The State of Evernote as a PKM
TL;DR: Evernote has a solid feature set with even a few features that are exceptional like Home and Tasks integration, but it still lacks modern features like bi-directional linking, Daily Notes, and inline queries that make it feel like using a Playstation 2 in a world where the Playstation 5 exists.
I've been an Evernote user since 2008. That's 14 years. And lately I've jumped back in just to see how things have changed. They’ve always had solid apps and I’ve been curious while I’m waiting for other PKM apps to release their mobile apps.
There have been some positive changes for sure, but it still feels a bit dated in other ways.
Over the last 5-6 years or so new players have come to the arena that have completely changed the game of note-taking and Evernote just feels behind. I’ll use this example again later in this post, but Evernote feels like a Blackberry in an iPhone world. Blackberries were super solid devices, but they just couldn’t compete when the iPhone came out.
So can Evernote be used as a modern PKM? I know that really anything can be used as a personal knowledge mangement app, but note every note-taking app can stack up as a "modern" PKM app. There are a lot of new features that modern PKM apps have that Evernote is missing.
Where Evernote Falls Short
Linking Your Notes
One of the first evolutions in note-taking apps was Notebooks. So you make a bunch of notes and think, "I need to store these somewhere specific." So you make a Notebook. You can store your work notes in a Work notebook, personal notes in Personal notebooks, and so on.
And then we started making Notebooks within Notebooks. So you would make a Notebook for Meeting Notes inside of your Work Notebook.
But what if you had a note that could sort of fit in both Work and Personal, what could you do? Well you could duplicate the note and store it in both, which isn't optimal, or you could use Tags.
Tags were the next phase of organization. This way you could tag one note with both Work, Personal, Meeting Note, etc. So one note could be filtered with all sorts of tags. You could make sure a note could be identified with all of its properties instead of a generic Notebook like Work which isn't specific at all.
Most note-taking apps stopped with tags. But that evolution was a long time ago. So what is the next way of organizing after that?
Bi-directional linking with backlinks.
Roam wasn't the first app to have bi-directional linking, but it may have been the first to popularize it. It made it super easy to start linking your notes simply by using double brackets around a word. Now you could start linking at the word level instead of just at the document level. I could link all my notes and not even have to worry about some rigid organizational structure. I can just link my notes all together like a Wikipedia page. I can jump from one note to another note, to another note, and so on.
But Evernote doesn't have bi-directional linking with backlinks. Bi-directional linking is like Retina Display on Apple devices. When I worked at the Apple Store customers would ask me, "Is the Retina display really worth it on a laptop?" I would then ask them, "Have you ever used a Mac with a Retina display?" If they said no then I would respond with, "Then you will be fine without one. But once you start using a Mac with a Retina display you will not want to use any mac without one."
The same is true with bi-directional linking. If you've never used bi-directional linking then you will be fine with just tags and Notebooks. But once you start linking your notes, you won’t be able to go back to just tags and notebooks.
Once you start linking your notes each note will then have a Backlinks section that shows where each note has been mentioned. This is insanely useful and allows you to jump around each note and see connections that you might not have seen before.
There also is a section called Unlinked References which shows you were this document name has shown up in other notes you've taken and gives you the opportunity to go ahead and link them all. It's absolutely a gamechanger.
One of my favorite features of modern PKMs is Daily Notes. Sometimes I just want to jot down a few notes without making an entire "note" or "document".
Daily Notes produces a new note for each day. This is one place where you can just write down any thoughts you have throughout the day. I'm in love with Daily Notes. I almost can't live without it sadly. I start a Daily Note in Obsidian with a template and fill it out throughout the day.
New notes can start from the Daily Note as well.
Evernote has a Home feature where you can jot down some notes on a sticky note, but it stays there every day. If this refreshed each day and stored yesterday's sticky notes to an individual note, then you would have something cool.
But as of now, Evernote does not have any Daily Notes feature.
Folding Text, Queries, Embeds, Graph View
There are a few other features that are nice to have, but I could live without if need be.
Folding text might be considered a feature I can't live without actually. If you are a document style app like Evernote then look to Obsidian on how to do folding text. It's insanely useful. Being able to collapse entire sections of your docment allows you to scan over the page quickly and just focus on one section at a time. If you don't have folding text then consider adding it.
Inline queries are a tool that I've been using more and more lately. Inline queries allow you to perform an advanced search from within a note. So if I'm writing about Morning Routines and I want to see anything I've tagged or linked related to that, I could pull up an inline query as I'm writing and it will show all my blocks of text that match my search criteria.
Evernote has a really nice Filter search within the Home section, but it can only be used in Home. That's not too bad. There are a lot of apps that still don't have inline queries. It's not essential, but it's nice to have.
More and more people are using PKM's to embed Tweets and YouTube Videos. Being able to embed a YouTube video and take notes as you watch it is a gamechanger. It's so nice when the PKM has the ability to timestamp your notes as you watch a video. And I love embedding tweets to be able to surface later. Embeds still aren't done well in a lot of apps inlcuding Obsidian so I would still consider it a bit niche, but it's obviously the future. Evernote does not have anything like this.
And lastly Graph View. The ability to view all of your notes as a connected graph is really nice. I don't actually use it that much, but it's really fun to look at and feel like you've accomplished a lot of writing. But it is nice to find random connections you didn't know about and find orphan notes that aren't connected to anything. Graph View isn't essential to me, but again, it's another feature that when done well can really get people hooked.
Controversial opinion: I don't care if Evernote adds Markdown support. I just don't. I just want to be able to style my text quickly. If that can be done by other means, that's fine with me. If this is a feature that requires them to rewrite their editor then I would say it isn't worth it. I don't think it would be a game changer for a lot of people. I know people want it, but the average note-taker doesn't care and likely doesn't even know what Markdown is.
What Evernote Does Well
Most modern PKMs don't have a mobile app. If they do, it's usually just a web app that is in the App Store. Obsidian has an app, but it has no modern features of an iOS app like push notification support, widget support, calendar integration, Apple Watch app, etc. So it's in the App Store...but it's not an "app" the way Craft is. But it's something.
Evernote has a great app. It has push notification support, calendar integration, widget support, and more. It's fast and looks great. It's made for the iPhone meaning that the touch points are all the appropriate sizes. The problem with a lot of modern PKM apps and web apps is that their touch points are still small which make them hard to use. You need to make them bigger for mobile. Evernote does this very well.
Creating a new note is super easy and everything just runs so smoothly. It's another testament in how a native app just runs faster than a web app.
Evernote introduced this new feature called Home in the last few years and, honestly, it's great.
One thing people love doing with apps like Notion, Obsidian, and Roam is making a sort of dashboard that shows a lot of information at one time. Home is basically that. It's a dashboard where you can show all sorts of things like Pinned Notes, Filtered Notes, Tasks, Calendar, Recent Web Clips, and more.
It's fantastic. It really is. I love it. It is absolutely a killer feature. It's so insanely useful. You can add widgets and take some away and rearrange them. It allows you to see a lot of your notes in different ways at a glance. I would love to see more apps have a Daily Notes section with widgets like this.
This may be one of the most impressive new features. It's impressive because they have one of the greatest implementaitons of Tasks within note-taking that I've seen. Amplenote may be a close competitor, but Evernote may be just a bit slicker looking.
What this allows you to do is create a task within your notes that gets collected in a Tasks section that can also be viewed on your Home section. It's shockingly well done. That's not to say Evernote can't do things well, but a feature like this is done better than Roam, Notion (which doesn't have this feature), Craft, Obsidian doesn't even have this natively, RemNote, and more.
It's a killer feature that other apps should take note of and try and implement.
PDF's, Readwise, Templates, Audio, & More
Evernote also still has the great features that they've had for a while that make it great:
That's quite a feature list when you add it all up. So why hasn't it been more popular lately? Let's jump to the conclusion to answer that.
So with all those great features why does Evernote still feel...old?
Because despite all the awesome features, without bi-directional linking and backlinks, it still feels like using a Playstation 2 in a world where Playstation 5 exists.
It feels like using a Blackberry in an iPhone world.
Bi-directional linking is just THAT revolutionary in the world of note-taking. It is.
If I was put in charge of the direction of Evernote for some random reason, I would immediately make this priority number 1. We would pour all of our resources into it because it's the biggest evolution of note-taking and would be a natural fit for Evernote.
Bi-directional linking is the Pareto Principle of features: it is the small 20% feature that can make 80% of the difference. I would say that if they added bi-directional linking with backlinks that they would see an increase in user sign up that they haven't seen in years.
If you work at Evernote and are seeing this, start using Obsidian and throw all your Evernote notes into it. Start linking your notes using bi-directional linking and start to see the benefit. Look at your graph and see the awesome connections you can find when you start linking.
If Evernote implemented bi-directional linking and folding text I would seriously look at using it as my every day driver and so would many other people. Because you would add that on top of an already killer mobile app, iPad app, macOS app, and a long list of features. It would jump Evernote into the conversation of best note-taking apps available now. Their mobile app alone with bi-directional linking would be absolutely killer!
Evernote is still a stellar app that anyone can use for serious note-taking. But until bi-directional linking gets added it will still feel like an older note-taking app. Taking notes and note being able to properly link the notes together just seems pointless now in the world of bi-directional linking. But Evernote has a solid base to build off of. It may have one of the most feature-ful bases out there right now. I hope that they truly consider adding linking in the future. It could have massive dividends.
Thanks for listening to my ramblings on this!