folders and take rich notes, and it had the world’s best web clipper.  In that era, the ability to take a snapshot of a web page and tuck it away in your notes was pretty cool.  Plus this was a true web service so you could write code against its APIs.

However, it eventually ran into problems, owing to a mix of growing pains, market forces, and incompetence:

  • Early on, they alienated their initial wave of adopters by radically changing the organizational structure from a “nested folders” concept to a “tags first” concept.  Although both approaches have merits, people who’d invested heavily in the former were unhappy about being shoehorned into the latter.
  • They went on a spending spree, snapping up small startups to fold in the code, some of which had only marginal appeal.
  • Microsoft entered the market with OneNote.  You might think EN is better than ON, but by putting it in the Office suit, that immediately made OneNote widely advertised and widely adopted by default.  I don’t know how many EN users jumped ship but it took the air out of future growth.
  • EN had a number of breaches, DDoS attacks, and other service problems.
  • They had a lot of engineering chaos.  First they decided to switch programming languages (from C# to C++), which is a big change.  Then as service rolled out to more platforms, they diverged in inconvenient ways: you could change fonts on some platforms but not others, rich text was available on some but not others, etc.  The web version was originally visually very similar to the desktop, but then they radically redesigned it, to a chorus of complaints.  Finally they jettisoned all of their desktop code and rewrote things in Electron, removing many features in the process.

Throughout all of this, Evernote continued to bleed users and bleed cash.  Early on there was talk of an upcoming IPO but that talk has been dead for a long time.  There were layoffs in 2015 and 2018, and last November they were bought by Bending Spoons, an Italian company, who promptly laid off even more.

Today, they finished the job, laying off virtually everyone in the US and moving all operations to Europe.

How much longer will EN be around?  Keeping it operational requires ongoing infrastructure, development work to support new platforms and updates, vigilance in security given that it’s highly personal data, and trying to compete against tech titans’ competitor apps.  Or even small ones – really, EN can’t hold a candle to Notion or Obsidian.

I wouldn’t want to have to bet on the elephant being agile enough to manage all of that in the long run.



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