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[Digital Simplicity] Changing technology for handling personal database

Embattled Evernote cripples free plan as concept of data synchronization gets outdated



Evernote, a note-taking and archiving app, used to provide a much-needed free service to users with multiple devices for different platforms. I loved Evernote’s excellent functionality that offers access to my personal data on multiple platforms including desktop PC, smartphones and tablet computers.

I have gratefully saved and organized my data in the free version of Evernote in the past 10 years. My data was synchronized seamlessly from my PC at home to smartphones on the go, and I loved its powerful one-click web clipping.

There was a period when Evernote was sweeping the personal data organization segment in South Korea. As the service took off, many tech professionals here jumped into the Evernote boom and held paid seminars that offered tips on using the app more effectively.

Some users praised the greater functionalities of a paid premium option. Since I was not a heavy Evernote user and the free version was good enough, I didn’t sign up for the premium plan. In retrospect, the powerful features of the free edition seemed to have posed a threat to the company’s growth strategy.

In June 2016, Evernote, perhaps confronted with the slower-than-expected sales of the paid edition, crippled its excellent free app by imposing the notorious two-device limit for users of the free basic plan. I was disappointed and perplexed. The two-device limit was a drastic downgrade since I have several devices and I need my data to synchronize on multiple platforms from Windows to iOS to Android.

Thankfully, Evernote said that the web client access would not be counted in the limit. Like many other longtime users, I cut down the number of devices where the Evernote app was installed to two, and occasionally used the web version to access my data. It was far from satisfactory, but I accepted the limited functions and kept using the app because I was able to access my data on multiple devices through the web browsers.

In the meantime, Evernote began to face problems in terms of service quality. Users complained about slow loading and search, as well as ever-increasing data storage needed to handle the offline access on devices. This year, there were many hacking attempts on Evernote accounts. Given that Evernote provides storage for personal data, the security issue was a deal-breaker for many users of both the free and paid editions.

A bigger, more serious issue for Evernote is the dramatic change in related technology. When Evernote was gaining a number of enthusiastic paying users years ago, its data synchronization on multiple devices and platforms was revolutionary in many aspects. Now, the idea of data synchronization on different devices is outdated.

Notion, a rival note-taking and data organization service, does not revolve around the concept of data synchronization. Its service is essentially based on the condition that every user will always connect to the web to access their account. Unlike Evernote which synchronizes data on different devices, Notion keeps only one copy in its cloud storage in a way that allows users to access their cloud-based database on any device, any platform.

When the internet connectivity was not reliable, Evernote’s synchronization of data on local storage was unique and effective. But that is gone, and it’s no exaggeration that people stay online almost all the time these days, via broadband or LTE or 5G networks. The change is making it not only possible but also efficient for startups like Notion to opt for a single copy of a database in the cloud.

Last week, Evernote sent out a notice to users, announcing that its web edition gets more features, so it will count as a device toward the two-device limit of the basic plan. This means that I have to use just two devices and cannot access my data through a web browser on other devices.

Evernote’s latest move, which comes off as fairly desperate, signals that it is more than willing to take user data hostage, forcing users to sign up for a paid plan -- or pack up and leave. Unsurprisingly, Evernote is not offering an easy data migration service. 

By Yang Sung-jin (insight@heraldcorp.com)

Yang Sung-jin is the multimedia editor of The Korea Herald. -- Ed.
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