That feeling when something new half-works

I'm a power user and I know it. When I find a new product or service useful enough to spend time digging into, I won't stop digging until I've submitted several bug reports and feature requests to its creator. Even then, I usually don't stop there.

I've had Google Glass since the beginning of January, so about 5 or 6 weeks as of this writing. I'm currently taking an intentional break from it while my new frames are off at the lab to have my prescription put in, so I'm using this time to think back on my digging. For how polished it is and how much buzz the wearables category is generating lately, much has been written of how Glass is still a very novel, raw concept. My use corroborates this, and I keep a running list of *almost* every idea, bug, and "nice-to-have" I come across. That simple task--keeping a list--is so common to all peoples and technologies, yet it's one of the most complicated challenges we encounter in this connected, multi-device world.

Syncing text is not a new problem. Last year, the app Simplenote was bought for an undisclosed amount by Automattic, the company behind formidable web site content management system WordPress. The purchase was really an acquihire in tech industry parlance, an acquisition designed to hire the team behind the app. Simplenote is a well-crafted app that syncs bits of text between devices, so it's great for making lists and taking notes. I've used it before, but favor Evernote for its support of richer media like pictures and PDF files.

What really makes these apps into insanely useful, habit-forming services is that they're available everywhere I could possibly want to take a note:

  1. When I'm browsing the web, I'll be reading something and might come up with an idea. I'll select some text on the page, then use the Web Clipper feature to grab that text and a link to the page, then add a note to myself in the clipper's comment box.
  2. When I'm in a meeting and need to jot something down, I'll use the Evernote for Mac app's quick entry shortcut, which I've configured to be the hotkey control+spacebar
  3. When I've drawn or wrote something on paper (gasp!) or a whiteboard, I'll use Glass or my Moto X's smartphone's camera-launching twist gesture to take a picture.
  4. When I'm somewhere comfortable and the note is short enough, I'll say "Ok Glass, take a note..." or "Ok Google Now, note to self..." to Glass or my Moto X respectively, then dictate a note
  5. When I'm somewhere or doing something where I don't want to dictate to my phone or Glass, I'll tap the "New Note" button on the Evernote widget I keep on my Moto X's home and lock screens
  6. When I'm reading an email, say an article or quote a friend sent to me, I'll forward the email to my private Evernote email address
  7. When texting or chatting with a friend and they say something I want to remember, like a restaurant or concert I want to check out, I can forward the message to Evernote by SMS

What's interesting about this list? About half the time I'm not even using an Evernote app to capture the note, but instead some external integration: a built-in camera app (3), Google's dictation service (4), email (6), or SMS (7). 

(You may also notice this list doesn't include anything about making reminders so I a actually remember to do whatever it is I was thinking. Let's just say I'm saving my thoughts for a piece all their own. I have a **lot** of thoughts on reminders and productivity.)

But of course the old adage applies here: the more a user harnesses this **power** the more **responsibility** they take away from the computer. And that's where things fall apart. A casual user who only uses the official iPhone and Mac apps for a service like Evernote or Simplenote is not likely to face much complexity. Their creators built these services to handle the most typical use cases really elegantly.

However, for a power user like myself, someone who sees a new way to take a note and stress tests it, every new device or app I use creates more work for me. Take for example that each basic note I take has the possibility of coming into my virtual world in no less than 7 different formats, which I describe above.  Some examples:

1. Notes taken quickly on the fly have oft-useless text prepended or appended to them

Notes taken from Glass have the title "Note from Glass" and contain about a line or two of text

Notes taken from Google Now have the title "Note to self" and also contain about a line or two of text

Notes taken from my home screen widget usually only have a shot title, which is the note itself

99% of the time, I copy the actual sentence or two of information out of these notes into one longer, running note I keep, like a shopping list


2. Notes from web clippings are titled with the title of the web site where I took them, contain my comment at the top followed by whatever text I selected

Notes from email are titled with the subject line of the email and contain the full body of the email message itself

More than half the time, the page I clipped or email I saved is for a person, product, or company I found out about through a friend. For whatever I want to check it out later, so I'll move the whole note into my own "Personal To Do" notebook

The other half of the time, it's just something I found interesting, like a quote, so I want to keep it somewhere that I can easily search later to pull it up. These go in my "Archive" notebook


3. Notes taken from the Mac app's quick entry shortcut have the first line of the note as their title, and usually contain several bulleted items

These are usually notes from a meeting, meaning I'll have to sift through them for action items I need to take or delegate. I typically break these notes up into several notes and put them in my "Work To Do" notebook, often combining the notes with pictures of sketches


As a designer, it's my job to understand how users interact with a computer system so I can help my team simplify our their work for them. As an educator, it's my job to teach my students how to dig into and empathize with a user's problems, and how to communicate with their teams to solve those problems. Technology always creates complications before we figure out how to simplify our lives with it and I enjoy the hell out of figuring it out. I'll keep on stress testing apps like Evernote, and I can't wait to get my Glass into commission so I can keep creating complications.