Evernote Wants to Make Your Memories More Magical

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the way average people think. “The human brain evolved over millions of years to be good at certain types of things and bad at other types of things, and I think in the past 20 to 30 years a lot of software has ignored that,” he says. When designers and programmers find the formula that clicks with users’ real behavior, “you are happy, productive, and gratified. So what we are trying to do with Evernote is return things to the way your brain worked 10,000 years ago.”

All of which takes a very different skill set from the classic programming work. Creating the new Evernote apps has been “15 percent CS-hard and 85 percent design-hard,” he says. “The UX [user-experience] stuff is far harder, because it’s ignoring the past several decades of horrible information design and saying ‘Let’s pretend this is being built for humans to use in a natural way.”

But when it works, the outcome can be heartwarming. Libin says he got an e-mail last week from the father of a 9-year-old boy with autism. The man said he and his son had recently been spending a lot of time together using the iPad version of Skitch, which provides extremely simple tools for adding boxes, circles, arrows, and labels to photos or screen shots.

“The guy said, ‘He can draw arrows to say what’s important. It feels like a very natural type of communication.’ It makes sense to us, because 10,000 years ago, when a group of people wanted to get something accomplished, they would sit together in a cave and draw in the sand with a pointy stick. Then, at some point, we stopped doing that and started writing passive-aggressive e-mails to each other. We’re just trying to strip away the weird, unnatural forms of communication that have built up over the years.”

It’s a grand vision, and Evernote is only at the start. As it tries to create more hooks into users’ everyday activities, the startup will have to figure out which tools make sense as standalone apps, and which should be added to the central Evernote application. It will also have to pay attention to relations with its growing community of third-party developers, many of whom are working on their own apps that enhance and interconnect with Evernote. Libin says the company is happy to promote third-party apps—even if they compete with Evernote’s own apps—as long as they improve the experience for users.

The key thing for developers—and future users—to know, says Libin, is that Evernote service is no longer about just about storing memories, but about giving them meaning. “Probably 98 percent of the notes people store didn’t exist a few seconds before they were created,” he says. “They are memories that happened, where Evernote was there at the birth of it. Then when I put it into Evernote, I want to see it in context with everything else. If you just want a storage and synchronization engine, you should use Dropbox or iCloud or something. If you are putting it in Evernote, it really should be open to the rest of the user’s experience.”

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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4 responses to “Evernote Wants to Make Your Memories More Magical”

  1. Wade,

    I’m surprised you did not mention Pinterest in this piece. It’s the biggest threat to my own Evernote loyalty. I get the distinction you draw between privately amassing the stuff you want to remember on Evernote, versus the completely public nature of Pinterest. But the visual side of it and the consumer base it so quickly assembled tells you that “simple and beautiful” have a lot over the more fully featured services that the geeky crowd adopts. For now I am straddling both the Pinterest and Evernote universes and maybe I always will. But to reach the numbers you project, Evernote really needs the more influential Pinterest crowd than the Techcrunch one.

  2. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    Jules: Thanks for the comment. I have to confess that I still don’t understand the appeal of Pinterest. They’ve certainly nailed the simple, beautiful, visual approach, which is what Evernote is now aspiring to, for very good reasons. But I don’t get how Pinterest fits into the workflow of its users or makes their information environments easier to manage, whereas Evernote clearly does. (Maybe the fact that I use terms like “workflow” and “information environment” means I’m just too far over on the geek side of the spectrum to get it.)

  3. Wade, you pretty much answered your own question. For the two ton gorilla of consumer applications (women) workflow would include a much broader array of needs than Evernote addresses. The uses might look a bit frivolous or personal to a non-Pinterest user but they are pretty central to a Pinterest user’s life.