Simplenote’s moment

November 19th, 2015

The running theme the last few weeks is how many people, including myself, are leaving Evernote behind for either Apple’s Notes or Simplenote.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the people that are leaving Evernote are those who first started using it when it was still simple and mostly text-based. So while there are likely thousands and thousands of people who fit the criteria of just wanting a simple text-based note taking app, it may not put a huge dent in Evernote’s overall numbers. Evernote’s broader user base likely does use the myriad other features it has. But this exodus could help build a smaller competitor into a much larger one.

This is why I think Simplenote is about to have “a moment”. Simplenote is likely pretty popular already, though I doubt they rival Evernote’s numbers. I remember using the service pretty early on as an API to store data to using nvAlt. I loved how great Simplenote’s syncing was. It is still far better than Evernote’s is today. Being purchased by Automattic likely gave it another bump in its user base. But I think they are seeing or will see a fairly big influx of people trying it out over the coming months as people leave Evernote behind.

Also, if Evernote doesn’t IPO and fails to find a home they may run out of runway and fail. If that happens Simplenote is going to have an ever bigger moment. One that could compare to the moment WordPress experience when Six Apart/Typepad/Moveable Type started getting shakey and everyone was looking for an alternative. Thousands found WordPress.

 

What does Simplenote need to do to capture these people? Not too much. There are always going to be features that I wish Simplenote had that Evernote has. It is the nature of software to want more features. However, Simplenote is pretty great as-is and so only some small additions may make it the perfect place for people to land from Evernote.

If I may be so bold as to suggest some Simplenote features that would help them gobble up Evernote users:

 

  • Importing from Evernote – I had to do this manually. It was painful. Evernote does not have a good export tool so I couldn’t save my notes in a format that Simplenote could read. But they do have an API. So even if there was a tool that I needed to use it’d be better than doing it manually. A simple guide for Simplenote to follow: Notebooks become tags, be sure to retain creation dates, optionally include shared notebooks in the import.
  • Font choices in the apps – Right now Simplenote only allows you to change the size of the font. Allow people to choose whichever fonts they have on their devices (including Mac).
  • Duplicate note – I use “templates” that I create to start new text documents. E.g. I have a template for when I hop on a phone call. (I put it on gist) This way I can capture the call easily. In Evernote it was one click to duplicate a note. This is a time and frustration saver.
  • Markdown preview – This isn’t a personal request since I seldom use Markdown. I use something like Markdown for my files but I know so many people that use Evernote’s rich text formatting tools that at least having some way to add formatting may help. It’d be a big feature to add to allow for formatting that outputs Markdown so I think adding a Preview of files based on Markdown may help a lot. Simplenote on the web already has this so adding it to mobile and desktop apps may already be a step they are planning.

Some of these things may already be on the roadmap for the Simplenote team but I think having these would strike a balance between keeping Simplenote simple and also being attractive to Evernote users that are leaving.

One side note that causes me a little fear: Being that Simplenote is now part of Automattic I fear that it doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves. I have no way of knowing this but as is typical with acquisitions you really never know where the service will end up. Is the Simplenote team’s time being used on services that are more important (financially) to Automattic (like WordPress VIP)? Or, is there no internal drive to continuously make Simplenote better because it has already “landed” at its home and has less to prove? I don’t know. Two good signs, however, are that they’ve made some key updates to the service and the apps at least 3 times this year according to their blog, and their Twitter account is responding to mentions. I don’t want Simplenote to change too much so I shouldn’t expect too many software updates. I just want it to continue working really, really well.

I’m optimistic that Simplenote is the right choice for me.

Update: Some have asked “why not Apple Notes?” For me it is about being cross platform. I’m an all Apple guy today but that could change. I’ve been keeping a close eye on Surface and Lumia lately. So, who knows? I’d rather have my notes somewhere I can jump from platform to platform and while Apple does have a web interface Simplenote has apps on all platforms.

 

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