Help me migrate away from Evernote
October 1, 2015 11:36 AM   Subscribe

I have been a heavy user of Evernote for several years, but increasingly I find it is unreliable and performs poorly. I need to handle notes which include different media formats, which I don't have to explicitly organize, and which can be large. I don't want to interact with the file system directly. I would prefer an open solution that does these things well and doesn't do other stuff. Help me find a substitute with the features I need -- and migrate my data.

I like Evernote primarily for two reasons:
  1. It tolerates many content formats, including in combinations. I need to be able to seamlessly store notes that can be (in order of importance):
    • plain or rich text,
    • text including inline images and PDFs (which can be anything from whole books to clipped paragraphs),
    • images,
    • PDFs,
    • web pages.

  2. It tolerates a flat organizational structure. I can put almost everything in 1-2 notebooks and still have a reasonable time finding stuff, because it is all searchable (including images and PDFs, including my messy handwriting).
The feature I need that Evernote doesn't handle well is larger notes. I may write thousands of words in a note, and / or it may have a 10MB PDF attachment. I need these notes to handle snappily.

These features together mean that something like the Dropbox file system is not (by itself) a good substitute for me. Files are not the unit of structure I want to see. The abstraction of a note, which has a title and text, and file attachments (which can be presented inline), is ideal for me. (A note could be a web page, but 1) I don't want to see the files that realize the webpage, 2) HTML is much more expressive than I need.)

So: what do I do? Are there other products that will do this for me, without the bloat?

My first choice would be a system that does these things and nothing else, that I could run on a remote Linux system under my own control and access using lightweight tools from my OS X machine.

Syncing to my local machine would be nice.

Some ability to use from iOS and Android would be nice, but there doesn't have to be an app.

But, really, any suggestions are welcome.
posted by grobstein to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: A wiki with drag-and-drop file attachments would go a long way towards what I need. I need adding file attachments to be a one-step process: I drag an image into the text of a note, and it appears inline. I don't want to see the find file-upload-find link-link loop.
posted by grobstein at 11:46 AM on October 1, 2015

i am not sure a wiki will let you search inside a pdf document that's been added (sorry, i don't know of a good solution - if evernote does all that it's actually pretty neat imho). (edit: have you considered upgrading hardware if performance is an issue?)
posted by andrewcooke at 12:04 PM on October 1, 2015

It's feature in Evernote Premium.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:08 PM on October 1, 2015

I can't vouch for either one of these but my search for self hosted evernote alternatives came up with these 2 promising options:

posted by eatcake at 12:20 PM on October 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have you tried the new Notes app in El Capitan? It has a lot of new features.

Onenote seems to be the goto Evernote alternative. I can't stand the UI that MS puts on all their apps, but maybe that's just me.
posted by Huck500 at 12:27 PM on October 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: (edit: have you considered upgrading hardware if performance is an issue?)

I have modern hardware that does everything else I need swimmingly. Except for Evernote, I expect all my important software to run at tolerable speeds for years to come. I expect I will replace the machine for mechanical failure well before it would be too slow for my apps.

My belief / hope is that the useful underlying tasks performed by Evernote should not strain my hardware at all, if implemented efficiently, but that the Evernote app is suffering from bloat / feature creep.
posted by grobstein at 1:27 PM on October 1, 2015

Have you tried Yojimbo? The only thing you won't get is searchable images or non-text pdfs, that's all done server side by evernote.
posted by zabuni at 4:02 PM on October 1, 2015

Just a thought, and you've probably tried, but it's worth checking - does the Evernote *web* interface perform just as poorly as the native app? (Also, I believe a new web interface was released not too long ago, so if you haven't used it for a while it might be better than the last time you tried it.)

For OCR of handwritten text, you could also try writing your notes with a smartpen that does OCR for you, like Livescribe, and then use the resultant OCR'd artifact in whatever notes app you choose. I haven't got one myself so can't speak to either their OCR quality or the kind of workflow this would result in.
posted by snap, crackle and pop at 5:21 PM on October 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have you tried cutting your notebooks into multiple notebooks? And just deleting or archiving stuff from your notebooks? I moved a bunch of things around in my evernote so that I had things I accessed very often in one notebook, and then a sort of working stack of notebooks and a stack of archived notebooks, and there does seem to be a slight difference between the two sets.

How many notes do you have and how big is your evernote database? If you're fully sync'd up online, I would try wiping your local installation completely then reinstalling evernote and resyncing it and see if that helps. I have 16.8GB in Evernote for about 20,000 notes, about 50% PDFs and other files, and it is pretty fast, but in February I wiped my laptop and reinstalled and it was notably faster after that.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:21 PM on October 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

OneNote. Please.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:16 PM on October 1, 2015

OneNote does have that Microsoft UI glop, but so far for me, I consider it their unheralded gem.
posted by Chitownfats at 10:41 PM on October 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've seen a number of writers and academics mention Devonthink positively.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:06 AM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thirding OneNote.

Another app to consider is Scrivener. Its main purpose is writing, but it excels as a way to collect and organize research, including PDFs, images, audio, web pages, etc. (And can easily deal with lots of long text.) I have a single "file"* that contains three complete books and a GB of research material, and I've never seen it struggle to do anything.

It does however come with a learning curve. The manual it comes with is a bit to get through. However there are tons of good tutorials by third parties. Google is your friend. Oh, and it doesn't do OCR. If that's a deal breaker, your options are probably limited to OneNote and DevonThink.

*Internally it stores every note/doc as a separate file, mostly standard .RTF that you can edit seperately if you want to, which is probably why it can deal with huge archives without problems)
posted by Ookseer at 1:06 AM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I like OneNote. It has worked better for me than Evernote. Evernote does a better job at dealing with webpages, but OneNote feels so much more powerful, and can reliably recognize my handwriting. As well as search PDF: super reliable.

However, I find it best when well organized. If you don't want a structure, OneNote makes it super easy to tag things.
posted by troytroy at 6:38 PM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

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