How to (almost) Lose a User

January 23, 2021

Strange things companies do to proactively lose customers.

I have been using Basecamp as my data management application for a long time. Recently, the lack of support for tagging started bugging me and forced me to look at the alternatives. One obvious candidate was Evernote, as I already use it with Scannable to scan the documents and save them as PDFs in Evernote.

So I started using Evernote to take notes and write book summaries, and was pleasantly surprised by the great user interface and the ability to do so many things, and at the same time write without distractions. I seriously thought of giving Evernote a try, and to make a permanent switch. However, there was one problem.

One thing I look for in any project or data management software is the ability to export all the data in a plain-text or HTML format. I couldn’t find it, which was a big concern. The only export option I see is for any individual note, into a .enex file which is Evernote’s proprietary format. That’s a big red flag. So I started searching into the community forum, and found many posts from the frustrated users complaining about the same. Apparently, Evernote had this feature in the older versions, but with the new release they had removed it.

Now you might wonder why it’s a big deal. As long as you can still back up the data, you are good to go, right? Wrong. Applications come and go, but the data remains. Now if that data is in a proprietary format, such as .enex files for Evernote, that’s a problem. What happens if Evernote goes out of business and the apps suddenly stop working? I know it’s a stretch, but bear with me. Now even if you have been backing up all your data frequently, all you have is a giant .enex file, which you can’t do anything with because you don’t know the format. Instead, if it’s a readable plain text or an open format like HTML, you can still read it or (if you know some programming) write code to display and format it neatly. That’s why the ability to export data to plain text or HTML/JSON/XML is so crucial.

Now, my theory is that companies do this to lock their users and force them to keep using their product. If the users could export the data to an open format, they could migrate to any other application in an instant. When they can’t export, they are forced to keep using the software. Though that might seem like a good strategy in the long term, it’s a horrible one in the long term, losing you goodwill of your customers that ends up repelling the new customers away from your product and to the competitors.

So I had almost given up on Evernote when I came across their upcoming feature list. And there it is, the support for additional export options!

Upcoming Evernote Features
Upcoming Features

Looks like the angry customers might have forced the management into adding the export feature back into the product. Now, let’s see if these options will include plain text or HTML. But for now, I haven’t totally given up on Evernote. It’s a great piece of software, it would be a shame to throw it away for some bad management decisions.