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Evernote, the bug-ridden elephant.

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I haven't used Evernote in ages, preferring the security and controllability of a decent PIM client (currently using OneNote and InfoSelect, so I have a Client + Cloud duplication), but I was surprised to read this on (he's an Evernote addict). Caveat emptor, it seems:
(Copied below sans embedded hyperlinks/images.)
Evernote, the bug-ridden elephant
Posted on January 3, 2014 by Jason Kincaid

To say this post pains me would be an understatement. More than any other technology, Evernote is part of me, having evolved from habit to instinct over several years and nearly seven thousand notes. Every day ideas flit through my head, ideas for essays, for characters, for jokes. Just now I catch a glimpse of one, without thinking I am talking into my phone like a Star Trek Communicator, telling myself that maybe I should title this post Leaky Sync. Maybe not.

Because I use it so often, I am unusually familiar with the service’s warts. Evernote’s applications are glitchy to the extreme; they often feel as if they’re held together by the engineering equivalent of duct tape. Browser extensions crash, text cursors leap haphazardly across the screen — my copy of Evernote’s image editor Skitch silently failed to sync for months because I hadn’t updated to the new version. Most issues are benign enough, but the apps are so laden with quirks that I’ve long held a deep-seated fear that perhaps some of my data has not been saved, that through a syncing error, an accidental overwrite — some of these ideas have been forgotten.

As of last month, I am all but sure of it.

I’ve been learning how to write songs. It’s terrifying because I stink, so I trick myself, diddling around without actually intending to record anything. With any luck I reach a fugue state, vaguely listening for my fingers to do something interesting; sometimes instinct steers me toward the green elephant’s ‘record’ button and I play for a while.

And so I find myself on December 5, when a meandering session results in an 18 minute Evernote audio recording on my iPhone labeled “not bad halfway through” — high praise, for me. Some of the chord changes are sheer luck, no idea what I did but they sounded good the first time.

I decide to give it another listen with more discerning ears, self-loathing eagerly waiting in the wings.

And — nothing. Zero seconds out of zero seconds. It’s a blank file.

Alarmed, I tap record again, make another note. It won’t play, either.

Another. This one works.

One more. Zero out of zero.

I check the Wifi signal (fine). I let the phone sit for a while to sync, just in case. I head to the web app, which — thankfully — shows the note intact, with its attachment as an 8.7 megabyte .m4a file.

I try to open it in iTunes — it shrugs. Quicktime spits an error. Time to bust out the big guns. VLC.


Teeth grinding, I contact Evernote support. The process is slow and bumbling, but I’d like to think this has more to do with Evernote’s overly-structured ticket system than the people working there. Unfortunately, in the process of trying to learn what happened to my audio file, I discover another flaw in Evernote’s system.

As an apparently standard part of Evernote’s support process, it requests that users send over an Activity Log. This is a file generated by each Evernote application that records the myriad housekeeping events going on behind the scenes — ”Sending preference changes…”, and so on.

For most services this log wouldn’t make me bat an eye, but in many ways my Evernote archive is more sensitive than my Gmail account. With email, there’s always the possibility that the guy on the other end will forward the message along, so I tend to behave accordingly. With Evernote it’s just me. I try not to filter myself because that’s how creativity dies.

I ask the support person to verify that he will not have access to my data. No, he assures me. Just the meta data, like note titles (why Evernote doesn’t believe note titles are potentially sensitive is beyond me, but, in my case, they’re usually blank anyway).

Still, out of habitual paranoia, I skim through the log before sending. Thousands of lines of gibberish, dates and upload counts and [ENSyncEngine] INFO: Sending search changes.

And then I come across something more legible. It’s a text note I left a few evenings ago, a stray thought about sex, if I’m being honest. Further down, another note, the entire contents of the text, broken up by some HTML tags. And another.

Turns out there’s a bug, this time compliments of Evernote for Mac’s ‘helper’ — an official mini app that’s meant for jotting down notes without having to switch to the hulking beast that is the desktop application. On my Macbook Pro, running the latest version of Evernote for Mac, this ‘helper’ app records the entirety of any text it saves into the log file.

Alarmed and not a little bit furious that I nearly sent him some deeply embarrassing musings, I tell the support person about the issue, noting that it is a serious breach of privacy (and an obvious one, given that I noticed it in all of ten seconds).

They say to file another ticket.

As for the audio file: even more bad news.

It’s been nearly a month and the most substantive thing Evernote has said is that it is “seeing multiple users who have created audio notes of all sizes where they will not play on any platform.” The company has given me no information on what’s wrong with the corrupted file, and no indication that they might find a way to get it working in the future.

Adding further insult, the up-to-date iOS application continues to create corrupted audio notes, despite receiving an update on December 17, twelve days after I reported the issue. The support team actually couldn’t tell me whether that update addressed the audio problem — they said I should check the App Store release notes, which routinely includes the ambiguous line “bug fixes”, so I had to figure it out for myself. Two more corrupted notes later, I can say with some authority that it’s still there (I’ve also encountered a new issue, where some audio files simply vanish).

Through it all, the support team has displayed a marked lack of urgency that has bordered on nonchalance. Maybe they’re trained that way, or maybe data loss on Evernote isn’t as rare as I’d hope.

None of this has been life shattering, but given how reliant I am on Evernote it is deeply unnerving — now each note I instinctively leave myself is tinged with anxiety. I’m concerned that as I dig through my Evernote archive I’ll encounter more corrupted audio notes, and, worse, my paranoia is increasingly convinced that there may have been notes that never were saved to the archive at all.

More than that, I am alarmed that Evernote seems to be playing fast and loose with the data entrusted to it. Instead of building a product that is secure, reliable, and fast, it has spread itself too thin, trying to build out its install base across as many platforms as possible in an attempt to fend off its inevitable competition.

This strategy is tolerable for a social network or messaging app (Facebook got away with atrociously buggy apps for years). But Evernote is literally aiming to be an extension of your brain, the place to store your most important ideas. Its slogan is “Remember Everything”. Presumably the integrity of its data should be of the utmost importance.

What’s worse, it isn’t consistently improving. When iOS7 launched, Evernote was one of the first applications to overhaul with a new, ‘flat’ design, and as a result benefitted from being featured prominently within the App Store. But functionally, it was clearly a downgrade from the old app, with extra dollops of sluggishness, crashes, and glitches — it may well have introduced the audio recording bug I fell prey to (I believe it dates back to at least October, when I encountered a similar audio issue that I chalked up to user error).

Evernote’s security track record has been similarly frustrating. Asked in October 2012 why the service had not implemented the increasingly-common two-factor authentication option already offered by companies like Google, Evernote’s CEO, Phil Libin, wrote “Finding an approach that gives you increased security without making Evernote harder to use is not just a matter of adding two-factor authentication…”, implying that something better was on the way.

Five months later the promised security upgrade was still MIA — until Evernote was hacked, its database of user passwords was compromised, and the service rushed to implement a two-factor system that didn’t look much different from the sort Libin was apparently aiming to leapfrog.

This is a company with over $250 million in funding and 80 million users. And unlike many web services that promise exhaustive security and reliability, it’s one I actually pay for.

Ironically, the same day I was told Evernote didn’t have a fix for my corrupted music recording, the New York Times published an article about Evernote titled, An App That Will Never Forget a File.

--- End quote ---

I use it quite extensively... on several different platforms.  And I've not experienced anything like what he says.  If it was so endemic, especially being a web application used quite extensively by the userbase that he quoted, wouldn't there be more of a record of said lapses?  More people rising up as their data was lost?

Inquiring minds wonder...?

...If it was so endemic, especially being a web application used quite extensively by the userbase that he quoted, wouldn't there be more of a record of said lapses?  More people rising up as their data was lost? ...
-wraith808 (January 04, 2014, 01:02 PM)
--- End quote ---
Yes, one could presume so. I guess you could check the several Evernote user forums/discussion boards for an answer. Probably the user forum sponsored by Evernote would not be the most likely place to look though.
Like I said, "I haven't used Evernote in ages", so hadn't really kept up with its fortunes. I always thought it probably did what it was expected/designed to do, and so was surprised when I read about Jason Kincaid's post - it caught my eye in my RSS feed reader (BazQux).

I just did a DuckGo search on this, and saw that his post seems to have stimulated a fair amount of discussion. One could suppose that there is some frantic damage control going on behind the scenes at Evernote. Maybe the bug(s) highlighted by Kincaid's post will get fixed PDQ now! (Maybe that was the objective.)      ;D

Yes, one could presume so. I guess you could check the several Evernote user forums/discussion boards for an answer.
-IainB (January 05, 2014, 02:05 AM)
--- End quote ---

I already follow and talk to a lot of people that use evernote- writers for the most part on writing boards and such- and that was the reason that I was surprised.  With the number of people using it for novels, blog posts, role-playing games, etc, if it was as bad as he made it seem, I'd have heard about it was my point.  If it was *that* endemic, I'd have probably run across it by now with the sheer amount of information I have in there.

Doing a bit more research, I came across a couple of other articles from someone that had a couple of other things to say in relating such things (and someone I trust a bit more from experience)

I can see where they'd be a bit perturbed - I don't use audio recording in Evernote, and that's apparently what the complaint was about.  But that open letter missive didn't make it seem as though it was just that feature that was pissing him off.  It seemed that it didn't do what it should at base - sync notes.  And the "cloud is falling mentality" by someone who is followed has people looking at abandoning ship to a service that I *know* has problems (even though I still use it; I just mitigate the problems by another method), SimpleNote.

@wraith808: The many comments - apparently from concerned users - following Kincaid's post are somewhat interesting and revealing. I hadn't read them before now.
For example:

* Some commenters are thanking him for raising the reliability/buggy issues, saying that maybe Evernote will address these outstanding issues now. The implication would seem to be that they may have been outstanding for some time.
I'm not sure what discussion forums you frequent, but I would presume that might go some way towards answering your question:
...wouldn't there be more of a record of said lapses?
--- End quote ---

* Tracey Smith says:   
January 5, 2014 at 4:15 pm   
Read the CEO’S response to this post first though. It appears that he took Jason’s post to heart and that it’s “all hands on deck” to make improvements. Libin’s honesty has renewed my faith in Evernote.

--- End quote ---
So, if that is true, then maybe my supposition above ("Maybe that was the objective") wasn't all that far off the mark. Good response on Evernote's part.   :Thmbsup:

* Gavin says:   
January 5, 2014 at 4:39 pm   
...The software offers a service, he pays for this service, however the service doesn’t work reliably. Why would that unreliable software be above criticism? Are you really suggesting we should be finding work-arounds for poor software we pay for? This discussion isn’t anti-Evernote, this is holding Evernote to a high standard. We should absolutely be complaining when software fails provide the service we pay for.

--- End quote ---

Does  Evernote have a board/forum somewhere where is detailed what issues/bugs/features are under action/resolution/development and are to be addressed in forthcoming releases?


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