Sunday, July 13, 2008

Evernote's import/export test (updated)

[see update - as of Sept 2008 Evernote has reformed]

Palm to iPhone migration is hard. In particular, what do we do with Tasks and Notes?

On the Task side we're waiting to see if either Apple decides to support Tasks (I guess their engineers are too young to have complicated lives), Google adds Tasks and iPhone sync, or OmniFocus supports import/export.

On the Notes side I took a look today at Evernote. Evernote follows the new model of web service, desktop app, phone support, and synchronization.

That's a tough development challenge, but it comes with a great business benefit. If customers don't keep paying, they lose access to their data.

I'm cautiously supportive of this model -- it means good developers can get predictable income without having to constantly obsolete existing software. On the other hand, there's a terribly powerful temptation to never quite build export capabilities. This produces Data Lock (see also: Data Lock search), an outcome that has sustained many a software empire. (To it's credit Google has been recently resistant, but maybe being ad supported and wealthy makes virtue easier ...)

The software as service solution means users need to examine and test export capabilities before they sign up with a service, and to retest regularly as the service evolves. If export starts to fail, bail.

So how does Evernote do?

I created a free account and downloaded the OS X desktop app to find out.

Sure enough, there's no import/export for OS X users. So that's a total fail.

Support has more information ...
Questions and Answers | Evernote Corporation

... Yes, you can import notes into Evernote for Windows in Evernote 2.x database (.enb), Evernote 2.x XML (.enx), and (in a future release) Evernote XML (.enx3) formats using the Note Import menu in Evernote Beta for Windows. There is also a Note Import Wizard menu for importing selected image, text, and HTML files. To get imported databases onto a Mac, first import the database into Evernote Beta for Windows, synchronize with the service, and then synchronize the Mac client with the service...

...you can export one or more notes from a notebook as an HTML formatted document from within Evernote for Windows using the Note > Export... menu. You can also export via e-mail using the Note > Send by Email... menu. This feature may be added to the Mac version in a future release....
That's a total fail, even on the better supported Windows platform. The minimum requirement would be a tab delimited export (this would require some data loss since Evernote attaches binary data) and a comprehensive XML export from the Evernote database.

So Evernote is not an option for my Palm to iPhone conversion, and I'd say it's not an option for anyone on any platform until they demonstrate Data Freedom.

Update: Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, responds in comments. Quote:
Data Freedom is vital to our plans. We're serious about Evernote as an "external brain" and that means users have to have confidence that their memories will always be accessible. Part of that accessibility is making sure that users can import/export Evernote data in standard formats with no restrictions. Our current limitations on import/export capabilities are due to developer resource constraints, not any philosophical or business reasons; we can't afford to do import/export poorly because that could muck with your data and flood our support lines. Doing it well takes time.

We're currently testing a full set of Evernote APIs that will give people a lot of options for getting data in and out. We'll roll these out publicly later in the summer. We'll also be expanding the structured import/export capabilities on the local clients, though I don't have a specific date on that yet. We're doing this because data freedom is good for more than just peace of mind - it'll let us build lots of great functionality that we couldn't accomplish with a "walled garden" approach.

I'm glad you like Evernote enough to try it and I hope you take a look at our import/export capabilities once we launch them.

--
Phil Libin
Ok, I'm impressed. I revised the title of my post to "fails ... for now".

If Evernote really does deliver on their Data Freedom promises, I'll be a happy paying customer.

Update 7/27/08: I'm warming to Evernote as I make my painful adjustment to the iPhone. In fact, I expect to become a paying customer it it continues to work as well as it has today.

Evernote appears on initial iPhone tests to have significant value as a transient repository. I send things there I'll process later, including voice notes that may turn into tasks, notes, etc. Thing's I'd have once scrawled on my Palm screen as "ink" work better as Evernote sound fragments with optional metadata.

As a transient repository data lock is not an issue, and if Phil is able to deliver on his data freedom promises it will have more value. The key for me is that it has real value now.

Update 8/17/08: I find this post from 2005:

Laura
Mar 14, 2005 at 12:09 pm

I, too, was waiting eagerly for the web clipping function to be enabled for Firefox. Wait no longer ..

..Now, I’m waiting (im)patiently for some kind of export feature! Evernote obviously is a database, so I’m thinking an export to a comma-delimited file, or a spreadsheet would be nice.

That was three years ago. Phil Libin has no credibility when he talks about data freedom.

Update 10/3/08: Evernote has reformed, and Phil Libin has credibility again. They have an API and XML import/export. It's not the simple tab delimited format anyone can use, but that format is a poor match for Evernote's data complexity. Full credit for turning the corner!

Update 12/27/09: I took a look at Evernote again. The OS X manual still doesn't reference any import tool other than using Evernote's own XML format.

10 comments:

Phil said...

John,

Data Freedom is vital to our plans. We're serious about Evernote as an "external brain" and that means users have to have confidence that their memories will always be accessible. Part of that accessibility is making sure that users can import/export Evernote data in standard formats with no restrictions. Our current limitations on import/export capabilities are due to developer resource constraints, not any philosophical or business reasons; we can't afford to do import/export poorly because that could muck with your data and flood our support lines. Doing it well takes time.

We're currently testing a full set of Evernote APIs that will give people a lot of options for getting data in and out. We'll roll these out publicly later in the summer. We'll also be expanding the structured import/export capabilities on the local clients, though I don't have a specific date on that yet. We're doing this because data freedom is good for more than just peace of mind - it'll let us build lots of great functionality that we couldn't accomplish with a "walled garden" approach.

I'm glad you like Evernote enough to try it and I hope you take a look at our import/export capabilities once we launch them.

--
Phil Libin
CEO, Evernote

John Gordon said...

Phil, I found this forum comment from 2005:

Laura
Mar 14, 2005 at 12:09 pm

... I’m waiting (im)patiently for some kind of export feature! Evernote obviously is a database, so I’m thinking an export to a comma-delimited file, or a spreadsheet would be nice.

Obviously, that was three years ago. I think only actions count now.

Anonymous said...

if you go to user/library/application support/evernote, you can find the notes as html files. The note titles are missing so not very elegant, but your info is at least available.

John Gordon said...

I knew about the html export, but it's so feeble it's truly a fig leaf.

Other than allowing evernotes to say they export data, it serves no purpose.

I am very skeptical about their commitment to data freedom.

aswick said...

I am moving from Google Notebook to Evernote (Mac, web & iPod Touch) and I see the same issues.

Go to Google Notebook and click on a notebook title. All of the notes within the notebook will be opened in a list. Now, click the print link at the bottom of the page. You will see a very nice HTML representation of the notebook.

Yes, the XML export is a great start, but why can't I do all of this in Evernote (Mac or web versions)? Why can't I export a note or group of notes to my blog? Google Notebook HTML can be easily copy/pasted into Blogger. VoodooPad also has HTML export as well as Word export.

I do like Evernote's Spotlight integration in OS X.

Evernote is a great start, but this is missing functionality that needs to be there.

aswick said...

As a correction to my prior post, you can view a single note in Evernote web in HTML, select and copy the contents, and retain the formatting when pasting into Blogger. This is for a single note only, it does not apply to an entire notebook or multiple notebooks as far as I can see.

R/J said...

This is still datalock. Exporting to xml is not the same thing as liberating an rtf, pdf, or what ever the original file was. This is not the same thing as the open libraries of EagleFiler, Devonthink, etc. They store files in original format. Also, OCR is lost on export from Evernote, right? My grade = Evernote FAILS on export for the VAST MAJORITY of users.

The Skeptic said...

I was operating under the assumption that when information went into Evernote, there was no getting it back.

I have used the program to export all of my notebooks to html. I got an html file that is 7MB and a folder with 1,994 files, including all original PDFs and jpegs.

The html file put my web clippings together nicely, displayed my jpegs, and provided links to my PDFs.

I am still hyper critical of Evernote. I assumed they wanted to hook customers by not allowing them easy access files to the original files. Also, I do not assume my information is private. I do not put any financial or personal information into Evernote.

But, the good news is, I got my files back! Now I can keep backups of the actual files on my computer.

I hope this helps.

Christoph Dollis said...

It's nearly 2 years after Phil Libin's comment and — software online and offline — I'm still not seeing any export capabilities other than to Evernote's proprietary *.enex format.

I left this comment on the Evernote blog in reply to Scott Rose's comment:

"Evernote STILL locks you in by not being able to export to any format that any other note-taking app can understand."

Quite.

Phil, is this by design or lack of resources to make it happen (yet)?

In July '08, you left an awesome comment at tech.kateva.org about Evernote's commitment to "Data Freedom" and "making sure that users can import/export Evernote data in standard formats with no restrictions."

Can we?

If so, how? If not, when?

Evernote is a wonderful tool. And it should, as promised, have export capabilities to non-proprietary file formats. Don't you agree?

- - -

Hopefully Phil will reply and update us as to when this will be accomplished.

Christoph Dollis said...

Important update:

Looking again, I realize users can go to a given notebook, select all of the notes, and export them also to .html (with files exported as well), .mht archive, or .txt.

Previously, I was simply using the Evernote Windows client File > Export, which does limit options to *.enex.

While I'd prefer to have the other export options here as well (and it would have resulted in a much better user experience too as I wouldn't have felt the same angst that my export options were unduly limited), I feel much better knowing that I have these options, albeit with more labor involved (to have to go into each notebook).

So thanks for that, Phil!

One quibble: Why not export the title of the notes? It's missing, and it would be easy enough to add under the dividing line between the notes.

[I will cross post this at the Evernote blog.]