Why a plain-text nerd uses Evernote

Evernote Icon 150x 150People always seem surprised to find out I use Evernote, despite all of the plain-text tools at my fingertips. I thought I’d offer some explanation as to why and how I use Evernote.

The biggest knock against Evernote–from myself and others–is that the data isn’t easily portable. Let’s be clear, though, you can export individual notes as HTML files and you can mass export notes in a standard XML format that’s not too difficult to work with. You can drag a PDF or other file right out of Evernote. The fact is that Evernote is made for rich text and images; portability gets more difficult when you’re no longer just dealing with text. The Evernote->Together importer is a great example of making use of these features. Update: I almost forgot to mention the ENML Editor project, a web interface for editing Evernote’s XML output.

Given the above, I don’t use Evernote for “notes” anymore. If I’m typing a note, it’s in a text editor on my phone or nvALT on the desktop. I use Evernote for “temporary” items that make full use of Evernote’s searching, sorting and image recognition capabilities.

I use Evernote the most when I travel. It’s the fastest, easiest way to keep tickets, itineraries, reservations and expenses all neatly organized and at synced between all of my devices. When I park my car, I snap a picture of the nearest parking ramp column (with the color and row number) and stick it in the notebook for the trip. I believe in using the right software for the job, and–while Dropbox1 can cover a lot of bases–Evernote excels in this area. I don’t need this data to be portable later; when the trip is over, so is the lifespan of the notes.

I also use Evernote for grabbing images of receipts, both on the road and at home. Being able to snap pictures of paper receipts and print web receipts directly to the same bucket is important, and having automatic OCR on those images is priceless. I generally don’t need to reference my receipts after a year, so this data is temporary as well. If a receipt is for a large purchase or needs a longer lifespan, it’s probably going into my home inventory software or elsewhere anyway.

I know some of the guys at Evernote, and our history goes back a ways. I know that they’re passionate about their users, and the safety of their data. I trust Evernote to be there when I’m boarding the plane and–should the need arise–when I’m being audited. I don’t need it for simple notes, Notational Velocity, nvALT and plain text in general are faster, more portable and work across my devices. PDFs and images just make more sense in Evernote, so that’s what I use.

  1. Dropbox is great for making files available on your iPhone, but the OpenMeta tagging system I use on my desktop and laptop doesn’t sync to my mobile devices. I don’t like depending entirely on folders when I need to find something quickly.

Brett Terpstra

Brett is a writer and developer living in Minnesota, USA. You can follow him as ttscoff on Twitter, GitHub, and Mastodon. Keep up with this blog by subscribing in your favorite news reader.

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