1-30-16 Hodgepodge

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Evernote's "5% Problem"

I have been following tech news about the Evernote productivity app/service for some time, being an occasional user and seeing sporadic predictions of the company's demise lately. One such piece made a point that might be useful generally:

[The then CEO Phil Libin] conceded that Evernote had so many features, in fact, that it could sometimes be difficult to explain to newcomers exactly what Evernote was:

"What winds up happening at Evernote conferences is that people go and they say, 'Oh, I love Evernote and I've been using it for years and now I realize I've only been using it for 5 percent of what it can do,' " Libin said. "And the problem is that it's a different 5 percent for everyone. If everyone just found the same 5 percent, then we'd just cut the other 95 percent and save ourselves a lot of money. It's a very broad usage base. And we need to be a lot better about tying it together. And I think we have. We've got a few things we're launching over the next few months to help with that."

Evernote had spread itself too thin, and there was no core experience. Though Evernote did, in fact, continue to push out new features and products, they never managed to fix the underlying problem. [bold added]
This might also explain something I have observed several times: Some people swear that they could never get by without Evernote, while many others don't quite get what all the fuss is about. I am one of the latter. Perhaps the five percent I tried wasn't the right five percent to hook me...

Weekend Reading

"Assuming you genuinely want to keep a rational resolution but your motivation is flagging, here are a few techniques that might help you achieve your goal." -- Paul Hsieh, in "Are You Struggling to Keep Those New Year's Resolutions?" at Forbes

"The aurocentric view also makes the question a lot simpler." -- Keith Weiner, in "Will Gold Outperform Stocks?" at SNB & CHF

"If work refers to a constant state of negotiation or angst, then there's something not right in the match between the two people." -- Michael Hurd, in "One More Time: Good Relationships Are Not Work!" at The Delaware Wave

"Fear is too often motivated by the search for an impossible and unnecessary 'security.'" -- Michael Hurd, in "Why Be So Afraid of Fear?" at The Delaware Coast Press

"It is revealing of our present intellectual climate that a reputable, intellectual magazine -- for decades a bastion of American liberalism -- has published an article that calls for putting hammer and chisel to the wall separating religion from state as a means of abating the threat from a cause seeking religious totalitarianism." -- Elan Journo, in "Devaluing Secular Government?" at The Times of Israel

I Wish More of Microsoft's Customers Thought Like Her

The Evil HR Lady writes of time-tracking software:
I love data. In fact, I spent many, many years doing data based HR jobs. Data, properly used can tell you things you never imagined. Like, did you know that it's taking your employees 20 hours a week to create reports in Excel? That doesn't mean they are slacking off. That's how long it takes. Could time be used more wisely by paying a programmer to come in and automate the reporting process? Maybe. It depends on the reports and your business, but I'm of the mindset that anything that can be automated should be.
Microsoft's GUI-centric approach to everything stops or slows down more advanced users from making simple automations. I think it also thwarts curiosity and experimentation by its user base, who never develop computational expertise past a certain very basic, naive point.

That said, I recently encountered a very good article that purports to explain how, in its words, "Shitty Products Survive (and Thrive!)." Perhaps not having to train people up more than makes up for inflexibility in most use cases.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

Back when I was a computer tech, in the early days of the micro-computer industry, I would get complaints from customers about how often they would need to get new computers because their old computers would bog down and become progressively less productive. I told them that there was a simple fix to the problem. Buy the latest version of the software that you need to run your business, buy the hardware you need to run it (generally the 2nd tier hardware from the latest release) and don't upgrade the software past its first anniversary date.

The thing that drove hardware purchases back then was something we hardware techs fondly referred to has 'bloat-ware'. That is, the software engineers were saving coding time by using the greater speed and power of the newest processors and memory to run their programs rather than spending time optimizing the same. And that was murder on legacy systems; they would slow down to a crawl, become progressively less productive, more frustrating, and, in the end, prompt yet another expensive hardware upgrade.

Now to be fair, some software users didn't have that luxury, particularly the accounting types that had to update their software to reflect changing tax and regulatory fiat from the gov't. But what I explained to them was the difference between and update and an upgrade; they may eventually have to upgrade but if they would stick to updates until they became untenable, they could stretch out the time period between stints on the 'hardware treadmill'.

But most couldn't resist the bright and shiny new features that the latest upgrade of their software would bring, whether they were going to actually use those new features or not. As a result, they'd be back in the next year, bitching about how of they 'had' to buy new hardware.

Now, in my own case, the primary forms generator and billing processor that I'm am using reside in Lotus 123 spreadsheets, on a Compaq Contura Laptop, running DOS 6.0 and Windows 3.1, that I purchased in 1993. And technically, it is no longer a laptop; the thermo-plastic surrounds on the pot-metal hinges for the display are broken so I have to keep the 'laptop' in the same place on the desk, propping the display against the prototype HP LaserJet 4 printer that I picked up for $50.00 at a bankruptcy sale. It amuses me that every time I buy toner, I put in twice the value of consumables than I paid for my vintage Laser 4.

Do I get frustrated with some of the quirks, the difficulty of offloading data files, and other problems with using dated technology? Yup. But then again, I can sit down and print out a form that I have optimized over 15 years of use which would probably cost me 30 or 40 hours to duplicate in modern spreadsheet software.

I'm not a complete Luddite. I bought a new computer last year because my 2006-era Dell with Windows XP was no longer up to the task of running the latest iteration of QuickBooks. And speaking of bloatware... The only reason that QuickBooks is 'quick' is because of the monster processor and memory with the computer on which it resides.

c andrew

Gus Van Horn said...


I now have a similar "laptop" to yours. During the move, the case of my trusty netbook cracked, making it impossible to open or shut it without causing further damage. (It was also showing evidence of perhaps a loose connection between the screen and the motherboard, and was starting to have trouble booting up). It now lives in a corner of our master bedroom, where I can use it as an extra terminal in our home network, but I might stick it in the kitchen since that would make it really easy to update shopping lists, check email, etc.

Sadly, tablets killed off netbooks a couple of years ago, so I had to replace this with a regular laptop, which just feels huge to me, and won't be as useful should I end up having to commute by train or shuttle bus. For that purpose, I may buy a Chromebook and install Linux on it, if that's truly a feasible option, so I can run Emacs on it and get some productive use out of it.

Little seems to have changed since the time you describe. Broad market shifts are driven by software bloat and the "new and shiny," and, although the technology is a marvel, I am often flabbergasted by how inefficiently it is used.