Evernote vs. Raw Files

Apr 15, 2016
Joe Buhlig
~2 mins

Ever since I published an article about leaving Evernote I’ve received numerous recommendations for alternatives. It seems there is an endless supply of catchall buckets that you can drop information into. I appreciate all the ideas, but it isn’t the point.

The majority of my complaints with Evernote revolve around portability and a proprietary format. It’s not an easy task to work with the notes in other applications and it’s not trivial to take the text out of the note, work on it, and bring it back in on iOS. But there are a lot of the details that have me avoiding Evernote and its alternatives.

Formatting Text

I just don’t do it. 95% of all my writing is in markdown. I’m even starting to do this when I take handwritten notes. The only time I don’t use markdown is when I’m creating a Pages document for a client, which is rare anymore. So I never have a need to create rich text in any way. That mostly stems from my medium of sharing words: the web. Everything eventually ends up in HTML and the words I type that don’t end up on the web are short-form or for personal reference. In either case, I don’t have the need or the time to make something bold or change a font size. To me, it has just as much impact in its natural state as it does formatted.

Checklists

I used to keep all my checklists in Evernote. I even found a way to do recurring checklists in Evernote. But that was before I moved every task item into OmniFocus. My Evernote lists worked great at the time, but I prefer the consolidation of every action item in one place and all reference material in a separate place.

Pictures and Files

One major benefit to using Evernote is the ability to keep pictures and files right alongside of the text that you’re storing. It’s an awesome feature, but it comes with a lot of downsides. What if I need to edit the picture or file? It’s rare that I don’t make changes to them in some way. It might be annotations or adding lines to a spreadsheet but if I want to do anything with them I need to make sure I’m on my Mac. It works pretty well there, but the moment you try this on iOS it gets really messy, really fast. The extra work and time involved in pulling it off is not for me. Keeping everything in a single folder in DropBox is much more compatible with the tools I prefer to use.

Storage Style

I’m grateful for all the suggestions on alternatives to Evernote. I now know there are a lot of great ones out there. But I think I’ve developed a new (old?) information storage preference. I enjoy the flexibility of working with standard file types themselves. They’re easy to use and predict, and my use of them is not dependent on the features of a single company or application. If I want to make edits to my information, I don’t have to use a specific app to do it. And I can move from one system to another with little to no overhead and migration steps. I’m free from a single ecosystem; that’s what I like about it.