Evernote is an application for MAC, Windows, Android, and iOS. It lets you make notes and “clip” web pages and other documents you might want to come back to. It is very searchable. It has a revised version, just released.

I started using Evernote a few months ago. I like it (*) and would happily explain its benefits, but, though I still use it occasionally, I find that I return to it less and less.

It seems that this is the fate of many well-conceived and well-implemented applications – despite their positive qualities, they do not integrate themselves into our daily lives, and gradually drift out of use. Given that the apps rely on advertising support – or else freemium-to-premium paid upgrade, as in the case of Evernote – they need to stay in use if they are to succeed.

Some apps or websites achieve their “keep-going-backability” by addicting the user to interactive behavior – especially social behavior – FaceBook being a key example. Others aim for simplicity, and try to serve a need that you have many times a day (Google search). Another method might be to hook people on a repetitive narrative, like a TV soap opera – though this seems less common in tech, unless you argue that viewing Twitter-feeds, or reading Internet news, is analogous, being forms of Internet-based repetitive entertainment. Similarly, games can be addicting.

The fact is that the number of apps or web-sites that can “hook” the user in this kind of way, and so become habitual and entrenched in the user’s day, is probably not more than 7-9 per person. So one of the things that we are discussing most intently as we brainstorm new startup ideas is – how do we achieve that “keep-going-backability” that makes the difference between success and failure?

(*) Slight caveat on Evernote, I did have some bad experience with their Android app, which did put me off a bit, even though it is working now. Avoiding supporting too many platforms, not all of which work well, is another, rather more humdrum, lesson.



Filed under Tech

4 responses to “Keep-going-backability

  1. Good post, Duncan, made me think about some possible differences.

    The thing about Evernote (and GTD, and many more personal productivity tools) is that they are about creating and maintaining good habits. Good habit formation needs reinforcement, and Evernote doesn’t have any negative reinforcement (you just go back to what you did before) and only a weak positive reinforcment (you feel good about stuff). Today’s idea on Alphalist ( was another such example of an augmented memory tool and I thought it wasn’t great for the same reason as Evernote.

    When you use Facebook you get reinforcement in the form of novel information from your circle of friends. Same is true when you log into a music site such as Hype Machine. Google gives reinforcement in that you get search results for stuff you want. Amazon does it by recommendations. We’re suckers for novel stimuli, and it will always attract you back.

    So you’re right there’s Psychology involved. Except it isn’t “addiction”, it’s “learning”. I would say this is also involved when people talk about Gamification of a web site or application – the “fun part” provides the reinforcer.

    • Nice comment, Paul (hope you’re well, btw!)
      I guess I’m also not sure “learning” is the right word. I “learned” to use EverNote, gradually using it more, but then my usage trailed off again. Your word “reinforcement” is a good one, though, the app has to train the user, creating and sustaining new habits in the user that go beyond the user learning how to operate the app.
      Perhaps addiction is just a dramatic form of self-sustaining reinforcement?

  2. Hi have just come across your blog.

    Stickiness is an interesting challenge. It’s one we are facing right now for our new team brainstorm app (shameless plug):

    Do we add social features (it’s already got realtime interaction)? How do qet single users to experience the app with someone else, (as that’s when things get interesting) and still rely on the interaction being relevant and of quality and not just random?

    Do we irritate with a barrage of 3/7/10/14/30 day emails? Stump up for advertising?

    Would love your feedback!


    • Hi Benjamin – thanks for the thought.
      I also wondered about emails as a pro-active prompt. As your phrasing suggests (“…irritate with a barrage…”) that had better be something that adds value for the user.
      More broadly, perhaps there is a way to integrate GroupZap with already-existing work habits – for instance, providing summary + agenda type information that could be used in a weekly review meeting, or daily stand-up meeting, or just to keep everyone one the same page regularly? That could be an email, too, to make it pro-active as per previous thought.
      Good luck – D.
      P.S. Apologies if you do all this already, I’m not previously familiar with the app.