Avoid 'Everything Buckets': Why I Can't Get Into Apps Like Evernote

When I first started using Evernote two years ago, I was really excited about the universal capture tool. But I've lost my love for apps like Evernote because, frankly, I don't think they work that well. Here's why.

Photo by ryan bieber.

Last week, my pal Gina discussed perfecting digital filing systems in her Work Smart video series (see video below). In it, she asks me to share my tips for setting up a solid digital filing system.

In thinking about my response, I was reminded of a great post I'd read last year by former Twitter dev and current BankSimple CTO, Alex Payne, on what he calls "everything buckets":

An Everything Bucket, since you're probably wondering, is what I call applications that encourage the user to throw anything and everything into them. They're virtual scrapbooks, applying a lightweight organisation system to (often) unrelated data of varying types. These applications typically employ a proprietary database, or at best, build atop the SQLite database technology... They usually default to storing information in Rich Text Format (RTF) or Portable Document Format (PDF). They are Not A Good Idea.

I'd recommend reading Payne's full post when you get a chance. It's an excellent general discussion on using software productively, and I don't think I can provide a more compelling or eloquent argument against "everything buckets" than he has already.

Payne's point regarding "Applications That Actually Do Things" resonates perhaps the most with me: All the everything buckets I've ever tried do many things poorly rather than one thing well (see the Unix philosophy). That doesn't mean that you can't or don't use Evernote or some other universal capture application to great effect. (You may be a wizard at making Evernote do exactly what you want.) For my part, I can only think of one thing it does well, or at least better than anything else I'm aware of (for free): Photo-to-text transcription. If I want a tool I can use to snap pictures I can search later using text, I might use Evernote for that because I don't know of a better option.

But if, for example, I want to write text (and still have it sync to every single device I use), I'm going to use Simplenote. It does one thing (plain-text notes), and it does it exceptionally well. It's also a system distinct from pictures, bookmarks and files, so if I want to find a note I've written, I can go to Simplenote (or whatever Simplenote client I'm using) and get it without sifting through unrelated junk.

You may feel differently. In fact, I know that a lot of Lifehacker readers really love apps like Evernote. (I'm picking on Evernote because it's the most popular among our readers, not because it's the worst universal capture app.)

Whether you agree with me or not, let's hear what you think in the comments.

Work Smart 2: Perfect Your Digital Document Filing System [Fast Company]

The Case Against Everything Buckets [Alex Payne]


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